It’s Maternal Mental Health week in the UK starting tomorrow, 5th May 2019. I was first made aware of this by the online campaign #winningasamummmy by Isabella and Us. There will be some social media posts going out with this hashtag to celebrate mum wins and to highlight mental health in mums. I’ve also read posts of fellow mum bloggers all about their experiences and have been inspired to share my own. The biggest challenge for me is not with postnatal depression but with the scars left from depression I suffered in the past.
Should I Hide my Scars from my Children?
One day recently, when the weather was warm and so my arms were on show, I looked at the scars on them and told my husband:
“I wish I could tattoo my arms, to cover up the scars”. I then followed that with, “but having tattoos on my arms would draw attention to them, whereas at the moment I know no one is looking closely”. My next thought was, “but I can see them, and Rowan will be able to see them”.
My husband then said something that really resonated with me:
“You shouldn’t hide your scars from Rowan. Yes, he will probably ask about them one day, but you should just be open about it. That way, if he ever feels like he might be going through something similar, he knows he can talk to you about it”.
I’ve had depression on and off throughout my life. Since I was about 12 years old I started experimenting with self-harm. I continued to use that as a coping mechanism for my toxic thoughts and feelings for the next ten years. When I finally felt I was finished abusing my poor body I had a tattoo drawn over one of the biggest scars which is on my side. I used the word ‘Nevermore’ to reflect both my fascination for the poem by Edgar Allen Poe and as a permanent message that I was done with this part of my life.
So for the last few years I have been toying with the idea of covering the scars on my arms with tattoos as well. I know my arms are not as bad as some, but I do have a condition where I get keloid scarring which means the tissue overgrows causing raised bumps. In fact, the scar on my side that is tattooed was surgically re-opened and stitched due to the irritation it cause me when it healed in that way.
But the rationale behind covering my scars with tattoos isn’t just to hide how they look, it’s to say to myself and the world: don’t look at the scars from the bad days, look at the tattoos that show those days are behind me. I am not my depression, my body does not deserve these scars and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have thought about carefully choosing beautiful designs and patterns that represent who I am now, and never having to look at the raised lumps of scar tissue again.
Will I share this with my children?
Well, if I can put my story out there on the internet in the hopes it might inspire others, I can talk about it to my children. I know that, if I like the person I am today, I have to believe all the things I’ve done before have led me to this place. I don’t know if I will be brave enough to get tattoos, but if I do it won’t be to bury and deny the self-harm I went through.
But it’s not an easy topic to open up about, there’s no getting away from the fact it’s a brutal thing to go through and exposing that to children feels wrong. I’ll have to think carefully about what I do say depending on how old Rowan is when he notices them. But life will happen to Rowan, and any other children I am fortunate to have, and the horrible reality is that it may also include depression for them. So the best thing I can do is show them that they don’t have to feel they should ever hide their feelings, no matter how negative. Talking openly to my family, friends and therapists has been the biggest help in getting through my worst times. I want to encourage confidence in communication and to not be afraid of what you want to say.
My biggest scar of all
I also have another scar that can show them there is no reason to fear scarring itself. The scar that shows how my boy entered the world and is a permanent reminder of the amazing thing my body did in growing life.
Perhaps I won’t tattoo my scars after all and show I am not afraid of the inevitable conversation I will have about them. I can only hope that these feelings never affect my children, but, as my husband said, I can be there for them with firsthand knowledge if they do.