by Cassandra Lovelock

The pandemic really fostered the rise of the warrior narrative in healthcare. With Boris (insert sick face emoji here) talking constantly about ‘fighting the virus’ or ‘battling the disease’ this narrative has once again reared its head and bled into the thinking of the nation.  

I reckon though the pandemic we have all seen posts, been in Facebook groups, or got lost Instagram hashtags about ‘fighting’ against self-harm. About people romanticising their cuts and scars. How they are a warrior for fighting their intrusive thoughts, how their scars show the journey they have survived. How they are beautiful… or some such tosh.

But let's be honest here, I am not a warrior and my scars are not beautiful. I am beautiful and I have scars, but I am not beautiful because of them. I would also be beautiful without them too. I am not minimising the role self-harm has had in my life, but it is not some metaphorical battle I am constantly fighting. I live with PTSD and sometimes it makes me suffer; but I am not constantly suffering.

Self-injury is a heavily stigmatized practice/coping mechanism (Long, 2018), so it comes with both internal shame and external guilt. For years as a teenager, I hid my cuts and scars because I was ashamed. As an adult I often get cause to cover them up, people trying to make me feel guilty for being comfortable with something so ‘othered, so different.’ But self-injury is actually really common.

I do not need to feel any shame about the scars I have, nor do I let external factors make me feel guilty about them. I did not need to romanticise my scars to make them acceptable to myself; I just needed to acknowledge they came from a place of deep pain. Now my scars are a fact, they exist in tandem on my skin with my tattoos, my stretch marks, and my ever-increasing collection of moles.

I am nearly 2000 days without self-injury yet I still resent the idea that whenever I am overwhelmed and craving it is my own fault for letting the incorporeal dogs nip at my heels; that I am not ‘fighting’ my brain hard enough, or that I am losing a ‘battle’ against intrusive thoughts.

The scars on my body will always be pathologized. People will look at them and make assumptions about me, my wellbeing, my suitability for a role or a job. My students see the and feel comfortable telling me about their self-injury stories. They find solidarity in my openness, and in one sense its flattering; I’m sorry you went through that pain but I would rather connect with you by hearing about the life you’ve had outside of that pain. I will not sit by and let people unknowingly (or knowingly) glamorize depression and self-harm scars as something beautifully tragic and nostalgic. I am bored of people talking about fighting against their illness, against their brain. You’re not fighting, you’re living with it. Like I am not fighting, I am just living.

It would be an injustice to myself and others who self-injury to say it isn’t difficult, to say that sometimes it doesn’t feel like a battle because it can. Of course, it can. But priming yourself for a fight, seeing your coping as a battle, means when/if you ‘lose’ its all the more devastating. Seeing your life as a constant fight is exhausting cause you’re always primed for the next battle.

It’s a disservice to yourself to limit yourself to a warrior when you are so much more. Yes, self-harm is defining but it does not have to define you. Being unwell does not make you or me a warrior, it just makes me myself.

Cassandra can be found on @soapsub on twitter and instagram