Handling people asking about your self harm *Trigger Warning*
I know I have it in the title, but here is a massive trigger warning for this post. I'm going to be talking about self harm, and talking about something that triggers me most: people asking me about it.
'What's wrong with your arm?' is a question that makes me feel sick. The blood rushes to my face and I struggle to stutter out some kind of lame response. I respond differently to different people, but it shouldn't be a question anyone asks. It goes along with 'what the fuck happened to you then?' or 'so how'd you get those scars?'.
I'm putting it out there now that there's never an appropriate time to ask someone about their self harm. Never. Whether you've just met, or you've been friends with someone for ten years, talking about their self harm is not a conversation you start. If someone is happy for you to know about it, and feels safe enough from their own triggers to talk about it, then they will.
In the past I never expected to be asked about it, and the first time someone was outright rude to me (which thankfully has only happened a couple of times since) totally shocked me and I just stuttered the word 'nothing' at them and quite literally ran away. Now, I'm more used to it, but I like to take the ball back into my own court.
I'm pretty open about my self harm. I don't try especially hard to cover my scars up, and it's something that I feel able to talk about nowadays when it's on my terms. So, I don't get 'that' question too often anymore, but when I do, I find myself feeling like a timid 18-year-old again. Mostly because I suck at lying. If someone asks me a barefaced question I find it hard to make something up and say 'oh I was in an accident' or 'a cat scratched me' or any vaguely believable story. Instead my gut wants to blurt out 'I used to self-harm, okay?'. But it's not always a conversation I want to have.
It's only recently that I've come to realise that I don't actually owe these people anything. I can simply say 'I don't want to talk about it'. And yes, it may lead them to make assumptions, but that's their problem, not mine.
A few months ago I had an incident with a chef at work. He'd been badgering me repeatedly about my scars, letting me know that he had scars from being a chef and asking if I had any anywhere on my body. It was invasive and I knew exactly what scars he was prodding me about. I tried to avoid the question: I told him about the scar on my forehead from when I fell over as a kid, but he wasn't satisfied. He wanted to know about my self harm without having to outright ask. He laughed as he asked me. It was horrible, and unnecessary and when he eventually got the guts to ask me about the scars specifically on my arm, I found the guts to turn around and say 'I'm not talking about this'. I took it to my manager, but the chef insisted he was 'just curious' and thought they may have been from cooking like him. It was bullshit, but I felt like I'd finally won. I'd told him to back off, and refused to make myself vulnerable to him by telling him about my scars.
In all honesty, I find it very hard to handle people asking me about my self harm, but it also happens a lot less often than you'd think. I try to reduce the stigma around self harm by letting my friends know about my story. I feel as though knowing that your friend or colleague self harms can help to repersonalise the issue: it's not something isolated, or something that only people in mental institutions do, or something that doesn't affect your everyday life. It's present, and it's visible and anyone can be struggling with it.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you don't self harm, don't be a prick and ask someone invasive questions about their mental health. And if you do SH, remember that it's okay to tell someone to back off. Your story is yours: you don't have to tell it to anyone. If someone tries to corner you about it and you don't feel comfortable letting them know that they're being a prick, speak to a close friend who does know about it. If they don't rally around and speak their mind to the prick then I'll be damned.