I spent last summer/fall at the Menninger Clinic. I was told they had a trauma program, but they don’t, so I got stuck on a general young adult (18-30) unit.
There was a guy there (let’s call him Brian) who was always sticking his nose in other people’s business. I think he asked everyone on the unit why they were there–except me. Several of us were sitting out on the smoking porch, and he was polling people about their diagnoses. He looked at me, said, “I know why you’re here,” and moved on to interrogating the next person in line.
See, I have very visible scars as a result of 10+ years of self-harm. Unless I wear long pants and long sleeves, my scars are visible. In Texas in the middle of the summer, that’s not exactly a practical way to dress–you’d probably die of heat stroke. (Seriously, where but Texas do the weathermen say, “Our high is only 112 today”?)
My self-harm was not, however, the reason I was at Menninger; I had self-harmed fewer than 5 times in the 6 months preceding my admission. I was there because my dissociation was out of control, and I had just been diagnosed with DID. My therapist and the DID specialist I did a consult with agreed that I needed to spend a while in a residential program for stabilization, and the plan was after that I’d go back to Boston and work with my therapist and treatment team on an outpatient basis. Obviously, things did not go as planned.
I’ve been thinking about Brian lately. It’s just getting to be short-sleeve weather (it was 92 yesterday, which made kung fu fun!), so my scars show very prominently. I can’t help but feel like I’m being judged every time I go out in public with my arms uncovered. People do stare. They try not to be obvious about it, but they are.
I also wonder about it in terms of the therapist search. Will therapists automatically assume my problem is self-harm, too? I started seeing my Riggs therapist in the summer, but I was so underweight I was always cold and wore long sleeves most of the time. I started seeing my therapist in Boston in the fall. In both cases, they had a chance to get to know me before they got to know my scars. Even if whatever new therapist I end up seeing doesn’t assume offhand that my presenting problem is SI, it will still shape the relationship in a way I don’t like. When you look like you’ve been pieced back together too many times to count, people see you as broken. I’m not broken anymore. There are still pieces to put back together, but I am not broken.