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How I Learned To Accept My Self-Harm Scars

Drumming, friendship, and heavy metal music gave me hope in a time of depression and low self-worth.

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When I asked people to submit their self-harm recovery stories I found Saigowri's story particularly moving. We began an email exchange where she recalled her self-harm history and how she finally began to accept herself and her scars.

I live with my mum, dad, and two Labradors. My hobbies include photography, creative writing, singing, and my biggest passion: drumming. Heavy metal and rock are my favourites. Lamb of God, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Opeth – these are all on repeat in my room. Music is a huge part of my life. But having this passion isn’t easy.

I live in Bangalore, in India, and there are unwritten rules about how a girl should live – drumming doesn’t really have a place in that system. My dad does not approve of my drumming – neither of my parents do, and they’ve forbidden me from joining a band. Being friendly with a boy, like I was, sends the message that there’s “something going on”, and having a boyfriend is completely out of the question. I’m not even allowed to wear my gig T-shirts – more acceptable is my salwar kameez. I have to know how to cook in order to be eligible for marriage. Women have very little freedom; at least, that is what I can see from what I’ve been told is expected of me.

I knew I was “different”, even as a child. I was an introvert and a loner, and school was hard. I didn’t fit in and I found it hard to make friends, and since I was “supposed” to suppress all my feelings and emotions, I had no idea what to do with them. My suspicious parents read my private journal and interrogated me on every single word in it. They checked my phone and forbade me from seeing my friends, who they felt were “sabotaging” me in some way. They monitored my every move, every word, every facial expression. I felt like an emotional hostage.

Having all my secrets out in the open left me raw: Anxiety and panic attacks took over my life. I sank into a depression. I felt ashamed of being different. That’s when I first had the overwhelming urge to physically hurt myself. Cutting felt so satisfying – an addictive form of self-punishment – and it was the only outlet to release my emotions. I told no one.

Under normal difficult circumstances I’d turn to music, but my parents’ ban on the (usually loud) heavy metal music I found so much comfort in still stood. Wearing eyeliner was out. Wearing my hair down was out. Nothing seemed to please them. The urge to cut grew with every shutdown of my choices.

Eventually my parents saw my scars. I was accused of doing it for attention, of trying to make them look bad. They told me they were ashamed of me. Even stricter rules were implemented, and if anyone asked me about my scars, I was to blame a fictional cat. At family gatherings they made me wear long-sleeved tops. At no point did they exhibit worry for the state of my mental health. It never seemed to cross their minds that there could be something wrong – more important than my mental wellbeing was the family reputation. It was never about me.

By the time I started college years later, I was still living at home, living in the same city, and the self-harm had become routine. College offered an opportunity: the potential to maybe meet kindred spirits, people who were loners and introverts like me. But socialising had never been my strong suit.

More important to my parents than my mental wellbeing was the family reputation. It was never about me.

But by my third year at college, I was finally beginning to feel more confident. One day on campus, I saw a guy (I’ll call him R) wearing the same Iron Maiden T-shirt I had. I struck up a conversation. I'd never had any boyfriends; I'd always been too afraid in case I got caught. R and I weren't romantic with each other, but he became one of my best friends. He encouraged me to play music, and together we began composing songs, ultimately forming a band. I played the drums and I loved performing on stage.

I still wasn’t super sociable, but I had learned I was most comfortable in small groups – at least, I was, until I looked down at my arms. I had stopped self-harming at this point, with my last cut a year before. But while I was proud of myself for stopping, I was also deeply ashamed of my scars. A dermatologist told me the scars had become keloids, and to get rid of them I would need to undertake a course of cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy, for the blissfully ignorant, is an excruciatingly painful procedure where they spray liquid nitrogen – three times per session – on your scars, freezing and flattening the keloid, before sloughing off the scar tissue. My doctor was exactly what I needed: He asked no questions about the origins of my scars, only explaining the procedure. I booked four sessions. For the first, my mum sat quietly beside me. Perhaps she didn’t want me to feel nervous, but her silence made me feel more nervous – I wasn’t at all prepared.

I knew that the liquid nitrogen would be freezing but I had no idea about the accompanying pain. It felt like flames, like I was literally burning away my past. Worse, the pain lingered for days after. With two sessions completed and the third looming, I made the decision to stop. I had been asking myself: Who am I doing this for?

I already knew the answer. I was doing it because I was afraid that people I’d grown to love would judge me. They would look at me, at my scars, and decide I was not worth their love or their respect. I wasn’t doing this to make myself feel good. But the pain of cryotherapy was good for something: It gave me the strength to tell myself it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t have to go through with it. If people look at my scars and want to judge me, let them.

I take care of myself now. I exercise, I try to eat right. Most of all, I make myself a priority. I started loving myself. I'm not in a band any more but music still means everything to me. I am still really good friends with R and now I've also assembled a small group of friends who stick with me through thick and thin.

My self-harm recovery wasn’t a straight journey, but I haven’t had the urge to hurt myself since I first stopped, back in my second year in college. I feel safe with myself now, whereas I used to be so afraid of myself, of what I would do.

Someone once told me “the amount of energy you use to put yourself down is the same amount of energy you need to bring yourself up". Finally, the choice was mine. It took me six years to finally stop cutting myself. I began to explore other ways of finding comfort, of releasing my emotions. I began to write it down, and then I burned the paper away.

There’s a poster of a quote on my wall that I look at every day and take comfort in. It ends with the phrase “life must go on”. And it’s true for me. Everything always gets better. My relationship with my parents has improved. We feel closer. They still don't know me completely but it’s better than it used to be. I wish I could tell them that I’m sorry I’m not what they expected me to be, but I hope that despite everything, they’re proud.