Letter to the stranger staring at my daughter's scars

Tasneem Abrahams
Jun 22nd, 2016

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It is one of the hardest things to be a parent with a child with an illness. As parents we want to protect our children from harm and shield them from all the pain in the world. So when your child is sufferring, it can cause so much emotional anguish as you feel like you have failed them and like you have lost control over your ability to protect them. We tend to see our roles as parents reflected in the image of a mum kissing her child's hurt knee after having put a plaster on, or the dad hugging his daughter after she had fallen off her bike. But the reality is that there are some hurts that cannot be fixed with a simple bandage or a hug. Sometimes the battles our children face are are far deeper and far more challenging to overcome. In particular when these battles are related to mental health. 

When your child picks his or her own skin

All children develop bad habits. Some children pick their noses, bite their nails or fiddle with their hair. In puberty most teenagers develop the habit of picking at their acne. However for some children these behaviors develop into more than just bad habits. For some children these behaviors become so bad that it negatively impacts on every aspect of the child's ife, from the way they feel about themselves, to their ability to engage in meaningful occupations, their school work may suffer, or even sometimes cause visible physical damage to their appearance. What do you do? How do you get your child to stop?! As much as we want to be the protectors and the fixers, it is first and foremost important to recognize that it is not a battle for you to win for your child, but rather it is a battle that you face TOGETHER, as a family. 

Dealing with the perceptions of others

There is still a very negative stigma around mental disorders. As a society we tend to feel ashamed and want to hide away the evidence of our internal pain. We are not as open to talk about issues of mental illness as we are about physical illness or disability. It is particularly so when the mental issues being dealth with leads to self harm or damage to one's self. Although dermatillomania or excoriation disorder is not the same as self harm, the physical evidence of both disorders are often plain for the world to see. For many skin pickers, the shame and embarrassement from the scars left fom picking the skin is far more debilitating that the act of picking itself. Many skin pickers find themselves avoiding places or situations where their scars will be seen by others, particularly so in teenagers. This means that they then often avoid activities they might normally enjoy or even become socially isolated from their peers due to avoidance. One mom a a teen who was battling with self-injurous behavior, with the permission of her courageous daughter  shared this heartfelt letter on her personal blog to a stranger on a train who she noticed was staring at her daughter's self-harm scars. We are republishing here with the permission of the blogger Tanya Van Dalen from "It's a Dog's Life" blog:

11 June 2016
Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train,


I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. You are careful not to catch my eye. I see your eyes fall on my daughter’s self-harm scars. It is a hot day, she is wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and her scars are out in the open. I see how uncomfortable they make you feel. I don't blame you, I totally understand that you find the scars confusing. I see your eyes flick up to my face and wonder what kind of mother I am. I see you considering if I might be cold and uncaring or perhaps she cut her arms because life at home was so difficult. That is ok, I don't mind your thoughts as long as you don't voice them to me. It makes sense that you would wonder if we are a dysfunctional family, that you would think we don't love her enough. Her scars are such an outward symbol of her inner pain and you are right- our job as parents is to protect our children and stop them from harming themselves. Perhaps you would prefer her to hide the pain away and not make it so visible?


I want you to know, dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train that we did our very best to try and help her get free from the monster that ran wild in her head. We really did. We quit our jobs, we tried to keep our eyes on her 24 hours a day, we took her to hospital for stitches and for appointments- sometimes we dragged her kicking and screaming because we knew what she needed when she didn’t. I want you to know that I often slept on the floor in her room so I could be close to her, that I cried silent tears there, on that floor. I want you to know how strong I pretended to be every time I had to bandage her arms after the monster in her head had helped her find a way around us so she could harm herself.


Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. I wish you could look past the scars and see her strength, see how she fights the monster in her head everyday just to stay alive. I want you to notice that she is on a train and not curled up in her bed wanting to die anymore. I want you to see her scars and try to understand how an illness that people perceive as is all in your head can also leave scars on your body.


And Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I don’t mind if you judge me as a mother but I beg you, never judge my baby girl, she is braver than those scars look. I pray that you may never have to stand here where I stand.


Much love,

The Mother of the Bravest Girl on the Waterloo Train



Tasneem Abrahams

Tasneem is an Occupational Therapist, and a graduate of the TLC foundation for BFRBs professional training institute. Her experience in mental health includes working at Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital forensic unit (South Africa), Kingston Community Adult Learning Disability team (UK), Clinical Specialist for the Oasis Project Spelthorne Community Mental Health team (UK). Tasneem is a member of both the editorial team and the clinical staff on Skinpick, providing online therapy for people who suffer from excoriation (skin picking) disorder.

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