TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of self-harm.
I LOVE Christmas. I buy into all of it – the twinkling lights, the hot, spiced alcohol, the naff Christmas films, the even naffer Christmas jumpers, festive drinks, and Christmas cheer (and singing loud for all to hear). I have to restrain myself from listening to Christmas music in early November and may actually identify with the song “I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day” more than I relate to any other song in the world (kidding…sort of).
That said, the festive season can bring with it a unique set of struggles, especially if you’re already vulnerable to poor mental health. It can be a stressful time full of expectations, and it can fuel a lot of loneliness and debt, and at a time when you’re so aggressively told to be joyous, it can make people feel even worse when they can’t feel the happiness they’re “supposed” to feel.
I used to know someone who worked at a general health helpline who said that Christmas saw the biggest influx of mental health related calls than at any other point in the year, consistently year after year.
My festive struggles are like those of many others (mainly centred around money) although one is perhaps less talked about in the mainstream. For me, my biggest struggle with Christmas manifests as an anxiety about the visibility of my self harm scars from years gone past. When wrapped up from the cold this isn’t an issue but Christmas season is party season, and there are only so many time you can throw a cardigan over a pretty dress before that gets old. I imagine that this is something I’m not alone in when it comes to people who have historically or who currently self harm.
You see my issues are twofold. The first is my own attitude towards them. I have seen a lot of amazing body positivity movements out there about loving your self harm scars and seeing yourself as a warrior. The truth is that I absolutely LOVE sentiment like this and I am so here for it, but I just can’t relate to it. I’ve not yet managed to feel positive about them, and although I hope one day I can see them as marks of strength, I currently don’t have a lot of self love towards them. In truth, if I could push a button and get rid of them, then I probably would.
Sometimes I feel a bit like a failure or a fraud that I call myself a mental health advocate but can’t see the positives in my scars, but I guess that is the raw truth of mental ill health – finding the positives is amazing but it isn’t all inspirational realisations and motivational quotes…sometimes it just sucks.
On a more positive note, I am working on it and the more I write about mental health, the more I engage with amazing mental health bloggers and survivors, I hate my scars a little bit less, and I do honestly think that one day I will have accepted them. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even love them.
The second issue about self harm scars and Christmas parties is that most of my family don’t (to my knowledge) know that I have a history of self harm, and if they do know then it’s something that has never been talked about openly. It’s not something I necessarily want to talk about with them, and it’s not something I particularly like to think about at Christmas when my brain is 57% Christmas song lyrics and 42% Elf quotes (the remaining space is dominated by chocolate).
So you want to dress nicely, have a great night and simultaneously not let anyone see your scars…what do you do? The truth is I’ve muddled through Christmas parties in the past with weird cardigan/jumper combinations, sitting at unnatural angles and then getting a bit too merry to care anymore, and I have just about had enough.
This year, I think I’m going to try and not worry about it, because they’re there and I can’t do anything about them. I have started to come to terms with the fact that they aren’t going anywhere and going to lengths to hide them is only hurting me at this point (I’m being somewhat literal with this, you try holding your arm in one weird position for hours on end), but I’m going to let myself take baby steps with it and not berate myself if I do feel like I need to cover up.
The truth is, there is absolutely no right or wrong way to feel about you self harm scars. They are entirely your own and nobody else’s to love/hate/be neutral about. If you want everyone to know, if you want nobody to know, if you want to show them, if you want to hide them then these are all entirely up to you. Just make sure that whatever you decide isn’t hurtful to your well-being.
This party season, you can opt for clothing that covers your scars or you can wear something that shows them all – either way you deserve to feel gorgeous and comfortable in what you are wearing. Never apologise for feeling the way you feel about your scars whether it’s positive or negative, never let anyone tell you how you “should” feel about them, and don’t be afraid to tell people if they are making you uncomfortable, even if well-meaning. Above all, remember that your scars don’t define you or your worth at Christmas, or any time of the year.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!
This post was written and contributed by @OneMoreLightLB.