Quite a while ago I went through a very difficult part of my life. A variety of circumstances and the way I responded to them made it a very low point for me, which unfortunately resulted in depression, and eventually self harm.
Since then I've gotten help (don't worry!) and I'm doing exponentially better! But I still have very noticeable scars on my arms from the "dark ages." I'm not ashamed of them and I don't try to cover them up--in a way they remind me of how far I've come from that time--but they do lead to some questions and, frankly, awkward answers that usually end in a grimace and an apology.
Since I'll be going to college in the fall, I'm expecting a few questions about my scars, and I would really like to answer them truthfully, but not sound like I'm fishing for sympathy. I don't want people to think I'm emotionally unstable now, since those days are long gone, but I also don't want to tell them my entire life story.
Is there any way I can answer their questions about my scars truthfully, tastefully, and without prompting "I'm so sorry!" "What happened?" or "Well, I know a pretty good therapist if you need him..." ?
Just one. And that's: "It was a long time ago, and it's a long story," (or some version thereof) followed by a smile and a change of subject.
Basically, people being who they are, there's no way you can say that your scars are the result of self-harming behavior without them finding it a least somewhat distressing—not because it's offensive or needy, but because nobody likes to imagine another person going through that kind of pain. So if you're determined to avoid expressions of sympathy or offers of help, you'll have to avoid talk of cutting in all but the most oblique way.
But wait, there's more. Because the entire time I was reading your letter, what I kept coming back to is how everything you're asking centers not on how to tell your story, but on how to tailor that story for the benefit of other people—and how, after everything you've done to get where you are, that just doesn't feel right. This is your body! These are your scars! And the ideal way to talk about them is in a way that serves your comfort... and not the comfort of the sort of obtuse doinks who point and ask what happened to your skin. After how far you've come, you've earned the right to respond to intrusive questions with as much (or as little) truth as you want to reveal, and without worrying what the asker might be thinking.
So whatever explanation feels right to you—whether it's "I'm in a good place now, but I went through a difficult time several years ago during which I cut myself," or "It's a long story," or "I was mauled by radioactive beavers"—that's the explanation you should give. And if the person who asked the question feels awkward about getting a straight answer, well, maybe that'll teach him or her not to be such a nosy asshat about someone else's epidermis.
Do you have scars with a complicated explanation? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
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