Last Christmas I was working at a department store; I was on the gift counter which was the busiest in the entire store. So whenever I got to help out on another department it felt like I’d broken the water and I could breathe again.
One day my travels took me to the Home & Electrical department; fridges, washing machines and kettles - all of the good stuff. However, as much as I was enjoying my reprieve, customers always had this "nasty" habit of asking me for help and in a nutshell, I hadn’t got a clue.
So I asked a girl for help. I’d seen her a few times before but I’d never spoken to her. She was nice, helpful. She was wearing a dress which left her arms uncovered and as we chatted I noticed that all up her arms were scars. I didn’t mention it. As far as I’m aware I didn’t even acknowledge that I’d noticed, although I’m sure she noticed the flicker of my eyes better than I did. I just spoke to her. It wasn’t shock I felt, it wasn’t horror. What I felt was peace. I felt uplifted, like everything was going to be alright.
To understand my response to seeing that girl’s scars you have to understand how I was feeling at the time. I’d graduated from University the summer previous and University had been the unhappiest three years of my life. I approached the entire thing as a chance to ‘put myself right’. After coasting at University I thought University would give me an opportunity to prove what I could be. Sounds reasonable enough. But I just got so deep into it that it stopped being about self-actualisation and it turned very sharply into self-flagellation.
I overthought everything, so I didn’t do very well, so I wasn’t smart, so I was arrogant for thinking I should be doing better, so I was a bad person. Instead of turning to others I sunk deeper and deeper into a circle of one and as those around me were going out, having fun, being together, I was in my room, watching it on a two-day lapse via Facebook. I didn’t fit in, I was weird, no one wanted me around.
But as all of this was going on, would you like to know exactly how many people I confided in? None. I told no one, even one tiny detail of how I was feeling. By the third year I honestly believed I was a bad person. When I thought about who I was, the word that always, without fail, came to mind was ‘pathetic’. And I didn’t tell a soul.
Mid way through the second year I broke up with my girlfriend and it took me 18 months to cry about it. Seriously. For three years I had repressed my emotions with an iron grip. It’s impressive in a twisted way because no one ever asked me if I was okay. Not my girlfriend, not my friends, not my parents.
But by the time it came to Christmas I couldn’t cope anymore. I’d bottled it up and my bottle was full. One night I left work and as I got off the train and into my car, I started crying. I drove all the way home crying and it felt so, so good. But even then I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. Had someone knocked on my window as I bawled away I know for a fact I could have played it off, brushed them off and left them feeling a little bit concerned, but not enough to concern me anymore.
And the longer I thought about it, the more that terrified me. The things that were going on in my mind were awful, I was crucifying myself on a daily basis but I still went out with my friends, I still sat and had dinner with my family and no one asked me if I was okay.
Did I look okay? I must have and looking back now, that really scares me. It scares me because I couldn’t stop thinking. Who else is feeling like this? How many people, people I see every day, that I smile at, laugh with, underneath it all really truly and honestly hate themselves. Think people are better off without them. Think they’re a dead weight to their friends, a let down to their parents, fat and ugly, stupid, pathetic.
And how many of them are suffering in silence, as skilled as I was at putting just enough of a brave face on it to keep everyone off their backs? The biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide. I guess it’s a lot.
So when I saw that girl, with scars, healed, but there, not hidden, not flaunted, just a part of life. I just felt proud, of her and I felt like I might be alright too. Even though no one had ever seen the cuts I’d been inflicting.
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