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I finished my official placement with the youth council at the end of June. I’m going to try to keep posting here unless the British Youth Council objects or finds another young person to take it over– because people are reading it, and I think it’s worth doing. Unfortunately, I’m now doing this under my own steam in my free time, so the posts might be a bit sporadic.

OK. This was written in response to a request from the charity Young Minds for writing on young people and mental health, but I think it’s relevant here too. Like some of my other posts, this is only tangentially related to youth politics. It’s very personal, much more so than anything else I’ve posted here. I want to post it for multiple reasons.

Firstly, and most simply, young people’s mental health is important, and one of the youth council’s manifesto points (“Recognise that our minds matter”: BYC manifesto 2010-12). Beyond that, there is a stigma attached to mental health problems, that we can begin to break down by discussing them openly. And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, because there’s a chance that one of the people who sees this will be a young person with similar issues to mine who might get something out of reading it.

Warning: This post includes discussion of self-harm and a reference to eating disorders.

“Why is it, that sometimes the bruises on your arms embarrass you, and sometimes they make you proud?”

Sometimes I wished my friends were a bit less observant. You see, the bruises I was pleased with were sports injuries, but the ones I was ashamed of were from self-harm. It took a long time for me to identify what I was doing as self-harm. After all, I wasn’t cutting or burning myself, didn’t have any scars. Looking back, I think I was being prejudiced. I didn’t want to think of myself as troubled, or broken, which was how I saw people with mental health issues back then.

It wasn’t just that, though. I was nervous of being told I was just playing at self-harm, or that I shouldn’t be drawing attention away from people with real problems. Friends with eating disorders have described similar problems. What if I’ve only purged a couple of times? It can’t be serious, or a real eating disorder, can it? None of us wanted to admit we were having problems.

Without admitting what the problem was, or seeking any advice, I started to find or invent coping strategies. If I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell her to look for help. There should have been support available, from on-line resource centres, from my school, from the NHS. But I didn’t want to publically ask for help so I had to manage on my own.

–          I put together a support network. People who didn’t mind taking phone calls at 2am if I needed them to. (And, yes, people who called me in the middle of the night, for help or support.)

–          I wrote, a lot. Everything from bad fiction and poetry, to rants and articles.

–          I’ve been studying Taekwondo (a martial art) since I was a little kid. When I was in a state, I tried running through technical exercises, or doing a load of fitness training, to clear my head.

–          I’d put on music and spend ten to twenty minutes sitting still with my eyes shut breathing deeply

–          Where possible, I avoided things that would trigger me. I know, it seems obvious, and it’s not always possible. But it’s worth saying.

Every time I think it’s behind me, something happens that draws me back. Earlier this year, on my first day at a new job, as a joke, someone made a show of looking at my wrists for signs of self-harm or injecting. My only scar is from a play fight with my brother, not my self-harm. But still, the shocked disbelief in my colleagues’ eyes hit hard.

“I knew you didn’t seem the type,” one of them grinned, relieved, when I explained the mark.

People think of self-harmers, and people with other mental health issues, as visibly falling to pieces. Some of us are, of course, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But a lot of us simply look “normal”, whatever that means. In my case, I was hard-working, quiet, and academic. But I’ve equally known popular, sociable, apparently happy and bubbly teens, who have mental health issues.

I say “us”, despite the fact that I haven’t self-harmed in years, apart from a single brief relapse. Maybe I shouldn’t. But it still affects my life. I still work to avoid situations which might set me off. Whenever things are going wrong, I have to remind myself why I don’t want to go back to that. It’s hard work, yes, but it’s worth it.

I just wish I’d been able to talk to someone who could help me when I was a teenager.

I just wish there wasn’t a stigma attached to mental health problems.

I just wish this wasn’t embarrassing to talk about, even now.

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2 Comments

  1. I have been in the same position as you. Even today I sometimes still am.

    It was really hard for me to even think of getting help, due to the very same reason as you. I.e my problems insignificant. Especially when I exhibited no physical systems such as self hurt.
    I wish I had a support network, even the makeshift one you had.

    • Thank you very much for your reply. Writing this openly was hard for me – I’m guessing commenting this openly on someone else’s site was at least as hard.

      I can’t tell from this is you’re still having problems with all of this and looking for support.

      If you are, feel free to private message me, here, or if you linked here from one of my other accounts, then on whichever site feels safest to you.


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