I’m Afraid Of Explaining My Self-Harm To My Future Children

6623-000010This is a reader submission from Hana Graham, who suffers from borderline personality disorder. She’s working with her team of medical professionals to plan a baby and we asked her to write about the process.



I have a problem I’m sure a lot of mothers and future mothers out there, fathers too, have, but no one is talking about. It’s a taboo subject in the first place. It caused a bit of a ruckus in a previous article I wrote for Mommyish. I’m sure one day I might expand on the very topic itself, but today I want to focus on it’s aftermath. I’m planning to become a mother, or, well, to become pregnant anyway, later this year. I won’t have to worry about this particular issue for quite some time. But one day, my kids are going to notice mommy’s body isn’t like everyone else’s. They are going to come to me, and they are going to ask me, “Mommy, how did you get all these scars?”

I honestly haven’t figured out how to answer them yet. Granted, I still have several years to figure it out. Maybe you can help me. I tried to research this online the other day, I really searched. I couldn’t find any suggestions I approved of. The only stories I saw were about older siblings telling their younger siblings WAY too much truth for my liking. A kid shouldn’t have to carry the burden of this particular truth around. I do intend to tell them the serious real truth one day, when they’re old enough. Questions like “mommy why…” are not from kids who are old enough, they’re like….from kids ages four and up. And to me, that is just too young for the truth. The truth is too ugly.


I can’t tell my child something like, “Because mommy used to hate herself.” Or “Mommy hurts herself when she gets upset.” Why would anyone say that to a small child? That’s just too much. It’s too much for most of my adult friends to hear, let alone my own child. I only intend to tell them about it when they’re older because it’s something they might be more prone to, and I never want them to end up with a 15 year addiction and struggle. My body is covered in a network of scars, some barely noticeable, some absolutely horrific and obviously self-inflicted, including 15 burns on the back of each wrist. (For those who chipped in on the previous article, I’d like to proudly announce I’m still clean since the time mentioned in that piece!)


The only other advice I could find online wasn’t advice at all. It was horrible people saying horrible things to pregnant women who had happened to struggle with self-injury in the past – or present. Who am I to judge? But I think it’s downright wrong to tell any woman who is asking for honest advice on what to tell her kids about her scars one day, “give those babies up so they don’t have you for a mother.” Extreme, much? It’s more common than most people think, and it is on the rise amongst young people. I suggest, as I always do, education and awareness over condemnation and making these kids feel like outcasts. I digress, though.

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  • pixie

    As much as I love the dinosaur one (because who doesn’t like dinosaurs?), I would suggest going with either you were sick (stressing that it wasn’t regular sick, like a cold or the flu, but a different kind of sick) or the sensitive skin. I still really admire you for being so open and honest about your mental health and really do think you’ll do a wonderful job raising children.

    And whatever you do, don’t piss off the faeries. ;)

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yes, I’m leaning towards sensitive skin! :) And thank you so much!

  • momjones

    My suggestion is “Mommy was sick” – with as much truth as you want to give them depending on their age. Teaching children about mental illness is teaching them to have compassion. My brother is mentally ill – disabled. My children knew this from the moment they were able to understand why their Uncle was just a little bit different and eccentric. As a result, they are acutely aware of mental illness in all families. I also taught all girls for many years – I guess you could say I’m an expert on mental health issues in adolescent women. I have found that girls know much more than now than my generation – and they talk about it. As a literature teacher, we discussed mental health issues often, and I would always say that it is in EVERY family, and if you don’t think so, then you might be the one who has the issues (they ALWAYS reacted to that positively).

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      This is wonderful to hear! I hadn’t thought about teaching them compassion from the earliest age by being more honest – though in an age-appropriate way of course! I agree it is definitely in every family! 1 in 4 people have some form of mental health problems and we should all be talking more about it – and destigmatizing it! Thanks so much! :)

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      You are an expert I know this

    • momjones

      Thanks, Eve. We really have to have a Grandma, Mom, Aunt, Cousin, Kid, Babiezzzz Fest this summer!

  • Tinyfaeri

    Don’t make something up. Honesty is the best policy, just make it age-appropriate. “Age-appropriate” depends largely on your child, and you’ll know it at the time, but I’d go with more “Mommy was sick, but has seen good doctors who helped her and now she’s doing better.” I’ll need to figure out something similar to explain my brother. I don’t want to lie and say I don’t have one, but a toddler or child isn’t ready for the whole story yet.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      That sounds like a plan as well! As long they don’t wind up afraid they could end up like that when sick, so I think they’d have to be between the ages of total honesty and white lie to the curious toddler. Maybe we can brainstorm for you too, the Mommyish crowd is great at brainstorming and very supportive!

    • Tinyfaeri

      The best I’ve come up with so far is that there’s different kinds of sick. There’s the cold/flu sick, and then there’s the broken leg sick, and among others there’s the kind of sick that makes you sad or angry for no reason, or see or hear things that aren’t really there. There’s medicine for all kinds of sick, so if it’s ever an issue you just need to work with a doctor to find the right one. Also, stay away from heroin, and for good measure LSD because that didn’t seem to sit too well with the gene pool after repeated uses. …My drug talks with my kids are probably not going to be normal.

      Though I don’t see the harm in putting out a bowl of milk so the fae don’t eat you. It’s a good habit to get into.

    • Karen Milton

      A bowl of milk is just common sense, says my 100% Celtic gene pool.

      I’m in the middle of benzodiazepine withdrawal right now, and I decided to use it as a parental teaching moment with my 13-year-old. I told him I was going to be sick as I come off a medication that causes physical dependency. He’s watched me nauseated, shaking, sweating, vomiting, crying, pacing and scratching at myself (and this is with a tapered dose…good times) with the understanding that this is happening to me with a medication I was prescribed by a physician and never, ever misused/abused. If I’m this sick, what would it be like if I were coming off street drugs I became addicted to? He seems suitably convinced that this is not somewhere you want to steer your life if you can avoid it. Fingers crossed, although aren’t everyone’s?

    • Tinyfaeri

      I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but kudos for addressing it straight on with your son! Kids can take in and learn from a lot, it all depends on how you address it, and helping them to understand it. I hope you’re through this time soon, and best of luck to you!

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      I like you. =)

      I did struggle for a long time with what to tell the kids. Eventually I just asked my partner what he would be comfortable with me telling the kids as he is their biological parent. He said just say it was an accident. We can tell them the full story when they’re older, but 10 and 8 is too young.

      The same as when a fiend took his own life, we told them it was an accident. The kids don’t need to know about shotguns and funerals until they’re much MUCH older…

    • Tinyfaeri

      I like you back!

      It’s really one of those things (like so many others) where you decide what’s best for your family based on your family.

  • JLH1986

    I would suggest a combination of “Mommy was sick” and “mommy has sensitive skin” Mommy was sick and the sensitive skin means mommy has more scars, but mommy knows how to help the scars (for when they are older or if they worry they’ll have many scars too). From your comments you seem to have it together and you’re very deliberate in your comments and wording so I think you’ll do just fine when the time comes. And don’t worry over worrying. I worry I’m going to assess any future kids to death because of my job, or convince myself they are have some mental illness they don’t have.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Ohh, I hadn’t thought of a combo! That sounds really good!

      Thank you very much :) Yeah, I’m gonna watch for the “signs” that I presented myself but I’m determined not to over-analyze their behavior!

    • Nichole

      I have 3 little ones, and while I don’t have any experience with what you are dealing with my husband and I have a decent collection of scars between us because of surgeries, and various child hood accidents. My kids were concerned first and foremost with whether or not they still hurt.

      I would go with what the above comment suggested, but add to it: mommy was sick and had some “owies,” because mommy has sensitive skin this is how they healed. I would definitely re-assure them that they don’t hurt you now.

      It is also going to depend on how sensitive and perceptive your kids are. My oldest isn’t really sensitive, where as my middle child is the exact opposite. My mom had her thyroid removed, it is a pretty noticale scar at the base of her neck. my oldest son has never commented on it, where as my other son, he more sensitive one asked my mom if her head was going to fall off ( he was two at the time to be fair and very worried)

      If I could offer a last bit of advice, when you are pregnant, stay as far away from the mommy forums as possible, for some reason there are women who have made it their life’s mission to convince other women that unless they are giving birth in the middle of a moonlight grove surrounded by wood nymphs they are not real moms. Or that unless you breast feed your baby you might as well be giving him poison. My first one was formula fed and he has yet to grow that third eye I was warned about.

    • JLH1986

      Well…wood nymphs ARE helpful when giving birth.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      I’m sorry, I just had to, LOL

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

    I think Mommy was sick may be the best option. I would advise against scaring the shit out of your kids with stories of evil dinosaurs and fairies! When they are old enough, you can explain it to them.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yeah, one of my best friends said the dinosaur story would scare the shite out of her son who is 3, which made me rethink that one! Well, and because it’s pretty absurd, but I still wanted to share it with all of you!

    • Natasha B

      I liked the dinosaur story :) I don’t have a lot of advice/experience, but a watered down dose of the truth does seem to be the best option. Kids are smart, and caring-they will surprise you.
      I’m loving reading your articles, and rooting for you! My dad suffers from depression, and is struggling, because with his generation/the way he was raised, no one talks about it. I think open, honest conversations in a family are a wonderful thing.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much! :) And I agree – it’s more stigmatized here than back in the US and it is so weird for me.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      lol i used to tell the kids I wrestled alligators in my spare time.
      Got away with that until last year!!!

  • Paul White

    I’ve got a pretty gnarly grouping of scars (some from cutting, some from a few fights). My plan is “Daddy had some rough times, but things are better. They remind me of what can happen if you’re not careful.” or something along those lines.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Oh, that is also very good! And thank you for sharing!

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      I think his is a good one. I’m a teacher, and I can tell you that kids do discuss each other’s parents. Like, one day, some other kid will ask your kid what happened to his/her mom. So you will have to make sure that whatever you tell your kid is age appropriate enough that you are okay with them relating it to their friends. (Hate to point that out). Because kids have no filter, their friends will ask, and they will repeat verbatim whatever you have told them. So I vote with Paul here. I also know this because when she was about 3, my husband told my daughter that you can see her in my tummy in my wedding dress (which is true) and she very thoughtfully repeated this information to her entire preschool class and teacher. Not that it’s a huge deal, but wasn’t really expecting it :)

  • Sara

    First off let me just tell you I adore you! I read your first article and went yelling through my house, “This lady has problems too and she’s married! And has friends! And maybe a baby!” So you rock and make me happy! (I swear I’m not creepy.) When my younger sister noticed my “boos-boos” as she called them she asked me and my mom. I have fibro and depression which my then four year old sister knew as Rara hurting on the inside. So my mom told her that sometimes Rara’s inside hurts go outside. Which seemed like a good explanation for her and it was the most child appropriate version we could find.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Eeeeeeee! I adore you too! I also run through my house yelling things a lot, usually while clutching the cats to my chest and making them dance with me! Yay! NEW FRIEND!

      That is a good one as well – and I do suffer physical attacks from my anxiety that make me sick, so it could work for me!

    • Sara

      My mom is phenomenal at explaining things to people in child appropriate ways! And now knows as the cool lady who lives in Ireland! When I have anxiety attacks I cry and need something to hold, but the thing can’t touch me. Which is weird and why I have the magnificent Gris-Gris! (Who is a cat. Not voodoo I swear :)

    • Sara

      Also, you look amazing in your amazing wedding dress!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Aw thank you!

  • elle

    Ooh I have loved all your columns so much and I love this one. I have also struggled with SI in my life and wonder what to tell my son. TBH, I’m not sure he will ever ask about the scars.they are something he has seen all his life, I don’t cut anymore, I don’t desire to cut anymore. So I think he will just accept them as just being something mommy has, but I don’t have that many either and most are well hidden. But I do still struggle with trichotellomania and I don’t see myself stopping like ever, and yes I have/ continue to ser a therapist. And I just don’t know what to tell my son when he inevitably asks about it. Any advice on that from anyone?

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Aw yay thank you! Hm, derma is similar to tricha but they present so differently I’m not sure. :( Anyone have any ideas?

    • Karen Milton

      I ended up having to say that my eyebrows were gone because I pulled them out, and that I was still trying to understand why – even grownups have a lot of learning to do about themselves. Between the pulling and the picking with the derm, it’s not really feasible for me to not say anything – it’s pretty obvious.

  • quinn

    Thank you for writing about this! I am struggling with the same issue because for most of my life I used cutting as a way to deal with my depression and anxiety. I had a daughter 5 years ago, and only slipped up once in her whole life with cutting and I feel like I have a handle on it now, mostly because I knew that I would have to explain all of the large scars all over my leg and arm to her one day and that terrified me. Before she was born I imagined having a very sensitive and honest conversation with her about where the scars came from, but now that the time is here I cannot bear to do it. I think that probably the brave and correct thing to do would be to just address the question when she asks, which will probably be any day now, but I decided that I’m not going to do it. I am going to the dermo next week to start getting what I can lasered off. Am I being a coward? Maybe. But I feel like my self harm isn’t something that I want her carrying around with her. I wouldn’t “feel” brave telling her about it, I would feel foolish because that is how my scars make me feel. Good luck to the author, and good job to her for owning her scars, I have just not been able to do it.

    • Véronique Houde

      When your child becomes a teenager, remember how amazing of a support you will be for her. If ever she finds herself coping with difficulties with stuff in her life, you are perfectly placed to understand her feelings without judging them. You will be there to guide her, and help her find other ways to cope with her own feelings. :)

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      It took me a very long time to stop hiding them and be open about them. *hugs* for you! And thank you!

  • LadyClodia

    I have dermatillomania, and I struggle with what I’m going to tell my boys if they ask. I’ve had it since I was a child, to the point where an elementary school teacher freaked out about it once. I have small scars all over my arms and legs, although I have generally bad skin and some freckling, so I don’t think it’s too noticeable, but I honestly have no idea, maybe it is obvious. I try not to pick when they’re around because I don’t want them to see me do it, but when I’m really stressed I’m not always successful with that.
    They do have very sensitive skin and have inherited at least a few of our skin problems already; dermatitis, eczema, and easy bruising. Their doctor said that their skin is extra sensitive because they don’t have much pigmentation. I want them to play and be kids, but sometimes I feel like a horrible mother when they’re covered in bruises from just normal play.
    My husband has some pretty bad scarring from an accident when he was a kid, and he has a lot of bad acne scarring on his back, but those definite things that we can explain.
    I hesitate to pass my scarring/picking off as just having sensitive skin because I don’t want them to worry that it will also happen to them. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that they don’t also get dermatillomania, or if they do, then to address the problem early so it doesn’t spiral out of control.

    Saying you were sick would probably be the best, or that you had bad boo-boos from a long time ago that left marks. There are a lot of medical problems that little kids just aren’t capable of understanding. So when my husband had a brain tumor removed I think we told our 2 year-old that “Papa had a boo-boo in his head.” That sounds so strange, but that was all that he was able to understand at the time.
    Your medical team might have some advice for what to say as well when the time comes.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      I have derma too! It’s really late and I can’t remember if I mention that in this article! That’s what my scab picking and skin picking falls under!

      Thank you very much for the advice! I’ll definitely be staying in treatment, so I will hopefully be able to ask them when my kids hit the questions stage!

  • Bethany Ramos

    Hana, you are absolutely awesome and look so pretty on your wedding day!! I love your honesty.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much <3

  • Kay_Sue

    I would lean towards the “mommy was sick”. Like several folks have pointed out, you can make that very age appropriate, and you can differentiate between types of sickness. Coming from a family with a lot of mental disorders, I think being aware of the different kids of sickness from a young age is a good thing. As time goes on, it leaves the door open for them to talk to you about self-harm, also.

    The only reason that I lean against the “sensitive skin” (although it would be good in a combination like someone else said) is that it could potentially shut down future conversations, which is something you say you don’t want. If I hear someone has sensitive skin, and that’s why they have significant scarring, I don’t necessarily think self-harm, and I also (this could just be the whole Southern thing coming out too) wouldn’t ever bring it up. I’d consider it rude to talk about something personal in those contexts. If your kids had a similar thought process, they may think talking about it is taboo, or that it would be hurtful to you to talk about it. Just my off the cuff thought there. :)

    • thefluter

      I think the “sensitive skin” story could also make her kids worry that they might get scars, too, from any bump or bruise. Seems like it might be frightening to younger kids who don’t really understand the concept.

      Good luck on figuring it out, and on your journey to motherhood!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Ah, good points! Thank you! :)

  • jane

    I like the “mommy was sick” as the major line, but I also love incorporating the idea that it has made you stronger – strong enough to defend your kids from dinosaurs even. So to reframe it for your kids as a positive. “You know, mommy was sick and ended up with all these scars, but think about how tough I must have been to get through all of that! I bet not even a terrible t-rex could do worse! I know that I could jump off tall buildings just like Batman to save you if I needed to…”

    • Sara

      This reminds me of my friend’s tattoo over her scars that says, “I lost the battle, but won the war.”

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Oh my gosh I love that idea!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Haha! That’s super cute!!

  • Véronique Houde

    Hey Hannah, I would encourage you to to be honest with them. Here is what our website says about self-harm to teens who have questions about it: http://kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Emotional-Health/Self-injury.aspx (for teens) and http://kidshelpphone.ca/Kids/InfoBooth/Feelings/Self-Injury.aspx (for children) Maybe it will give you some ideas? I would advocate you not being ashamed of it all – you have no reason to. You survived some struggles and found the only ways you could cope with the intense feelings that you were going through. You will have learned other ways to deal with those feelings, and you can talk to your kids about that too. You can most importantly teach them HOW to talk about their feelings so that the feelings don’t hurt them as much, so that they don’t feel like they bottle them up until they can’t cope anymore.

    Kids are smart – they figure things out that we think they won’t. Your kids will know that you are a sensitive person and so, make the most of it! FInd ways of embracing those sensitivities and show them how one deals with that. I know that you see a psychiatrist and a team of mental health workers and they’ll be able to deal with that :). Take care!!!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Wow thank you so much! :)

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I like the mommy was sick option. You can expand on it as they age and not have to reverse a previous fib.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yeah, that’s a very good point!

  • Momma425

    Oh I am so right there with you.
    When my son died in 2006, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and OCD- my only real compulsion has been hair pulling. I have scars from cutting- so many scars. I hair pull a lot less, but every once in a while I will go through a very stressful period and balding spots are visible in my hair. I try not to pull in front of other people, especially my daughter, but I probably have.
    She has never said anything (she is almost five). I don’t know what I would say if she asked me why I pull out my hair, or why I have scars on my arms and legs. It’s painful- and I worry about her SO SO much. Every single time I see her touch her own hair, I want to freak out and haul her to the doctor’s office and ask if she has the same thing, if I gave it to her.
    I will probably tell her I was sick, but she doesn’t need to worry.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Ugh, I hear you! You and I both know we can’t be alone in all this but it’s so nice to be able to talk about it!!!

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      If it does so happen that she has the same thing, imagine how great you will be for her to talk to and share with!
      Remember how strong you were and are for yourself and then how much stronger you will be for your little girl. =)

  • Anne Marie Hawkins

    My best friend is planning on telling her future kids that she was sick. She plans on elaborating on it when they get old enough to understand.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yeah, this seems to be the winning option so far!

  • R

    My kids asked me before I had prepared any kind of answer and was still deep in depression and off the top of my head “Mommy wrestled a bear.” Oops! They sometimes ask about the bear(they’re 2, 4, and 6) and I’ve only recently been able to get actual help for my issues(I was on meds that made it worse for a long time and it’s hard to find decent help) so now I actually can say “Mommy was sick but is better now” and have it be true. But man, that bear. :) At least I didn’t make them terrified of bears or something.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Hehe! See, this is what I would have done too! Glad to hear they aren’t scared of bears! <3

  • Timba

    I’d go with ‘sick’. I’m 31, and that is STILL how I describe my mom’s depression, suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization. First off, it’s true, so you won’t have to go back when they’re older and be like ‘remember the dinosaur thing…?’

    Secondly, it’s vague enough that you can fill in whatever blanks you feel are appropriate as they grow. A four year old can understand sickness, and a fifteen year old can begin to grasp MENTAL sickness, ya know?

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yeah, that’s a very good point I hadn’t thought of!

      Also very true! Thank you for the advice!!

    • Garavriel

      A 15 year old can way more than begin to grasp mental illness. I think that mental illness should be talked about in health class in middle school, especially depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. In my freshman year of high school, in a school of 40 kids, I knew 8 people that either were currently self harming or had self harmed in the past.

  • SusannahJoy

    I have scars covering my thighs. They weren’t an issue when I lived somewhere cold (yay pants!) but now I live in Hawaii, and half to deal with it. With doctor’s I just brush it off and say “I was an angsty teenager.” It’s sorta the truth, except that most of the scars are from my 20′s, but it satisfies them enough that they don’t talk about it and instead move on to whatever I’m actually there for.

    With my son, I’m planning on telling him the truth. That mommy used to be sad, and couldn’t deal with that, and the scars are the result. I’ll try to focus the discussion on better ways to handle stress, and emphasize that I’m all better now, so even if I did get sad again, I wouldn’t get any more scars. I don’t know if that’s the best option, but I’m not comfortable flat out lying to him, and I think I can use them as a good conversation starter.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Yay pants!!! Boy do I know that feel! Like, yessss winter time.

      I’m only open with all my docs because they all work together. If they didn’t I’d be waaaay less forthcoming so they focus on why I’m there.

      That’s a very good point and method I hadn’t thought of at all! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Karen Milton

    **This is NOT advice, this is just what I’ve done. I’m no success story, that’s for sure, but I’ve managed to at least keep most issues to myself so that it’s never remarked upon by children. I’ve just said “I wasn’t being careful and I hurt myself”. Kids know that phrasing, it’s what adults say when they fall down – “Did you hurt yourself?”. I just don’t expand on it, and I’ve learned to contain my SH to non-visible body areas (there’s a darn good reason I never wear shorts or skirts with bare legs, no matter the weather). I’m still learning (nearly fourteen years into my parenting journey) what to say when I’m asked about the trichotillomania/dermotillomania. I don’t have a good answer to “why?”, whether it’s why I do it or why I haven’t been able to stop. I agree that the why of it is WAY too much to put on a small person (or even a bigger one). My son (a teenager) knows I’m bipolar and we have a very open relationship about that. I don’t want him to see it as something shameful or secret, and I want him to feel like an active part in his upbringing. He’s free to say what he needs to say about my illness affects him and how I could be a better parent, and I appreciate that. It could still be viewed as me putting too much on him, but this has been a very slow relationship progression and when he was young it wasn’t at all this way. My daughter is young – she’s not four yet – and I still haven’t put words to the question of what’s “wrong” with me. Darned if I know the answer to that.

    I found that my impulse control/SH tendencies got VERY bad postpartum with my younger child. I don’t remember that time after my older was born at all, so I can’t speak to that experience. Right after my most recent pregnancy with all the hormone changes and such it got BAD. My doctor was able to get it sorted out, but it was fairly alarming at first before I got it figured out, and it took longer than I would have liked for everything to heal/grow back and such. Hormones are not always my friend.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much for sharing <3 The open honest relationship once they're that age is totally what I want!!

      See, I'm totally worried about the hormones. I hope they'll sort me out and make me totally happy peaceful sane floaty earth mama but I know it could go the opposite way too.

    • Karen Milton

      I think you’re honest enough with yourself that even if your hormones go wonky you’ll be able to understand why it’s happening. You’re good at self-reflection, and for me that’s key. The benzo withdrawal I’m currently enjoying causes depression, but I knew it would happen and I know why it’s there, and the knowledge has taken a lot of wind out of the mental illness sails. The devil you know, and all that.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Oh man benzo withdrawl! I did that last March and it is the pits! Big hugs! I agree, self-reflection and self-awareness are so vital.

    • hbombdiggity

      I went through Benzoate withdrawal two years ago, and it was so hard, and so strange the entire time. All I can say is that in the end it is totally worth it! The only thing that really got me through it was promisinf myself that someday I wouldn’t feel like I need them anymore and that pain would pass. For whatever reason, that got me through the dark ages when i felt like I’d never be happy again. I still want them occasionally, but I haven’t had once since March 2012. You can do it!

    • Karen Milton

      Thank you! :)

    • Rowan

      Don’t worry too much about the hormones. I suffer from severe depression and anxiety (and have scars of my own) but didn’t get touched by PND. A couple of days of baby blues and that was it. If you do suffer, you will know the warning signs. It’s a bit of a crappy silver lining to the cloud of mental illness, I know!

    • Gangle

      I agree with your thoughts on saying that you weren’t careful and you hurt yourself and not expanding on it until they are older, and it was what I would have suggested. I am not a parent yet, but I think lots of parents give children truthful, factual information on certain subjects, but only expand on it as it is age appropriate. Not quite the same thing, but sort of like making sure you use the correct terms for genetalia etc with a 4 year old, but at 4 a child doesn’t need to know about the safe sex message or all the details of sexual intercourse yet.

  • hbombdiggity

    I very much like reading these. I have my own diagnoses, and am on the brink of wanting to have children. I had been debating submitting to Anon Mom about my fears of passing a traceable line of mental illness to my kids. Reading these is helping me sort through these feelings. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you! <3

  • PolyMolly

    Hana, I love what you have wrote here. Your scars will open a door to an important discussion. I tell my daughter all the time “please just be kind to yourself”. She has a lot of scars already but they are fading and we celebrate the days that go by without any new ones. Anyway, as I read this it struck me that I too have faint scars left and I could’ve used them to talk to her about when we just don’t have it in us to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes we don’t.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much!

  • NeuroNerd

    As you stated in your article, there is a huge stigma with self-harm. I don’t know how open you are to talking about it in person, or whether you’d prefer it to be something secret that you only reveal to close friends.

    If it’s the former, and you don’t mind it being known that you used to self-harm, disregard this.

    If it’s the latter, I would suggest against any fantastical or exciting story–Dinosaurs, Faeries, etc. Your kids will think that’s super cool and it WILL come up at show-and-tell or on the playground. From there, it will get to other parents and you’ll have some explaining to do (and unfortunately some judgement to face). If you’re trying to keep your past a little more quiet, you probably want to tell your kids in the most imformational, dry way possible.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      I definitely think the fantastical stories have been ruled out! I don’t hide them at all, but I don’t openly tell people without them asking either. I don’t always tell them either when they do ask – depends on who’s asking, where we are, what we’re doing…etc.

      I don’t want to keep it quiet per se, I’m just not eager to be in anyone’s face about it, but at the same time, want to remain open and honest and a spokesperson!

  • phatnhappy

    I say mommy is clumsy

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      My husband actually suggested that, but I thought it could the wrong way if the kids repeated it at school.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    As someone who has dealt with selfharm from the age of 12 til 21, my kids constantly ask me about it.
    The girls ask what happened as I’ve quite bad scarring on my wrists and extremely bad scars on my thighs which they’re seen when we’ve gone swimming.
    They know my family and I were in a very bad car crash when I was 18 so I told them the scars were from the glass that was everywhere.

    I will tell them the truth someday mainly because I want them to understand that I KNOW where they’re coming from if they ever turn their mind to it.
    But for now, they are 8, 10 and 13 and I do not want them to know the full story.

    The 13 year old I think has some idea, if it’s ever mentioned on tv or if suicide is mentioned on the news, his eyes always flick to my arms. I’m still wondering how to approach this in conversation with him.

    The one consolation is that I am not self-conscious about the scars anymore. I used to wear wristbands or big arm cuff bracelets until I forgot one day and…no one noticed. No one said anything hateful or mean, no one drew attention to it.

    At least I’ll know how to help the kids if it ever affects them. The love and support of my partner has helped me drastically too.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much for sharing your story <3
      I used to cover my scars as well, but I've stopped too -it took time! People do still notice but most don't ask.
      I have to agree about knowing how to help the kids AND the support of my partner – such a huge help!
      SH has been more present in media, especially media aimed at teens, to encourage conversations about it. I know Degrassi: TNG is huge on the whole hot potato teen issues thing. It would be a bit forward to watch it with him I guess, but I'm brainstorming…hm. Since he seems to notice when you are watching things, could it open the doorway to the discussion?

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      Thank you so much for that idea, I never even thought of trying to use media.
      I think I’m more worried that if I bring it up, it might plant the idea in his mind y’know?
      Luckily, he’s a good kid, very mature for his age anyway and he has had some experience with counselling himself when his grandfather passed away.
      It’s just hard to know what to say.
      If he asks why, how much to tell him, was it because I’d been depressed? Because I saw my best friend die? Because I was bored?
      I still don’t even know myself lol!

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      I know what you mean about the fear! My best friend tried it to try and understand why I was addicted and struggling and she came back online a few moments later saying…”Ow…that was stupid…why do you do that?” I was relieved it didn’t catch on, but still felt horrible she had even tried it! Unlike when we were growing up though, it’s more talked about, in media, in the news. It’s still stigmatized, but we’re getting there!

      I wouldn’t know how to answer why either. I think I would explain the self-hatred thing. I’m not sure though! It seems to confuse adults so I can’t imagine there’s a response that would make sense at any age.

    • Véronique Houde

      You won’t put the idea in his head just by telling him your story – it’s the same thing with drug abuse and any other addiction problem. Your son is 13 years old, so he’s getting mature enough to know some details about what you went through and understand it to some detail.

      He seems to be showing some curiosity towards it. If you notice him looking again, you can casually tell him that you’ve noticed him looking and were wondering if he would like to know what happened. With boys, it always helps to talk to them side by side (not face to face) so the car is a good place to talk about stuff. Or the couch after having watched a tv show. They are more comfortable when there isn’t direct eye contact ;). Also, you can explain a little bit of what happened, but then focus on what you learned from the experience, and how you got better. Tell him about the fears that you have about self-harm, and the things that weren’t so great about it.

  • Katherine Handcock

    I’d also advise going with honest answers — you never want kids to feel like they can’t rely on you for information — but use a technique that I learned about in a book about talking to kids about sex and sexuality issues: give them the simplest answer possible, and only expand if they ask more questions. So, if the question is, “Mommy, what are those marks?” you answer, “They’re scars; that’s what’s left behind when your body fixes itself after a cut (or a burn).” If they ask, “Why do you have so many?”, in your case, the best answer is probably, “I had a lot of cuts, and since my skin is really sensitive, they didn’t heal well.”

    As your kids get older, they’ll ask more questions, like why you had so many cuts, etc., but by the time they ask that, you’ll probably be able to go for “Mommy was sick in a way that made her hurt herself, but she’s worked with great doctors who have helped her get better.” But if you go step by step like this, they’ll never get the impression it’s something scary or something to be ashamed of, and you’ll be able to keep the dialogue open.

    By the way, you may want to check out a wonderful children’s picture book called “Virginia Wolf” (shameless plug for A Mighty Girl, the website I work for: http://www.amightygirl.com/virginia-wolf ;-) It’s loosely based on the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her painter sister, and while it can be read as an “I’m having a grumpy day” story, it’s also a great, gentle introduction to the idea of depression and mental illness — and how the support of people you love can help you overcome it.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Wow thanks so much! I really like this idea! And I’m definitely gonna check out that book, it sounds like a great way to introduce the idea!

    • Katherine Handcock

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you like the idea, and I think you’ll love the book. It’s also beautifully illustrated. We have a history of depression in my family and I’m planning to order it so we can talk to our kids about the difference between being sad and depressed, and how you can help someone who’s wrestling with mental illness.

  • ScienceGeek

    I developed ante-natal depression during my pregnancy, and one of the symptoms was self-harm. I’m very fortunate that the compulsion wasn’t as powerful as my love for my unborn, but because I had no idea what was happening to me, this meant I pulled out my hair instead of cutting myself, and thought that was a rational, healthy solution because it posed no risk to my kid (I was worried about blood loss/infections).
    Since my diagnosis, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one in my family who has had problems. I knew about my younger sister, but I’ve discovered my father, my aunt, and several other relatives on his side have all had problems, or are now realising they have problems.
    I had trouble with depression when I was a teenager, and I’d always put it down to the typical teen angst and hormones. Now I wish, so badly, that I’d known what it really was (at my first appointment with my psych he told me ‘This is biological, and it always has been’). I can’t help but wonder now if all my suffering could have been avoided.
    I hope, with everything in me, that my son will inherit his dad’s mental wiring instead of mine. But I’m going to keep a close eye on him, especially when he’s a teenager. I’m not going to ignore it like my parents did. And if my worst fears come true, at least I know I’ll understand.
    Whatever you tell your child/ren, remember that you can also understand. I’m sure you know how valuable that is.

    • http://ultimatemamacat.tumblr.com/ Hana Graham

      Thank you so much for sharing this <3 That is exactly why I want to be open and honest and watch my kids for warning signs, while teaching them that it is okay and nothing is wrong with them! I think I covered more of this in my last piece about being borderline and planning a baby. Big hugs!!

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  • Elise

    I used to nanny for a few little boys and I did get asked the question about my self-harm scars. I simply told them “a very sad person gave them to me a long time ago, but she’s better now.”

  • Chey

    I think that saying you were in a bad car accident a while ago would work really well. All of the scars could have been from the glass that broke from the windshields. That is what I plan on telling my kids someday, which I don’t know if I want to risk the chance of them becoming like me.

  • Amy Austin

    Hi everyone, knowing how tricky it can be to talk about self harm and struggling to find help on how to talk to children (my 11 year old sister became curious with my scars) I have written about it and created a PDF. on my blog http://www.theshadowsdetail.wordpress.com about tips on how to explain self harm honestly to children. I never wanted to lie to my sister but it can be tricky when children are so receptive to be open but not “too” open. Let me know what you think and if there’s anything you would add or disagree with! Thank you, Amy

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