More Than a Label

A teenage girl came into Panera Bread, where I worked in 2013, and ordered a peppermint mocha. When she stretched out her hands to give me a few crumpled dollar bills, the sleeves of her black hoodie slipped up to show bright butterflies sharpied over two week old wounds on her wrists.

Self-conscious, she looked away. I smiled at her and started chatting. I looked her in the eye, I made sure someone was making her mocha, and I said goodbye.

I wanted to say a lot of other things, but the time wouldn't allow it. I wanted her to know all the things I want every other girl I know like her to know: that she's impossibly brave, and marked by beauty much deeper than the things she wears on her skin. That when people tell her the demons she's facing aren't real, they're lying, because, oh, I know they are, but by far the worse lie is when people tell her she will never conquer those demons.

I wanted her to know she is breathtakingly human, that she will always be more than the labels other people will place on her because of her struggles—more even than the labels she herself has accepted.

But I didn't get a chance to say those things. The weight of it all rose in my throat and allowed me only simply smiles and light chatter, and in the end she met my eyes and slowly smiled back for the first time since I'd seen her come in.

I don't talk about this publicly often because some things matter so much to me that I don't want to risk screwing it up, but one of the things I most deeply hope to achieve with my life is to remove some of the shame and shadow surrounding self injury. Six years after that first became a goal for me, I still feel incredibly helpless most days. But when I lie awake at night thinking about that brief encounter, I wonder if maybe just the fact that I'm trying is a whole lot better than ignoring it.


Writer: Mary Nikkel

Mary is a fan of stories about grace—whether they show up in writing, music, or photography form. She's been listening to and telling those stories as a professional writer for over 10 years. Mary is the founder and editor of Rock on Purpose, where she talks about rock music centered around truth and redemptive justice.

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