But who would love someone with scars?

This post discusses self-harm. You have been warned.

I spend a disturbing amount of time in the company of people slightly younger than me (I'm 18). Not much younger, of course - 15, 16. Old enough to be articulate and form ideas about the world, but not old enough to see as much of it as I have.

I really need to get off Tumblr.

Anyway, if you remember being 15 or 16, you probably remember being very confused, insecure and angsty. (If you don't, you're either lying to yourself or you lived in a happier time and now I'm jealous of you because I spent my early- and mid-teens being suicidally depressed.) Some of you probably remember showing your angst to others in some pretty horrible ways.

I'll now make an obligatory digression so I can say something very important: if you are considering self-harm, I have been there. I have looked at my body and thought "how utterly disgusting, I'm such a poser, I need more scars". I have looked at my body and wanted to punish it. I have thought that carving scars into my skin would make me feel better.

But it doesn't work. When you take that blade to your skin and you try to draw blood, you don't feel better. You feel dead inside. But your body releases endorphins as a response to the pain, so you learn to associate cutting yourself with the weak rush you get. And the next time you feel that bad, your body tells you that cutting will fix that feeling (even though it won't). So you cut again and you get that weak rush and you reinforce the conditioning that cutting is a good thing. But you'll build up a tolerance to that endorphin rush, so you'll have to cut deeper and do more damage. And the cycle will continue to get ever more destructive. People will start asking awkward questions and sooner or later they'll stop believing that it was the cat or that you fell down the stairs. You will get embarrassed. You will hate yourself more. You will cut yourself even more. And should you try to quit, you will find it difficult. You will relapse. A lot. You will have to resist the urge to cut a lot in the beginning, and while the urge fades it doesn't totally go away. You will have to break old thought patterns and create new ones, which isn't exactly easy. And you will always have those scars to remind you of what you did.

So don't start. It will only cause you more pain in the end.

If you are thinking about starting to self-harm, or you already self-harm, there are plenty of alternatives to doing so. Some will work for you, some won't, and you might even decide not to try some if you think that they'll exacerbate previously existing issues. It can help to have a list of things to do close by to help increase the psychological availability of the distractions and alternatives.

Self-harm distractions and alternatives
Even more distractions and alternatives to self-harm
Self-harm prevention
146 things to do besides self-harm
66 things to do that aren't self-harm
A couple of self-harm alternatives
Some coping and distraction techniques
Myths, facts and coping techniques
Coping with self-harming urges
Big list of self-harm alternatives

(hell, even reading all those lists might distract you for a bit)

Back to the point. Let's say that you cut, or you have cut, and either way you've ended up with scars on your body that you absolutely hate. It is possible to make scars less visible using a variety of methods, but results vary and they tend to work better on newer scars than old ones.

wikiHow article on multiple ways to reduce scar visibility
Yahoo answers on making a scar fade
NHS Choices article about scarring
/r/SkincareAddiction: I need help fading self harm scars

When you have lots of scars, people tend to ask awkward questions. Sometimes they skip the awkward questions and go straight to insulting you, because apparently that's the best thing to do to someone who's struggled with self-harm in the past. I tend to insult back, but not everyone is as disgustingly misanthropic as I am. And when you are mentally ill, people tend to treat you as lesser. You are considered weak for a million and one reasons. Sometimes you are told you have brought it upon yourself, or that you deserved it. You are told to pull yourself together, which has never been good advice to give to a mentally ill person and never will be. You are told that nobody wants to be friends with someone too negative; when dark thoughts are eating you alive, this can be interpreted as "if I don't lie and pretend to be happy, my friends will leave me". Other people think that you're going to become violent. Often parents aren't particularly supportive, perhaps because they feel that having a mentally ill child is failure on their part. And because you might fear the reaction, it's easy to hold back and not tell school or uni that anything's wrong (not that they're always good at helping). Because of this culture of demonising mental illness, and because self-harm scars are a very obvious marker of mental illness, it can be difficult to imagine that anyone would love or even extend kindness to someone with scars.

I am not here to tell you that one day, when you grow up, everything will be okay. Sadly, that is a bare-faced lie; most of the examples of ableism I have given are from adults. What I will say is as you get older, more bad stuff happens to you and the people you love, and it forces you to stop being so ignorant. The people who say that they "don't believe in that depression crap" and that mental illness is an excuse for people to be weak find themselves crying in counselling and self-harming or using drugs. People learn their lessons in the harshest ways possible, and it makes it difficult to judge others too harshly.

As you grow older, you also tend to move about a lot more - from your little bubble of home and school to university and work, maybe to a different city, maybe to a different country. At least I find that's what happens to me, but moving around a lot is in my family and so I consider staying in the same area all your life to be very unusual. Another thing that happens is that you get at least one device with access to the internet. This is absolutely brilliant, because social networks like twitter and tumblr allow you to "meet" people from all over the world, as long as you can understand each other. On the internet, people tend to meet based on interests rather than on geographical location - which helps you find other people with common interests, rather than having to nod politely as you realise with a sinking feeling that you and that other person you were just introduced to have absolutely nothing in common. These weak ties can be quite beneficial, as they'll give you some measure of support; some of them even develop into stronger ties like friendships and relationships. If you're careful about boundaries and making sure people are who they say they are, you can develop some very close friendships and relationships. (It's how I met my partner.) So either way, the older you get, the more you tend to move away from the same little circles and the more you tend to meet new people. For people like me, who often find that they don't have that much in common with the people they grew up with (I don't have that much in common with that many people because I'm introverted, academically-minded and abrasive), this can be a godsend. If you have a knack for it, learning another language will also help you to communicate with others (and I think it's fun).

So what am I trying to say? That things may seem shit now, and your brain may keep telling you that they will stay shit - but that this doesn't have to be the case. People grow up and shit happens and you move away, and perhaps one day there will be someone who understands.