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The Scars Of Mental Illness

Mental illness creates scars, both physical and emotional. I know. I have them.

The first time I wanted to cut my wrist I was in college. I raked a key across my wrist. I drew no blood, but it scared me that I had that urge. I spent hours walking around campus that night. The first time I gave in was when I was 26. It was this obsessive voice in my head telling me “Cut yourself! Cut yourself! Cut yourself!” It wouldn’t stop. It was relentless and as much as I tried to quiet it, to force it into silence, it remained yelling at me. So, I picked up an exacto knife and I cut. Then suddenly everything went quite. It was like a brain orgasm, a slight hum. My mind got what it wanted and for that moment there was peace. It was kind of like finishing a race and finally resting. Exhausted, my mind was at ease.

I cut many times after that. Badly enough that I needed stitched three times, though 2 of the times I went into the doctor’s a day late and all they could do is bandage me up. The other time it was really bad and my mom had to take me to the emergency room and I received stitches and a stay in the psych ward. Not only was that painful but it was embarrassing because I had to stay in the ward with a bandaged wrist. Everyone knew what I had done. I was the girl who hurt herself.

The cutting went on for years until I was left with snakes of scars going up and down my left wrist. I hated them. I wore giant bracelet cuffs. I wore oversize watches with the faces worn inside. If I went on a date I worried and always tried to wear a long sleeve shirt, weather allowing. At drive-thru windows exchanging money I just knew I was being judged – “Crazy girl who cuts the shit out of herself.” However true or untrue that was.

My last therapist had an idea to get a beautiful tattoo on my wrist so I wouldn’t be tempted to cut and mess it up. I didn’t like the idea because, quite frankly, I needed to know that if I wanted to I could still cut. But I thought about it for a long time and decided I was done. I didn’t want to do it anymore. Or even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to without ruining something beautiful.

Last Christmas I asked for money from my family to get a wrist tattoo. I met with the man who does all my brother’s tattoos and we collaborated on some ideas. On Christmas day I got a note from my brother that he had worked it out with the tattoo artist (a friend of his) to get my tattoo without me having have to pay for it. I cried I was so happy.

I love my tattoo. It has given me back my confidence because you can’t see a bit of the snakes.

Mental illness leaves other scars as well. Knowing I have tried to kill myself 4 times is almost unbearable.  I wonder why I don’t like myself enough to want to live. It is human nature to try to survive so why do I do the opposite? Luckily, I don’t remember most of my attempts but the bits I do make me sad. Like breaking my family’s heart. I’ve lost people to this illness. Some people simply can’t deal with the crazy and I don’t blame them, unless you deal with certain mental illnesses it is hard to understand.

But I haven’t cut in a very, very long time. And I am working on emotionally forgiving myself. So be gentle with yourself and try to take care of yourself.


The Scars Of Mental Illness

Elaina J. Martin

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APA Reference
Martin, E. (2018). The Scars Of Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2018
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