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We can’t be there in person to help and support you in a moment of crisis, but there are other options available to you if you can’t turn to someone you trust. By giving us your postcode (or one nearby to where you are right now) we can let you know about services in your area. Remember: this moment will pass; you won’t always feel the way you do right now. 

If in doubt always call 999.

We'll also be available this coming Wednesday at 7pm for a live chat drop in session

The next live chat is: 01 Nov 2017 Show Info

Name: November 1st

Date: 01-11-2017

Time: 19:00

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Dedicated to self-harm recovery, insight and support.

Anger

Matt talks to us about Anger.

SelfharmUK vlog: Anger
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World Mental Health Day 2017 #dontfilterfeelings

Today is World Mental Health Day

In order to be fully human we have physical wellbeing and mental and emotional wellbeing.

In the same way you sometimes get a cold, hurt your wrist or break a leg: we all get emotionally unwell at some point. 

Physically we can see when someone isn’t well – from their pale looking skin, to a arm cast to a wheelchair – it’s obvious when someone needs additional support due to their physical illness. Often it might only be a day or two off school, sometimes it needs hospital treatment – it’s a sliding scale of needing extra physical care.

Mental care is the same – it’s a huge scale. From having a ‘bad day’ to sleeplessness to depression – the scale is huge and, sadly, at some point, we might find ourselves needing some additional support, but, because it’s unseen we can be tempted not to ask for it. 

Hiding our feelings can make us feel worse. Feeling low can easily move into depression and anxiety issues.

Anxiety isn’t just the feeling of ‘being a bit worried’, it’s an overwhelming sense of dread or fear that stops you from enjoying life and may limit where you go because you come so anxious you can’t control it.

Panic attacks are the body’s way of holding up a ‘red card’, of saying ‘STOP’.

If you ever experience any of these things then you are most probably struggling with your anxiety, and because it’s hidden inside of you, others may not be aware of it. It may not happen every day, but possibly about the same thing each time or in the same situation:

  • a feeling of panic
  • heart racing
  • sweating
  • breathlessness
  • tight chest
  • clenching fists
  • feeling like crying
  • needing to run away.

When these feelings come into our body, it can be hard to take control. Don’t filter your feelings:

  • tell someone you are feeling panicky
  • if you can, take yourself away from the situation you are in
  • breathe, breathe, breathe – Slowly in and out. The temptation to breathe fast won’t allow your brain to get the oxygen it needs; slow breaths in and out
  • if you feel light headed, put your head down
  • try not to talk but concentrate your body on breathing and relaxing your muscles
  • once your breathing is slowing, work on relaxing every muscle in your body.

Once the feeling has subsided:

  • communicate  - if talking about it starts you feeling panicky again, write it down. Try and think back to what started it (it might not be the think you thought it was)
  • take control – write yourself an action plan – what can YOU do? Is there a situation or person that added to your distress? If so, how can that/they be avoided?
  • draw a stick person – where did you first feel the anxiety in your body? (sweaty hands, clenched fists, headache, heart racing). Write an action plan for what actions you can take when you begin to recognize that feeling in your body
  • give someone a copy of your action plan – someone who might be with you when it happens, include in it how you would like them to help (not talk to you, get you water, stay with you).

Long term anxiety needs specialised help. If you are finding yourself having panic attacks often, not sleeping, struggling with food issues: you may need to think about getting specialised help before things get worse. There are some great people out there who can help, we suggest you visit anxiety.org.uk for more info.

Love,

The SelfharmUK Team

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New website!

Welcome to our brand-new website! We are so excited to be sharing with you all the weeks and months of work we have been doing to try and get this right. The first thing that you may notice is that we now have three very specific areas for the main people that visit our site. This is so you can feel totally at home sharing any stories or questions you have, knowing that parents and professionals won’t see it. Please be aware if we are really worried about you we may need to pass this information on.

To post content and to see what other people have posted you must be logged in, you can do this by clicking the register button and filling in the form that follows. 

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Please give us honest information, we may need this in the future to help keep you safe.

We want you to feel at home here, we want to try and help you build a safe online community that helps you begin to share how you are feeling about your self-harm and meet other people who can help you in this journey. Sometimes we will comment on your posts, but overall, we want you to have the space to help and support each other where you can.

The site is broken down into different places for you to get the help and support you need we have our main chat space where you can upload appropriate pictures, questions and tell us your story. When you post on that page you get to choose your colour background, your font and picture so it feels more personal to you. 

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We want you to feel supported in your times of crisis and have somewhere to take your concerns and fears when you feel lost and alone. This main chat forum and space is for you to help and support one another. This will be monitored, please remember we are all about pro-recovery here so be sensitive and supportive to everyone needs.

We will also be hosting live chat sessions where we will look at a whole series of topics from anxiety to LGBTQ+ to depression and many more. These sessions will start on the 1st November at 7pm. They will run for approximately 30-40 minutes and will be held once a week on a Wednesday evening. These are completely informal and will be hosted in a chat room format. We would love you to come along when you can. You can find the links to these chat rooms and a little bit about what we will be discussing that week under the help button on the main page of our website.

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Finally, when you are ready we have our weekly support group called Alumina, you can find information about this and sign up under the Alumina tab in the main menu. This is a more intentional form of support and we would love to welcome you when you feel ready.

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If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please contact us at info@selfharm.co.uk and we will try and see if we can help. We really want you to feel supported in this journey and have the space to share your experience. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and like us on Facebook

Love,

The SelfharmUK Team x

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Kelly's battle with Self-harm

Dame Kelly Holmes; seven times gold medallist, Olympic extraordinaire and exceptional athlete, Kelly has worked incredibly hard for all she has achieved and I’m sure there has been sacrifices along the way.

This weekend Kelly revealed that in the lowest point of her life she turned to self-harm. Her exact words in the interview were “At my lowest, I was cutting myself with scissors every day that I was injured to cope with my emotional anguish”

There can be many reasons why people begin to self-harm and the pressure that Kelly felt in those weeks and months would have been devastating and all consuming, she had no other way to deal with the emotional pain she was carrying and her self-harm was the only thing that helped her to cope.

I think this is another stark reminder that it is not just 14-year-old girls who self-harm, but that it can affect anyone at any stage in their life, whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Kelly Holmes is not an attention seeker, she is not crazy, she was just totally unable to process the divesting news that she may not compete again. I would imagine she felt lonely and completely out of control.

Feeling out of control is something a lot of the young people we work with feel and can lead them to harm. This story is also a reminder that all people regardless of what they do for a living or their worldly status can feel lonely, isolated and out of control.

This interview does however end with a light at the end of the tunnel, she kept going and got the help and support she needed. With this support, Kelly managed to stop harming, this is remarkable and I think offers real hope for anyone who currently finds themselves in a dark and lonely place. This is not to say the road to recovery is easy and doesn’t take a lot of time and perseverance, but it does remind us it is possible. We must be ready to share how we are feeling with someone in our lives to begin our journey of change and healing. This is not easy, but is necessary to begin to process how we bring about change.

This should also challenge us to think about our own recovery, so ask yourself:

  • What are the things that are causing you to try to gain some control?
  • How does controlling food help to make things better?
  • What things may need to change for the need to control to fade?

If you would like to gain some support about self-harm you can sign up to Alumina, our six-week support programme.

We also have books to help with the self-harm recovery which you can purchase via our store.

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4 things you need to know when you've been diagnosed with a mental health problem

The article below was written by Mike Jones, a fighter against mental illness stigma. By creating www.schizlife.com, he hopes to shed some light on the symptoms of schizophrenia, how to help someone dealing with it, as well as the stereotypes surrounding this disorder.

A diagnosis of a mental health problem can feel like a ton of bricks has just come pounding down around you. Things might feel overwhelming, almost as if the world is spinning out of control. You might be wondering if things will ever get better. Don't worry, all of this is completely normal. The most important thing to remember is that you really are in control of your life.

1.    You are not the only one and your mental health problem does not define you

When you look around, it might seem as if you're the only person dealing with something this difficult. You couldn't be more mistaken. One out of every ten children faces a similar battle. Demi Lovato, Angelina Jolie, Russel Brand, and Kristin Bell have all struggled with mental health issues. It's simply more common than you think. Just because you don't hear your friends talking about it doesn't mean they aren't grappling with their own mental health difficulties.

You're a complex person with unique talents, likes, dislikes, and tastes. Maybe you're creative, a great friend, or an amazing artist. Do you despise tomatoes, love pasta, and adore dogs? Whoever you are, you already were, before learning of your mental health diagnosis. Your gifts and talents are still there. And whatever you love to hate, is too! Your mental illness is just as much a part of you as your gifts, talents, and pet peeves. All of these things together create the amazing person you are, but no single one defines you. Your mental illness is not who you are.

2.    Knowing your diagnosis gives you power

A mental health diagnosis names the thoughts and behaviors that have been getting in the way of your goals and dreams. Now you have the opportunity to take control of your life. Knowledge is power. With your diagnosis, you have access to important information and resources that will allow you to determine how to face the obstacles created by your mental health.

You're in the driver's seat now. You get to choose how to address this challenge. On the Be Vocal website, Demi Lovato describes her feelings and the actions she took after finding out about her mental illness. "Getting a diagnosis was kind of a relief. It helped me start to make sense of the harmful things I was doing to cope with what I was experiencing. Now I had no choice but to move forward and learn how to live with it, so I worked with my health care professional and tried different treatment plans until I found what works for me." That worked out pretty well for her!

3.    What other people think is not your problem

Having a strong social support network is extremely important when it comes to managing your mental health problem. Don't allow the stigma associated with mental health to convince you to accept a sense of shame and stop reaching out to people. Take responsibility for your own sense of safety. You decide who to talk to, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances.

A random individual's inability to behave rationally says nothing about you and a great deal about them. Understand that your judgement in these matters will never be perfect. That's part of the learning process. Over time it will become easier and you'll get better at learning who to trust, how much to disclose, and under what circumstances you feel comfortable discussing things that make you vulnerable. But never stop building your tribe.

4.    You still get to decide who you want to be

Part of growing up, even for teens without mental health struggles, is figuring out how to exist as a unique individual in this world. What kind of person do you want to be? What footprint do you want to leave? Do you want to be someone who lives in fear? Or do you want to rise to the challenge of honoring the entirety of who you are? Do you have the courage to refuse to allow others to treat you in ways lacking in courtesy and respect? Do you know how to set limits while still remaining faithful to your own values?

Dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness forces you to consciously address these questions now instead of later. This gives you an opportunity to walk consciously and with grace into adulthood. Your diagnosis has given you the chance to begin asking and answering the questions that give a life meaning. Find your answers and then systematically implement them in the way you structure your days.

You always have choices. Always. Mental illness does not take away your power. Don't let anyone tell you that it does. You are strong enough to manage this. Ask questions, reach out, make decisions, and shape your own life. How are you going to face this? What's your plan of action? What steps are you going to take to soften the sharp and painful edges of the symptoms of your mental illness so that you stay on top of its ups and downs? No one is saying that this will be easy. But it absolutely can be done.

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Sexuality and Self-harm

Lahna talks to us about Sexuality and Self-harm

SelfharmUK vlogs: Sexuality and Self-harm

 Some useful links:

SelfharmUK (that's us!): selfharm.co.uk

Mermaids (Trans* charity): mermaids.org.uk

Albert Kennedy Trust (LGBTQ+ charity): akt.org.uk

Stonewall (LGBTQ+ charity): stonewall.org.uk

Mind (Mental Health Charity): mind.org.uk

Childline (Child Support Charity): childline.org.uk or 0800 1111 or app "For You"

Young Minds (Mental Health Charity): youngminds.org.uk or Parents Helpline 0808-802-5544

For LGBTQ+ groups near you
 

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Self-harm and School #educating

Has anyone been watching ‘Educating Manchester’?

There was a lovely girl on there who was having a crud time – her background was tough, sad and difficult. Teachers were trying to support her but she wanted desperately to leave school, stay home and manage life her way.

She was self-harming.

As her story unfolded, we heard her pain – she lost her mum at a very young age, bought up brilliantly by grandad, struggled with her emotions and education wasn’t a priority in her life: getting through each day was.

Because her grandad showed her love, because her teachers showed her care, because her friend’s sought help for her; she was able to allow a teacher to clean and cover her cuts. She was able to tell them how low she was feeling and how she needed more help in school and coping with Year 11 pressure.

Wow – we thought. What difference those teachers were able to make by listening to her, working with her grandad, allowing her express her feelings and even question whether School was right for her. No teacher pressured her, no one shouted at her or judged her.

Teachers can offer more than an English lesson or advice about career choices: they can offer care, support, a listening ear and as trust worthy adults.

Adults go into teaching because they believe in supporting, guiding and caring for young people. At SelfharmUK, we train teachers to help young people struggling with self-harm, because, we believe, that by working with us, we can help you more.

Today, have a think – is there a teacher you could trust with your story? 

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Quiet – shhhh…

We have heard it from parents, teachers and librarians countless times in our lives and, sadly, often negatively, in a ‘don’t make any noise’ sense!

How about ‘quiet’ in a positive way? ‘quiet’ said in a soothing, gentle way encourages us to relax, breathe and slow down.

Silence and quiet are things that are hard to achieve – maybe we don’t enjoy our own company; maybe we like to keep busy and have background noise constantly; maybe silence isn’t something we are comfortable with?

If silence isn’t something you feel comfortable with it, try it in small amounts to begin with. Thursday 14th September is National Quiet Day, a day all about encouraging you to find a place that feels safe and comfortable where you can relax (or maybe even fall asleep, as that’s what tends to happen when we find places that are quiet!).

Finding quiet in our noisy, crammed lives is hard. It is a discipline we have to learn to take time to listen to what our feelings are saying, what our thoughts are wanting us to ponder and what our body is trying to tell us about how we are doing physically.

You might find sitting with your own thoughts uncomfortable; perhaps all your thoughts and feelings come flooding into your head? That’s ok – write them down, tackle them one by one and give yourself time to think through each feeling that comes into your thoughts. Acknowledge it. Name the feeling. Validate it in the way you would let a friend know you understand them – give yourself permission to feel.

Perhaps finding your quiet place will allow you to draw or sing your thoughts? Hey, no one needs to see or hear you (that’s the joy of a quiet place!), so if you want to sing, shout, cry or laugh – do!

Perhaps reading will allow you some time to read for pleasure? Read slowly enjoying each paragraph. Find a book you loved as a child and go back to it.

Perhaps learning to breathe slower, deeper so your lungs are filled like a balloon might help you relax your muscles, your brain and anxieties?

Quiet offers us the ability to listen to ourselves. Giving yourself the gift of quiet allows you to give you what you give to some many others: your concentration, your love and your thoughts.

This year, why not use National Quiet Day to find some quiet to be with yourself?

If you already have your very own quiet place - we’d love to see it! This could be anything from that bench that you always find peaceful on your daily dog walk, that patch of grass on top of that hill with the best view near your house, your sofa at home or even that place you always like to sit at your favourite cafe. Send your images to info@selfharm.co.uk and we’ll post the best ones on our Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter on the day in the hope of inspiring others to find their own quiet places.

You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. #NationalQuietDay

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World Suicide Prevention Day 2017

Words matter, don’t they?

They have the power to inspire hope or induce despair in seconds.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and at ThinkTwice we believe that the words we use to describe the despair of thoughts of suicide are important.

It’s thought that up to a quarter of young people have suicidal thoughts - and yet so many suffer in silence  - afraid of the stigma that can be attached to suicide.

When we use phrases like “commit suicide” or “failed suicide attempt” we make it seem unspeakable.

And yet suicide isn’t a crime to be committed; it’s a preventable tragedy; and the way we prevent it is by talking about it.

When we talk about suicide, we want to be talking about hope, because where there is life there is hope.

Having thoughts of suicide doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it just means you’re struggling.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to speak out when you’re struggling - because when you speak out you allow yourself to be helped - and you help to lessen the stigma.

It doesn’t matter whether you talk to a teacher or a parent - what matters is that you talk about it.

If you’re the one hearing your friend speak about suicide, it can feel scary, but you aren’t alone.

Whether you're struggling yourself or it’s your friend - there are people you can talk to.

So this World Suicide Prevention Day we are encouraging everyone to speak of suicide and to speak of hope.

To find out more about our campaign head to ThinkTwice or follow the hashtag on Twitter #SpeakofSuicide #WSPD17 

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Starting again…and again…and again….

September brings new challenges for many of us – a new term isn’t just back at school or college, it’s all the changes it brings: new classes, new teachers, different people in our classes, a change in timetable, pressured teachers pressuring us to do well, and the hope that this year we will ‘do better’.

What if you don’t need to ‘do better’? what if actually just ‘doing enough’ is good enough this year for you? Pressure to achieve and fear of failure is a big reason why so many of us struggle with our mental health – we are scared that we won’t make the grades, fit in with the right people, that others are better than us, we want to make our family proud and then, sadly, we take it out on ourselves if we think we aren’t ‘doing better’ this year.

So, let’s turn it around this academic year – what if you teach yourself to hear this statement every time you are told about how hard you are going to have to work this academic year: ‘ just do enough, by your own standards’ (this isn’t in any way your ticket to ‘don’t care and just fly by the seat of your pants’!), it’s an instruction to learn something new this year:

Be gentle with yourself. There is only one you.

Good enough might not get you the grades you want but it might just keep you well enough to be able to cope with how you are feeling.

Good enough might just relieve the deep pressure that keeps you awake at night.

Good enough might allow you time to flourish outside of academic pressure and develop new skills on things you are passionate about.

Good enough means that it doesn’t matter how many times you have to ‘start again’, each time is good enough because each day, you are doing good enough.

You are more than ‘good enough’, you really are - whether you believe it not.

As we all start again, have hope that this year, however many times you need to start again in your journey coping with self-harm; it is good enough.

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Alumina Summer Programme - Anxiety

Laura talks to us about anxiety

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Alumina Summer Programme - Depression

Ruth talks to us about depression. 
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Hollyoaks: self-harm on TV

Yeah, I know, some people love it and some hate it! Hollyoaks is the marmite of soap operas :0

It is the only soap we watch in my house of 2 teenagers. Why? Because we love the fact that it represents gay people, straight people, mental health issues and race issues far more than anything else on TV (unproportionally so, I know!).

There’s a story line at the moment about Lily Drinkwell (yep, that is her name!) who has begun self-harming after numerous issues in her life: mum dying, boyfriend issues, rejection and body image. It shows the complexity of the emotions: it isn’t ever juts one thing that leads a person to begin to self-harm: it is many, many things that have all layered upon each other to create a set of complex emotions that a person feels are out of control.

Lily impulsively self-harmed the first time: it wasn’t planned, she hadn’t expected to do it. In our experience at SelfharmUK, this is often the way: the first time isn’t thought through but is reaction to huge feelings of strong emotions. Lily then feels guilty and ashamed afterwards: her aunt notices blood on the towel and insists she gets medical attention. This, is where soap opera land differs from real life: for many young people, their self-harm isn’t noticed for some time. It then becomes a coping strategy to deal with those emotions that aren’t going away, but are, in fact, becoming more layered, due to the guilt of self-harming and fear of being ‘found out’.

If this is you, if you are in this cycle, whether it’s been a one off self-harm, or whether you feel you are stuck in this never ending cycle of harming; feeling bad; feeling guilty; harming to release the feelings…; we want to support you.

At SelfharmUK we are pretty unshockable, we don’t judge you, we don’t tell anyone (unless we urgently need to for safety). We aren’t about how TV portrays self-harm; we are about the reality of it: the long haul, no quick fixes, giving you information on looking after yourself and your injuries, ideas about pulling apart those emotions positively with trained people: we are about what you are about.

We listen; we chat; we offer help; we offer ideas of new ways; we help you consider what’s going on in those layers of emotions so that you can, when you want to, find a new way of coping with those strong, real and confusing feelings.

We run a safe place online, called Alumina, where trained people can support you. 

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Alumina Summer Programme - Relationships

Jess talks to us about Relationships

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Alumina Summer Programme - Coping with scars

Jo talks to us about coping with scars.

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The pressure got to me

Rebekah Wilson is an Olympic athlete: a physically strong, able bodied woman who is amongst the elite to be able to compete for her country. However, in this interview with BBC news, Rebekah tells what life behind closed doors was like for her; the pressure to achieve; the feel of failure. She talks about recognising she needed help to overcome self-harm as being one of her biggest life challenges.

You can watch Rebekah's interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/winter-sports/40738768


If, once you have watched Rebekah’s interview, you would like to get in touch to chat, to find support or to ask a question; please email info@selfharm.co.uk
 

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Alumina Summer Programme - Introduction

Jo Introduces us to the programme and what to expect over the summer.

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Alumina Summer Programme - Medication

Jo talks to us about managing medication.

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I cut myself to live

“ I cut myself to live, not die”: A response to Chester Bennington’s death.

This is a quote from a young person we worked with at SelfharmUK. It is the voice of hundreds of teenagers who are using self-harm to live; self-harm is a coping strategy, for a time, until those thoughts, feelings and pressures become resolved.

For most, it passes – for some quicker than others, for some not until later in life, very occasionally it’s a life-long coping strategy.

Today, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park took his life. A life filled with abuse from a young age which led to drug and alcohol issues, which in turn led to long bouts of depression – the most recent it seems, linked to his friend’s suicide attempt. It makes us all sad – whether we were fans or not – because a gifted, talented and troubled man found life so hard to continue. Because he wasn’t able to share his pain. Because he felt there was no other way. Because he was under such pressure.  Because…...we will never know why.

At some many points Chester had choices which he may not have felt he had: who to talk to; where to ask for help; how to get the dark thoughts out in other ways – like his music; to take a break from the public pressure; to stay home and hug his wife and kids; to confront his past…...These were all choices that he possibly didn’t know he had, and now never will.

They are choices that will affect his children, wife, family, friends, neighbours and fans for varying lengths of time: but each will feel pain.

Inner pain is something we all struggle to talk about: the fear of being judged; the fear of everyone’s reaction (over reaction); the consequences of what telling some- one about your dark thoughts might mean; how to find the words and who to tell.

At SelfharmUK – we like to listen; we never ever judge; we are safe people to explore these thoughts and feelings with; we are unshockable (I promise you that!); you can practice what you want to tell your family by telling us first; we will keep in touch with you for as long as your recovery takes; we can discuss your choices with you – especially when it feels like you don’t have any.

Self-harm is about living, not dying.

Very occaisonally we feel the shift from wanting to cope, to wanting to stop coping.

That’s when we have choices: who to talk to, how to communicate, who won’t judge us, who is ‘safe’.

You can ring or text the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org , Childline can be contacted on 0800 1111, or online counselling support at www.the mix.org.uk

Or sign up to our online support at info@selfharm.co.uk

You are not alone.

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When it all seems too much…

Oliver shares with us what feeling overwhelmed is like for them.

Some days, just even opening my eyes feels hard. I lay there arguing with myself in my head: whether to try and sleep the whole day; or whether to try and talk myself into facing the day…

Then comes the endless interactions with others:

“did you sleep ok?”

“how are you doing today?”

“can you make sure you eat breakfast please?”

“got any plans for today?”

“what about your future – we need to get your college sorted?”

then I go upstairs to get dressed:

what to wear today, nothing feels ‘right’ or comfortable, nothing feels ‘me’ – how do I cover the scars?  Then I feel angry – why should I cover the scars? But I don’t feel brave enough not to. I feel so angry with myself for cutting, I hate that I did it but now I feel proud of myself for stopping, but sad that I did it…

I think I will just stay in my pjs today – getting dressed feels too much, too hard, too many decisions to make.

I sit watching TV, just trying to ignore the world and it’s many demands of me: from what I think of anything and everything (I am supposed to have an opinion on politics, my education, best films, worst band, foods I like…the list is endless). I like TV, I can get lost in not having to think or even follow what’s happening too much; my mind can flit in and out without demands or questions.

I am falling asleep when my phone goes: a text. Great – another distraction and prompt to enter someone else’s world.

This time it’s different:  someone is entering my world.

My Mum.

“ Hi love, just want to say – I love you. I know you are finding things hard and I may not help in the best way, but I want to help. Let me know how I can.”

I sit and think. Help: I am being offered it but I don’t even know what I need.

I reply: “Mum, I don’t know what I need. I am very unhappy but I don’t know why.”

Mum: “it’s ok to be unhappy and not know why. It’s ok to be happy and not know why. All you need to know is that you are loved, feeling like this won’t last forever, and no matter what, we will be with you, however long it takes”.

I fly downstairs and run to my mum, sitting in the sofa. I climb on her lap and am engulfed in her hug. I am safe (even when I don’t feel safe), I am loved (even when I don’t feel loved), I will get better (even when I can’t remember the last good day I had), my mum might annoy me and ask loads of questions but she actually wants to help.

When it all feels too much: I know this, I am not on my own.

I have found someone who wants to know me even when it feels too much.

It might not be your mum who texts you, it might be that you have to text someone a sad face to let them know you aren’t doing well.

I used to expect people to know that something wasn’t going well without me having to tell them, but now I realise, it’s up to me to ask for help: I can’t expect people to guess.

I am glad my mum text me, I know other people don’t have that. I hope you can find someone today to help you if you are feeling like this – it might be a friend, a counsellor, a youth worker or even the Samaritans – you can call them free or text them 116 123  (I have called them a few times and they were really helpful and kind and didn’t judge me at all).

 

SelfharmUK run Alumina which is an online support session for young people struggling with self-harm: it’s open to all, it’s confidential, very relaxed and run by professionals so is completely safe for you. 

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School's out...

Some people love school – they love seeing their mates every day, they enjoy learning and enjoy the structure of the school day;

Some people really dread school – getting up early, having to wear a uniform, having to sit in lessons that feel irrelevant, being surrounded by people all day and then having homework to do.

For some people the only thing worse than school are the endless summer holidays.

The idea of the summer break is good – waking up late, no plans, chilling out……

But….the reality can be so different after the first 48 hours: seeing everyone’s holiday photos of hot sunny places may make you feel sad or jealous; feeling like everyone else is out having fun and you are on your own, not wanting to join in but at the same time wanting to be invited to join anyway; hoping it might rain so you don’t have to make up a excuse for wearing long sleeves; feeling isolated without the structure of the school day which makes each day feel long; getting fed up playing online games with your sibling….

There used to be a TV programme called ‘why don’t you?’ and it gave you ideas of things to make, do, places to visit with your mates. It wasn’t too bad for the 90’s!

There was a line on the opening song which said ‘why don’t you switch off your TV and do something less boring instead?’ which used to annoy me because if I turned off the TV then, I wouldn’t be able to know what do to!

We want to give you some ideas to get you to turn off your TV (or wifi!) and make the summer feel more positive:

  • Make a plan – draw up a calendar, write on any firm plans you have,
  • Keep to a daily time schedule – the later you wake up, the harder it will be to get to sleep that night. Sticking to a routine might be helpful.
  • Keep active – whether that’s doing a yoga youtube, go for a run, walk the dog, do sit ups – something that keeps your endorphins working (the happy chemical in your brain),
  • See positive people – now it’s the holidays, you don’t have to see the annoying people from school – choose 1 or two people that you feel comfortable with and plan to see them at least once a week
  • Get a project – an art one, paint your bedroom, rearrange your furniture, do the gardening, start a photography project, do an online course (groupon always have cheap ones), build a bench or a window seat. Basically keep your hands and brain busy!
  • Learn a new skill – teach yourself to knit, design tattoos, learn a language, join the library and get some reading, volunteer in a charity shop…..
  • Get in touch with us and write a blog about your journey and wellbeing this summer

At SelfharmUK we recognize that summer can be hard with lots of additional stresses due to the changes in routine and weather – we will be running our online Alumina self-harm support group each Monday and will be adding new videos and support material weekly.

We hope it helps your summer!

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Taking Pride in who I am

The Pride celebrations in London are over for another year, but coming out can still feel like a struggle. The blog post below was written by Lydia. She hopes you find it helpful.

Coming out for many people is hard. But not for everyone. My own experiences shone a light on how enlightening this experience and care free it can be. In the past month I have finally come out as bisexual. 

Before it happened I was petrified, being bisexual was never something I was completely sure on. Liking someone of the same sex I had never denied the possibility but I had also never embraced it until it happened. My own experiences of coming out might be or have been extremely different from anyone else. Everyone is different that's how we're made and how we experiences life is also extremely different from one another. 

Coming out for me felt like I was finally being able to be who I wanted to be and like who I wanted to like. I had decided years before I was going to wait until I found someone of the same sex before I came out as bisexual. This decision was made by myself so I could find someone who I liked and take it at my own pace. The decision was also made so I myself I knew I like the same sex more than as friends since it was something I had questioned. And it happened. I found her. And it was like a tsunami sweeping me away when it happened. It was the most liberating and freeing thing I could have ever experienced. But fear also began to consume me. I had never dated a girl before so what would everyone think? But I thought about it, a lot. And I came to realise that there's millions of people out there who identify themselves in the LGTBQI society. I wasn't alone in this and this wasn't uncommon thing to be going through. Telling my family was the easy bit, luckily for me they were accepting and weren't phased by me being with a girl. My friends, what can I say? They were great about it, confused and questioning where it had come from but supportive. 

The impact coming out has had on my life has been incredibly positive. It's helped me overcome so many battles and issues and made me realise that it's okay to be myself. I've realised that the people who will talk are the people who don't understand and that's ok, that's not your fault, it's up to them to educate themselves. It also been a way of me accepting myself more and learning to love myself for who I am. Because I am a strong independent woman who falls in love with whoever I want to and I won't conform to  anyone's expectations. I highly recommend for those still in question about coming out to do it. Because you in yourself will feel so much better for it. 

To sum coming out in one word I'd use ‘empowering’. 

You can check out Lydia's blog and vlogging links here.

You can also visit the Stonewall website for further support.

For more information about self-harm in LGBTQI young people, check out our Facts page.

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Green tea and Netflix enthusiast

The blog post below was written by Lydia. She hopes you find it helpful.

I’ve never been very good at introducing myself so here I go. Hi there! I'm Lydia, most people know me as Lid. I am an 18 year old green tea and Netflix enthusiast. One of my favourite Netflix shows is 13 Reasons Why. I also have a passion for sport, Disney films and music. My favourite time of the year is summer, when the nights get longer and the weather gets warmer. Being able to go for long walks on the beach till late and watching the sun set over horizon. However I also love winter, being able to curl up in my window watching the snowflakes fall, wrapped in a blanket with and note pad writing. My favourite colour is blue and I hate the colour yellow, I find it extremely patronising. I also love doing my makeup and trying different eyeshadow colours. I'm not a pro at it but I try aha! I guess you could say I'm your average 18 year old. 

I wanted to write for SelfharmUK because I personally deal with a lot of issues myself and have found through my own experiences, I can help other people which I’ve found extremely rewarding. I have suffered from a number of mental health illnesses since the age of 14, and whilst on my journey to recovery, the experiences I have encountered have shaped me into the person I am today. Not only do I want to write to help others, I have found writing extremely rewarding and beneficial to challenging the thoughts and voices inside my head. Yes, I am still recovering and struggle daily - but that doesn't stop me wanting to share my voice and challenge the issue I see within the mental health community. 

Being diagnosed at a very early age has meant that I have encountered lots of other people with similar issues and experiences of self-harming from school, hospital (when I was hospitalised) and later Sixth Form. Not only have I had self-experience, but I have supported peers and friends when they too have struggled by helping them to understand my approach to the topics and see a broader view of the opinions of self-harm and mental illnesses as a whole. I have for some years now vlogged on YouTube about mental illnesses and reached out to as many people as possible by starting conversations about the importance of mental health. 

When I'm not partaking in breaking the stigma of mental illness and starting conversations on mental health - you'll find me touring the countryside, taking photos or in bed relaxing. I'm excited for the future and steps I will be taking in the next year… and can't wait to start writing for SelfharmUK of course! 

You can check out Lydia's blog and vlogging links here.

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Will alternatives work?

The road to ‘recovery’ from self-harm can be full of twists and turns: you may feel that you are ready and want to look for alternative coping strategies – here are some things to consider:

Deciding the stop, or reduce your self-harming behaviour is a huge step forward: it shows a mindset desperately wanting to find a ‘new way’. Go gently on yourself.

Many people talk about reducing gradually before deciding to finally stop. This may be helpful for you or you may decide you need to separate yourself from it immediately. Either way is fine – don’t put too much pressure on yourself though.

Take a day at a time, or even half a day. This is will depend on what your pattern of harming is, the frequency of it, how long you have been engaged in it and what are the external things that might be causing you stress. Perhaps set yourself a timer, and add an hour/half day/day to it each time?

Plan when and how to reduce or stop. Think about what else is going on for you currently  -how are you coping with school, exams, family stuff, friendship issues? If you have any major stress factors (like exams), consider waiting until they have been as resolved as they can be, before reducing or stopping. This way, if you are struggling, you won’t be putting yourself under impossible pressure.

Recognise it may take a while. Whatever form of harming behavior you have been using to cope, it will be an addiction and a habit. Retraining your brain to find a new way of coping will take time – allow yourself time to experiment with different coping strategies to find what works for you.

At the start, it’s important we are honest with you: none of the coping strategies will give you the same relief you have found in your harming. Wearing elastic bands, using ice cubes or exercise are alternatives; your brain will take a bit of time to rewire itself to recognize this as the new way of coping. The physical and emotional relief you might get from your harming, may not be fully relieved immediately by using alternatives.

The most important thing is, however long it takes; even if it’s two steps forward and one back; you move forward at your pace. Don’t go too hard on yourself. Be as kind to you, as you are to your friends.

Show yourself love, patience and gentleness.

We have list of tried and tested alternative strategies, but please, let us know others as the longer the list, the more we can all offer other young people who are seeking to looking for a new coping strategy.

We are with you in this, you aren’t alone. Literally thousands of others are with you in this journey through self-harm to recovery; let’s take small steps forward together.

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World Music Day

The article below to celebrate World Music Day was written by Sophie, a previous Graduate Volunteer with Youthscape.

I am a massive lover of music; I’m constantly listening to it. I’ve actually got my headphones in now as I write this!

Music is powerful. It can be so influential, and can be used as a way to express feelings, share a particular message, tell a story, and bring people together. There’s always something for everyone’s taste. You can study music, create it, or simply just listen and appreciate it. There is so much I love about music, where do I even start?

I’ve grown up in a musical family. My dad led the music at Church and was always playing his guitar and singing around the house.  Whenever we would see his side of the family, it would always end up in a good ol’ sing song, and it still does! My brother is also very musical and I’d say I am too, though not to the same extent – my guitar playing skills are a little rusty! However, as I said, I’m always listening to music, and it has certainly helped me through life.

Music is everywhere we go; most shops we go into will always have music playing in the background, and I’ve even been in some shops that have a DJ! I also particularly like the pianos at St Pancras train station, free for anyone to play. It amazes me how much talent there is out there, and being able to hear a performance live is always so great! I love when you can literally feel the music, the bass in your chest, those songs that give you goosebumps, music that really resonates with you.

I love that music is for any and every mood, from when you need a good cry, to when you’re absolutely pumped and feel on top of the world! Music would help me through times where I felt alone and it would sometimes express my emotions – you know, when there’s a song that completely describes how you’re feeling or what you’re going through? Or when a song puts into words what you struggle to? Music helps calm my anxiety and has distracted me when I need a break from what’s going on around me – headphones in, world out! Music can put me in an amazing mood, it can lift me if I’m feeling a bit down,  it can bring back great memories and can make me want to sing and dance around wherever I am (and I will do so where appropriate!)

Music has got me through many hours of work, revision and essays. I know a lot of people who need silence to work, but music motivates me and helps me concentrate (most of the time). I remember my friend once telling me how she got around music being a distraction - she had started listening to songs in a different language so it meant she couldn’t get distracted by singing along to it!

I absolutely love how music brings people together, through the love of a song, band/artist, cause - we recently saw how so many people came together for the benefit concert, to help raise funds for the victims of the Manchester attack and their families. As well as people actually being at the concert, so many people tuned in to watch from home too. Music can connect people across cities, countries and continents, and in a way, it’s like a language we all share.

I just couldn’t imagine a world without music, could you? There are so many reasons to celebrate it today!

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What songs say that I can’t…

It’s more than ‘liking’  a song or favourite band; it’s more than ‘having a sing song’;

When you find a song that says how you are feeling, it opens up emotions that are trapped deep within us.

For me, right now, there are two songs that connect deep within me, both very different in mood and lyrics but both are able to say what I can’t find the right words to.  I play these songs over and over; I cry to them, I scream the lyrics when I am on my own, I hit the air at the words that connect hardest to me and after, I feel much better.

Why?

Because song lyrics are poetry. They speak emotions, they resonate feelings, they help us find words for pain that we can’t express; song lyrics complete us.

Songs tell a story; one that we ‘get’. We all have songs we play at different times depending on our moods  - happy songs we sing to with our mates, angry songs we blare out loudly at home when we are feeling cross and frustrated, sad songs that open up our feelings of pain.

Songs make us feel alive because they are about our story.

Radio 1 are doing a fantastic piece on songs and mental health – getting musicians to tell their journey through poor mental health by relating to the songs they wrote on the dark days. It’s inspiring and comforting to know that those songs were written when that person was feeling like we are – that’s why we can sing with the same feeling they did; because they can put words to our thoughts.

Think about what you are listening to, perhaps write the lyrics to keep near you, maybe send them to a family member or friend so they can understand how you are feeling and what you might be wanting to say – songs are the poetry of our souls: let’s use them to speak out.

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Learning Disabilities Week 2017

The below article was written by Jo Fitzsimmons, a member of the SelfharmUK Team.

At some point in our life we have all struggled to understand something: whether that’s algebra, a friend’s response to a situation or a decision made by others.

What if most things were a struggle?

Learning disabilities can make many situations a struggle. ‘learning disabilities’ can cover a huge range of struggles; dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism, adhd, down syndrome…..Whatever the struggle, behind it is a real person with humour, a smile, good days and sad days, perhaps though, the struggles are harder than many of us face.

Statistically those young people with additional needs will have higher rates of self-harming behaviour than those without any additional needs. This is due to a number of factors:

Communication difficulties. Finding the right words to express feelings, having confidence to ask for help, having limited verbal communication to speak are all huge obstacles for someone with an additional need to overcome. Having feelings trapped inside and feeling prisoner to them, can cause self-harming behavior.

Physical needs. The feeling of frustration at being unable to physically manage what others can; the fear of having people stare at us or treat us differently because our physical needs are different; the impact of living day to day with a routine focused on managing basics needs – all these will impact the mental health and wellbeing of a person with additional needs.

Sensory needs. Have you ever found noise too much? Hated someone hugging you? Wanted to hide in the dark to get away from people, sounds, smells? If so, you may be able to understand the impact our senses have on us feeling overwhelmed. Sensory disorders are far more common that we think and they can affect us by making us anxious of crowds, fear noises and hate strong smells. People who struggle with these areas find ways to soothe themselves, sometimes through harming behaviours.

How can we support those with additional needs?

  • Tackle any isolation you see by befriending, listening and taking time to learn about them – not just their need.
  • Enable and enhance their ability to communicate with you – whether that’s through using specific forms of communication (PECS, sign language, writing, singing), have fun finding out the best ways to communicate together.
  • Find out what environment suits them best – somewhere with lots going on, somewhere quiet, group work or 1:1 chats, coffee shops or at home?

Put simply: go out of your way to be a friend to someone with additional needs. 

You will find more information about SEN and self-harm here.

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Long sleeves in a short sleeves world

Everyone seems to like the summer – long hot days, sitting in the park and eating ice cream…well, maybe not everyone.

If you have scars, recent or older, from self-harm, you will probably be feeling very self conscious – and also blooming hot! Here at SelfharmUK, we know that the whole issue of covering scars is very complex:

The questions around it are often based on whether anyone knows – what would they do if they noticed it; what would they say? Will people judge me? Will they make fun of me?

Schools and colleges often ask students with scarring to cover up – with the notion that it may entice others to self-harm by cutting, or because it draws attention to scars. If that’s your school’s policy, then I guess you need to stick to it. However, maybe, if you feel able to either write or talk to the school about it, it may challenge them to consider why they have this policy and open up the conversation about how the school deals with it.

You see, the longer we cover up, the more we feel we are in the ‘wrong’ and it’s a bad secret to have: self-harm isn’t a ‘bad secret’, it’s a way of coping for a time until we feel able to manage our emotions in a way we feel ready to.

If you choose to cover your scars, there’s nothing wrong with it.

If you choose not to cover your scars, there’s nothing wrong with it.

It’s personal preference and will depend on how you feel that day, who you are with, where you are going, if you feel able to deal with anyone who might ask …. Some people are happy to explain their scars, others make up a white lie, others ignore the question and move on….however you choose to you respond, ensure you are in control of it – they are your scars, part of your story, for you to choose whether or not to share.

You can visit our Dealing with Scars page to find out more information, advice and links to other organisations who might be able to help.

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I feel the urge

The piece below was written by Jo Fitzsimmons, a member of the SelfharmUK Team. The urge to self-harm is often all consuming and when it comes, it's hard to think of anything else! Next time you feel the urge to self-harm, try slowly reading this outloud, whilst breathing deeply.

 

I am twitchy, full of nervous energy

I can’t sit still, I can’t focus,

I am breathing quickly,

I am wringing my hands.

 

I try to calm myself

I try to take control

The thoughts are coming quickly

Spiralling into my head

My breathing gets faster

 

I must take control

 

Slow

Slow    slow      slow      slow

Slow

I tell myself

 

The battle is done – I make the choice

 

Run on the spot

Clench my fists

Breathe          Breathe          Breathe

Run on the spot

Clench my fists

Breathe         Breathe           Breathe

 

I feel the urge

 

                             Slow                             Slow                                     Slow

 

I match my breathing to the dogs

I bite my hands and wait

 

And wait

 

And wait

 

The tears begin to flow

 

The urge has passed

 

I made the choice

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Fear

We don’t often recognise fear in ourselves – perhaps we cover it with anger (at the thing we are fearful about) or shame (that we feel scared); fear is powerful and hinders us in so many areas of our lives.

As humans we are built with a ‘fight or flight’ response in our brains, this means we either stand and literally fight when we are scared or we run from the thing that scares us. But what do we do if the thing that scares us, is us?

Whether it be fear of our feelings and that we might act on those deep feelings; whether it be of a person we fear for what they might say to us or do to hurt us; whether it be the fear of feeling which cripples us – Fear is hard to overcome.

Often the feeling of fear is mixed with feeling anxious. Perhaps you get a bad tummy and have to run to the loo, maybe you take too many pills to ease the worry, you might cut to try and take away the fear – however you try and deal with it, here are a few ideas to help reduce the fear inside:

Acknowledge it. Learn to recognise which feelings inside you are which; fear feels different to anger, but often anger is an emotion that is secondary. If you are feeling angry a lot, ask yourself ‘is there another feeling underneath it’?

Get fear out of you. The more fear comes out from inside us, the less power it has to stop us living our life. Whether you are able to speak it by telling someone, whether you write out what it is that you are fearing, whether you draw it, whether you text it; get it out. It’s like a Harry Potter dementor, it will suck life from you.

Breathe. The more scared we are, the less we breathe, the less we breathe, the more we have panic attacks.

While you are calm, practise breathing slowing, count breaths in and out, teach yourself to breath slowly so the blood and oxygen allow you to continue to think clearly and remain calm.

Be active. Fear creates adrenalin in us, this makes us feel on edge and twichy. Work with your body, if you are feeling like this; do a work out, find a yoga clip on youtube, go for a run, repeatedly punch a pillow – let the adrenalin out of your system so you can calm down.

Deal with the fear. The hardest one of all: can you deal with the actual issue of your fear? Is there any solution or resolution in facing the issue or person that is making you feel this fearful? Currently the person or situation is ruling your life and hindering you flourishing: what, if anything, can you do to change that?

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Heartbreak

A broken heart hurts. It doesn’t matter how long you knew someone for or how often you saw them. If you have feelings for them and they don’t feel the same, they broke your heart and nothing will ever change that.

This may be your first heart break or you may have had your heart broken too many times to count. However many times it’s happened, it still hurts EXACTLY the same.

That pain in your chest that you’re carrying around makes you wonder if you’ll ever feel truly happy again. Sure, you can still smile. Like when your friends make you laugh, or you see something funny on Facebook. But you don’t feel it on the inside. All you feel is pain and emptiness, because the only person who can really make you happy right now - is gone. And they are never coming back.

OK, so they didn’t die. But they may as well have. They aren’t a part of your life anymore and all the things you loved about them are gone too.

I’m not talking about love here. Well I am, but you don’t have to be in love with someone to feel sad when they decide not to be a part of your life anymore. A friend of mine once said “I’ve been in enough relationships now to know that I haven’t really been in love with the people I’ve dated.”

She liked them A LOT. But the older she got, and the more couples she met, the more she came to realise that to love someone (and to be loved in return) is much more than just texting every day and spending time together at weekends.

Whilst you may not have truly loved them, you’ve still lost someone important to you through no choice of your own. And even though you might have known deep down that they wouldn’t be in your life for ever - you still secretly hoped they would.

If you type ‘heart break advice’ into Google right now, you’ll get a lot of tips (particularly around listening to Taylor Swift songs) about how to ease the pain of a broken heart. After you’ve read this blog, I suggest you do this (listening to Taylor Swift songs are optional however!).

I didn’t write this blog to give you advice about how to fix your broken heart. I wrote it because heart break can sometimes feel like the loneliest pain in the world, and I wanted you to know that you’re not alone. It can often be the type of pain that gets joked about or only associated with books or films. Sure, heart break will forever be a GREAT excuse to sit around watching Netflix for a whole weekend, not bothering to wash and eating as much ice cream and chocolate you can get your hands on! But what if the pain you’re feeling goes deeper than that?

Have you ever tried explaining to someone else that your heart feels like it’s been smashed to bits? Not easy is it. And that’s how heart break can so easily be dismissed. Because you can’t explain how you feel. Plus, even if you could, you feel pretty embarrassed and foolish that you trusted someone with your heart in the first place.

However you feel, know that your feelings are valid. Know that the pain you feel right now, is OK to feel. Sit with it. And cry with it. Don’t try to understand it or fix it. Just know that when it goes, you’ll be a stronger person because of it. 

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Dear Reader

The blog post below was written by a lovely lady called Emma, who got in touch with SelfharmUK to share her story about her recovery from bulimia and self-harm.

Dear Reader,

What I am writing here is really a love letter to my younger self, and I hope that it will help you too.  You see, I grew up not knowing how to love myself.  In fact, it felt selfish to do that. I felt, for many, many years, that I was somehow a bad and unlovable person.  I developed a lot of ‘coping strategies’ to keep myself feeling that I could not be hurt by other people.

I don’t know what tactics you are using, but mine were mainly around pretending: pretending to be confident, pretending to be friendly, pretending to be happy, pretending to be transparent and open – and all the time, inside, I hated myself (and many of them), I didn’t trust anyone, I was self-harming, bulimic and generally wishing that I was dead. 

There is so much stigma about mental health, when all it really is – is some sad memories and an imbalance of the chemicals in our brain. Isn’t it weird that society makes it seem more than that? That we feel embarrassed to be sick? Stupid, isn’t it. Well – I’m not embarrassed anymore. I am proud – very, very proud for having the courage to say I was sick, and continuing my journey to get well.

People often think that when we have depression and anxiety or hurt ourselves, we are being selfish – that we are ‘wrapped up’ in ourselves. I often found that people criticised me in that way. And yet I felt that I was living for others. I must have been – because I didn’t love myself enough to be living for me – back then…

You know what? Self-harm is not selfish. It’s self-preservation. The pain in the heart is so strong that sometimes you feel like you want to just smash the world apart, hit people, break things, scream, set the world on fire, destroy your life and that of those around you.  So, instead of doing those things, we turn the pain inwards and cut, scrape, pick, harm our own bodies… or stuff our bellies and throw it up… or refuse to eat… because for a little while we get to be in control, we get to decide - and while we are feeling that physical pain, we get some relief from the torture inside our chemically unbalanced little minds and our sad hearts.

I don’t know your exact circumstances or what you are doing to yourself in order to try to handle those very difficult feelings. But let me tell you something, I know for a fact that you are trying! I know for a fact that, right now, as you read this blog, you are doing your very best to try and get well.  People who want to stay depressed, anxious or unhappy do not surf the internet to find blogs like this one. Because you are looking for advice and help, you are on your way towards health.

Let that be a source of hope for you. I am so proud of you for investing in yourself by reading this blog. We have never met, but I promise you, you are more deeply loved than you can ever imagine. Recovery is not easy, but you can get well – and you have already started your journey of recovery. Keep going! I promise you, you can do this. I know you find it so very hard to believe – but I promise you, you can.

Lots of love,

Emma

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Staying Instagram smart

Jess Whittaker, a member of the SelfharmUK team, shares her thoughts about how you can stay smart on Instagram.

Today, as I was driving in to work, something I heard on the radio caught my attention and immediately made me turn up the volume. It was a report claiming that Instagram is one of the worst social media platforms when it comes to the impact on young people’s metal health.

In the UK, a survey of 1,479 people aged 14-24 were asked to rate which social media platform they felt had the most negative effect on them. They then scored each platform individually around issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying and body image.

Once the report had finished, I turned the radio off and thought for a moment. Like everything, Instagram has positive and negative sides to it, depending on what you use it for.

For example, lets’ say you’re someone who’s suffered from a mental health issue, such as self-harm or bulimia and are now in full recovery (well done you!). You might choose to use Instagram to share your story by posting inspiring quotes and photos that show the positive things in your life. There is no denying that Instagram is a really great way to visually spread positive messages quickly.

But what if you’re someone who spends hours on Instagram late at night, alone in your room, constantly comparing yourself to other people? You’ve stopped posting selfies because you’re so convinced that your photos look awful compared to your friends, that all you really use Instagram for now is to re-inforce your negative thoughts about yourself.

If you can relate to the above, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to speak up because… whoever you are and however you choose to use it, we have some great tips about how you can protect your mental health on Instagram:

  • Limit the time you spend on there: like all social medias, Instagram can get kind of addictive. Whilst you might feel like time stands still when you’re on there, it doesn’t. You can literally Insta-away your whole weekend and before you know it, it’s Monday already and your back at School or College again! Just think of all that time wasted and all the fun things you could of been doing instead!? Next time you’re on there, set an alarm to ensure you don’t stay on there for too long, or only look during a short car ride somewhere. As soon as you are where you need to be, close your Instagram app and engage with your surroundings.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: this is a tough one. It’s easy for people to tell you not to compare yourself to others, but the truth is, it’s something that everyone has to deal with throughout their lives every now and again. It becomes a problem, however, when it starts to affect your self-esteem, so how you feel about yourself, and you stop doing the things you used to enjoy because you can’t see the point anymore. If you think Instagram (or any social media for that matter) is starting to make you feel that way, tell a family member or trusted adult. Speaking up isn’t easy, but talking about how you feel is the first step to getting help.
  • Think that if it looks too good to be true - it probably is: chances are you already know this, but lots of photos we see on social media have been digitally manipulated. This means that they have been edited on a computer using software like Photoshop to make them look better than they are. Many of the Fashion brands or Celebrities you follow will use this technique, but it’s something we constantly have to remind ourselves of as they can become the norm and start to look real. Next time you see a photo of someone on Instagram, who looks too perfect to be real, have a laugh about the fact that nine times out of ten, they probably aren’t!
  • Know where you can go for support if something you’ve seen is bothering you: if you see something on Instagram (or any other social media platform) that upsets you for any reason - report it using the options available, then tell a family member or trusted adult immediately. If you don’t want to talk about it with someone you know, you can call The Samaritans or Childline at any time.
  • Don’t go on Instagram alone: at the end of the day, if you’re someone that has always struggled with how social media makes you feel, schedule times to login with your friends after School or College. This way you can instantly discuss anything that you have seen that is upsetting you and find out what your friends think. Again, if you’re still unsure, you can always talk to a family member or trusted adult.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39955295

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We are family

The blog post below was written by Sophie, a previous Graduate Volunteer with Youthscape. She hopes you find her reflection of what International Day of Families means to her helpful.

When you hear the word ‘family’, who do you think of?

Family can be amazing; family can be where you feel most yourself, most loved. Family can be a great support. On the flip side, family can be complicated, it can be messy, it does not always look perfect and family does not necessarily need to be those you’re directly related to.

Today is International Day of Families, so let’s celebrate those we have in our lives.

For me, family is an interesting one. My parents divorced when I was four and my brother was two. After a while, my dad got married, giving me a step mum, step brother and step sister, but after 13 years, they got divorced. My mum also remarried, so I also gained a step dad and another step sister. When I was nine, my mum and step dad had a daughter together, my little sister. My family has been really dysfunctional at times, there has been a lot of drama, people coming and going, but it’s not been all bad. I know that my parents, my brother, my little sister will always be there for me if I need them and vice versa. Even though I may not always feel like we are that close, and there will be times we don’t see eye to eye, I’ll always love and be there for them.

There are people I consider family, who aren’t related to me at all. I have two childhood friends who are practically like sisters to me yet they live miles away! Then there’s a whole bunch of people I’d call family. This group of people are so much fun to be around. They will always encourage me, lovingly challenge me, and truly want the best for me. They are people who I feel I can be vulnerable around, without the fear of judgement. We all support each other.  I may not see them often, but there’s a deep bond we have, of a shared faith and values. We all have our own interests, talents, quirky ways and struggles, but around these people, I feel totally accepted and loved for who I am.

We may not have the best experiences of family, and family for you may not look the same as it is for someone else, but if you had a ponder now, who would you consider as family?

*Inserts pause for thinking time*

Got those people in mind?

Okay.

Today, let’s make that extra effort to let these people know that we love and appreciate them. Family is an important thing to have, as we all need people around us who we can laugh with, cry with, share our lives with, and feel supported by. We need family and your family needs you!  A lot of the time we can take who we have in our lives for granted, but let’s grab an opportunity today to be thankful for who we do have.

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10 tips for managing your mental health

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, Jo Fitzsimmons shares her thoughts on how you could think about managing your mental health going forward in our latest blog.

Here are 10 things you might not have known about managing your mental health:

  • Extroverts can have poor mental health – ask them! They like to talk!
  • People who are appearing to hold it all together; might not be, and in fact, probably aren’t.
  • Most people only have 1 real friend (yep – my counsellor told me that, honest!) Find your 1 and learn to be open with them.
  • Get rid of people in your life who don’t return your calls/texts/FB messages – don’t put energy into unreturned ‘friendships’, some people are fun to be around, some people aren’t. reduce your friends!
  • Caregivers are often overlooked – the people who put others first are often taken for granted, so when they struggle they don’t have people to ask for help.
  •  Conserve your energy – some days give yourself permission to rest, tomorrow might require more energy than you currently have.
  • Consider medication for your mental health: if you had a physical illness you would take something for it; perhaps you need to consider it as a real option and talk to your GP.
  • Consider coming off your meds if you have been on them for many years – talk to your GP about the implications and risks of it; perhaps taking up exercise or having a project may help your mental health (watch Mind over Marathon on the BBC iplayer if you need inspiration).
  • Get a dog. It’s the best thing I ever did, it gets me away from my kids, house and work long enough for a walk around my council estate to calm down.
  • Get rid of your phone, or swop to a cruddy basic one that doesn’t make you wonder what everyone on ‘bragbook’ (facebook) is doing or bring worrying news headline alerts to your hands.
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Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

Physically we are all well, or unwell; it’s easy to spot an unwell person in a queue next to a well person – there are physical signs like runny noses, pale skin, perhaps reduced mobility, sleepless eyes.

What does a person who is unwell emotionally look like?

Nope? No guesses…? That’s because a person can look ‘well’ on the outside but be very unwell in their self esteem, their confidence, their ability to think clearly, to sleep well, have high anxiety which leads to panic attacks, or deep depression. The fact is this: with 7 in 10 young people having poor mental health now, you don’t know if someone is well or not in their thought life.

The recent report on behalf of the government states that young people have the highest levels of poor mental health. Young people aged 18-25 report not being able to think clearly, have positive relationships, feeling like they aren’t able to contribute to society and feel devalued. Wow, what a frightening picture this shows.

Contrast this with people over 55 who have the best mental health and what can we learn:

- Older people feel confident to make new friends and join groups; young people feel nervous about joining a new group for fear of being judged;

- Older people take up new hobbies and activities; young people often can’t afford new hobbies or expensive activities;

- Older people have built up trust worthy groups of friends; young people struggle to know who their ‘real friends’ are rather than those who just ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ their thoughts.

Let’s face it; age does bring experience and knowledge – but can we wait 40 years for teenagers to grow up into confident older people?

So – if you are a young person struggling with your emotional and mental health here are some ideas for you to try in Mental Health Awareness week:

  • Accept it. Today is the day you face it; you may have been feeling low for quite sometime but just keep thinking ‘tomorrow will be better’, well maybe it will – but how about recognising that the last few days, weeks or months haven’t been great and your mental health isn’t in a good way?
  • Talk. To trusted friends. To someone who will listen. To childline. To Samaritans. To Self-Harm UK if you have been feeling so low you have hurt yourself in some way. Talking doesn’t magic your feelings away, however, it is proven to reduce anxiety, feelings of isolation and increase confidence in your own decision making.
  • Do something! When I was a kid there was a TV show with the line’ get out of bed and do something else instead’ – not easy if you are finding life overwhelming and filled with worry. What about asking a friend to try something with you? How about finding a ‘how to knit’ clip on youtube? What about taking a run? Like reading – join a library? Exercise is a proven way of helping you sleep and making you feel better by the chemicals it releases in your brain. If outdoors stuff isn’t your thing – tire your brain out by reading, knitting, drawing, doing sudoko, writing….find your ‘thing’ that relaxes you.
  • Get ‘real’ friends. Consider gently avoid those you don’t think have your best interest at heart. It doesn’t need to be communicated but, gradually, just loose touch with people in your life who aren’t good for you. Find friends in real life; not just online. Joining a group can be hugely daunting, but at some point, everyone in that group was new once: give it a go!
  • Look after yourself. If we are down, the first to go is often eating well. Followed by sleeping well, combined with not getting dressed or washing your hair. A few days of it is fine, but, maybe not a few weeks. The less care we take of ourselves, the more we are showing the world we feel we don’t matter and they shouldn’t think we do either. Not true. Honestly. It might be how you feel, but it isn’t a true fact.
  • Get out of bed earlier. Start by getting out of bed half an hour earlier each day; add in a shower; a walk around the block; making yourself some lunch; take another walk (see if anyone needs their dog walking or an elderly person needs some shopping)
  • Write a ‘thankful list’. Write happy days, memories, lists of people you are thankful for, the bed you have, the clean water you have, your pets – whatever makes you happy. Pin it up and read it every day.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/surviving-or-thriving-state-uks-mental-health

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13 Reasons Why: the what's what

“Hey, It’s Hannah. Hannah Baker. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re hearing this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore, and this time, absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. Because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”

Have you seen it yet? The compelling and heart-breaking story of Hannah Baker, because most of the young people I work with have. 13 Reasons Why is THE show we’re all talking about.

Here at SelfharmUK two members of our team spent a whole day watching the show from beginning to end. We had heard a lot of things about it and so we wanted to make our own minds up.

In the end, we realised there were several different things we wanted to address so decided to split them up. We’ve written an article for parents and adults urging them to take seriously the issues addressed in the show; bullying, sexting, sexual harassment, self-harm, suicidal ideation, drinking, drink driving, abusive families, loneliness, adults not listening or paying attention to what young people say etc. These are all things young people face daily, this story rings true for so many of the people we meet.

We wanted parents to know they need to listen and talk to their kids about stuff, but we don’t need to tell you that. We want to tell young people something else.

So now we are writing something for young people because we have some important things we want to tell you.

We want to tell you to speak up before it’s too late. We want to tell you that someone else choosing to take their own life is never your fault. We want you to look after yourselves especially when it comes to what you are watching. We want to tell you it gets better.

Let’s start with the obvious, Hannah isn’t real, her experience might be something you or someone you know has experienced but simply put, she’s not real. Her story isn’t your story. Her decisions, her life, is made up by an author and a screen writer and a few others. But they aren’t real.

Hannah’s story also doesn’t show the finality of her decisions, we still hear her voice, it’s not like she’s really gone.

Outside of the show it is final, it is real, and it leaves behind a lot of pain.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide then PLEASE ask someone for help. There are some contacts at the bottom of the page.

Suicide is not the easy way out, it is not selfish and it is not for the weak. It is what people do when they feel like they have no hope, when they can’t see things getting better. Suicide leaves behind a lot of people who will be blaming themselves

Hannah’s family and friends are seen asking why? How did they miss the signs? They are already feeling guilty, like they failed her. But they are not responsible for Hannah’s decision.

Hannah is.

Nobody can make that choice for her, nobody told her to do it, nobody else is to blame. Yes, people hurt her and didn’t listen. But that does not mean it is their fault that she chose to kill herself.

What Hannah does to her friends is awful, she blames them for making mistakes, or in the case of Clay, for listening to her.

Clay had done nothing wrong, yet she made him feel guilty when all he did was care about her. It wasn’t fair of her to put that burden on him, to traumatise him that way. What does she think the impact those tapes will have on people? We see how it affected Alex, Jess and Clay, making them question their reality, leading them to hurt themselves

We need to take responsibility for our own actions, how we treat people and how we ask for help.

There are many things Hannah Baker could have done but chose not to do. She could have asked for help from her parents of a teacher. She could have been honest with her friends about how she was struggling. Instead she pushed everyone away and blamed them for her final decision.

We can ALWAYS ask for help, and people do listen. Think of the incredible friends you have around you, that one teacher who supports you, the person at the end of the line of the online chat. The story shows one bad example of her asking for help. That’s it. What it needs to show is the great help that is out there.

This show, whilst talking about real issues, lies to the viewer. It says that it is ok to blame other people for what we do, it is says that telling an adult is a last resort and that they won’t handle what you say well.

We want to tell you that this isn’t true.

13 Reasons Why tells a story of a broken young person who chose to make a very final decision without ever really asking for help. Hannah is gone, her story might live on but she doesn’t.

Hannah doesn’t know that it gets better. She didn’t get to see what life outside school would be like. What changes might have come her way if she had told people about what was happening her. She makes a decision that she can’t take back.

We don’t want that idea to be something that young people take from watching this show, we don’t want them to think suicide is ever an option.

As we said earlier what we want is for you to speak up before it’s too late. We want to tell you that someone else choosing to take their own life is never your fault. We want you to look after yourselves especially when it comes to what you are watching. We want to tell you it gets better.

Have hope. 

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Why that person?

Loosing someone you love is one of the hardest things in the world to come to terms with. In the blog below, Ben, a trainee Youth Worker currently living in Oundle, talks about his experiences of loss.

Over the last two to three years I have been unfortunate enough to go through the pain of grief and loos. Some of natural causes, some of unforeseen situations. The first of which was a guy I used to serve when I worked in my local shop. He was elderly and addicted to alcohol, so wasn’t living the healthiest of lifestyles. I came into work, expecting to see him, to buy his bottle and newspaper, but that day he never came. I found out later that he had died of a heart attack. I remember the shock, the last I saw him he was fine, I couldn’t get my head around not seeing him anymore, the grief came and passed quickly and I moved on with my life.

The next two were far more difficult to deal with. The first was a family friend. A family man who was the father of three young children and the husband to a wonderful woman. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news I was having a family dinner with my girlfriend to celebrate the end of the school year, then the phone rang. He’d died, gone, never to be seen again. The loss was sudden and no-one could believe it and although everything was done to keep him alive, it wasn’t to be. I remember to this day being told and my heart sinking. The thoughts running through my head; “what do I say to the family? How do I support the family?” and then it hit me, the grief of thinking these things through, imagining life and what it must be like, but also knowing the family myself. I sometimes feel like I didn’t have the right to grieve, after all, he wasn’t my direct family. Then I realised, I still knew him, I had been around the family for a long time and it was obviously going to be tough on me too, but it was more the thought of everything that had been left behind. This caused me to ask a lot of questions and to get very angry at God; ‘why did he do this? Why of all people did you take him?’ I still don’t know the answer to this, but what I do know is that it has brought a close family even closer.

Just after I moved to Peterborough, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw something that shook me to my core. A friend from my home in Essex, aged just 20, had passed away in his sleep. What on earth was going? I couldn’t believe that someone who was so healthy, so full of life and so joyful was taken in one night! It was only a few months before this I saw him daily and spoke with him. I couldn’t get my head around it. I remember thinking, this could have been me! A selfish thought maybe, but the truth. it made me realise that our lives are not everlasting and we never know what will come next, what’s around the corner. I remember coming home for the funeral though, there were so many people there, the church was full and not everyone was able to fit inside. My first thought after this was not of grief, pain, anger or hurt, although I did miss him, it was of thankfulness, thankfulness of a life lived and people re-connecting because of this sudden and sad loss.

I didn’t know why any of these things happened, or why those people were taken, I want to be able to say stay strong when these things happen but I believe that the right thing to do is to grieve. We are made to feel emotions for a reason, so don’t be afraid to get angry, don’t be afraid to scream and cry but remember, you will get through this and no matter what happens in life, live every second of it, because you never know what’s next. 

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Self-harm Challenges

Hope is the author of 'Stand Tall Little Girl', a book about her eating disorder struggles. Here she talks openly about why young people struggle to express their emotions and why self-harm challenges might be on the rise.

When you walk down the road you have no idea what other people are going through, what they are thinking, or what their history is. When people look on at me they assume I am a happy young girl living in London. But in reality everyone has their own story and their reasons for acting the way they do.

Researching methods of self-harm have never been easier, and the world we live in sometimes means that people find it easier to self-harm than to admit they are struggling. 

Last year, NHS figures showed that the number of young people self-harming had increased. It was sad but at the same time intriguing. The figures emphasized that numbers of young girls being admitted to hospital for self -harm had quadrupled, and the number of young boys cutting themselves had also increased by 186%.  This got me thinking – why now?

Why did I as a young person and why do so many other young people struggle to express their emotions? Is there more pressure today on people generally and do people feel that self-harm challenges are becoming more of a thing? More fashionable? 

I believe the answer to all those questions is yes. Much of this is fueled by self-harm methods such as the salt and ice challenge or the blue whale challenge being discussed so openly in chat rooms. If you scroll through these pages you come across people from around the country offering advice, methods and their thoughts. 

These chat rooms fuel this epidemic. They bring young people in to a false sense of security.

For me growing up, my self-harm came out in not eating and damaging my body through over-exercising. Anorexia was my way of challenging emotional pain and my way of being in control. I challenged those intense emotions that I did not know how to cope with and emotions that I definitely did not want to feel. And I had an element of what I thought was control over my life through limiting my food intake.

When I was 17 I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I lived for a year recovering. I spent a year talking about how I felt, putting on weight so I was healthy and learning how to manage moving forward. It was one of the hardest years of my life but it taught me about the importance of sharing how I feel.

For people with any mental health problem, sharing how you feel can sometimes feel so hard. You might feel like a burden or afraid of what will happen if you do share how you feel, but you mustn’t feel like that. It is so important to talk, share your feelings and find people that you can be honest with. I know that from talking about how I felt - this is something that has kept me well.

You are probably reading this blog feeling like I am lecturing, feeling like I have no idea where you are or why you feel how you do. But I get it. The thrill of missing a meal, surviving off of nothing before going for long runs left me with a similar sensation.  

Self-harm may feel like it sorts you and comforts you, gives you some element of control… but in reality it is not doing that.  

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Living with Self-harm

Living with dark thoughts is like living with any invisible illness; no one knows what’s going on in your head.

You are wearing a mask and no one can see what is going on behind that; maybe you don’t take the mask off because you fear what people will think of you if you did; maybe you don’t take the mask off because you are fearful of what you will find; maybe you keep the mask on because it feels easier at the moment.

Feeling low and out of balance in yourself is the same as if you had a bad pain in your arm: you wouldn’t leave it too long before getting it checked out. We all have bad days that sometimes-become bad weeks- when the week becomes a fortnight and sleep becomes effected it’s time to get checked out.

In the same way a broken arm doesn’t heal without help; your low mood may not heal with some help. Sometimes some exercise, relaxation techniques and talking can help; sometimes you may need a little more than that.

Going to a GP can feel really threatening, if you are over 16 you can go on your own. Maybe write down how you are feeling because saying it can feel really tough.

Self-harm may be happening because your mask wearing days are causing you anxiety; fear; pain and making you feel at odds with yourself. Self-harm maybe happening because you are angry at yourself for not coping how you feel you should; self-harm may be happening because something horrid has happened to you.

Again, think of it as feeling ill, uneasy with yourself – get yourself checked out. If you don’t feel like making the step to the GP, how about a trusted teacher, a friend, an adult, a family member. Self-harm doesn’t define you; self-harm isn’t going to be your way forever. It is for a short time while you work out a better way.

At SelfharmUK, we know how unwell you must be feeling to be harming yourself, we know it isn’t the choice of someone happy in life. We know we can journey with you through some of your questions and difficulties to help you take off your mask.

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My Story

The blog post below was written by Ben, a trainee Youth Worker currenlty living in Oundle. Ben reflects on his life so far, the choices he made and how those choices brought him to where he is now.

School and social life can be tough for everyone at some point, but more so when you suffer from various behavioural problems such as anger management, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit disorder).

When I started school, I was just an ordinary young teen who blended into the background and wasn’t even noticed. As I started to grow up, around the age of 13-14, difficulties began to show in my attitude in the classroom. I was starting to show tendencies of an angry, disruptive and argumentative young person. This started to show more during my move into year 10. During that summer I made loads of severe mistakes and managed to get myself into trouble with the police. It wasn’t long after that, when I began to act horribly towards my parents and other people around me. This led through to my massive downfall at school where I had my first suspension for fighting. This had a huge ripple effect on me and my family, as the repercussions from my actions where massive. Towards the end of my time in year 10 it was clear that I had just given up and I couldn’t care what I did and what happened to me. Throughout this time there were moments when I was ready to give up on everything as I didn’t feel or believe I was worth the hassle.

Going into my final year of school I was at my worst, I began to lash out at everyone who even looked at me, and would say and do some horrid things to the teachers around me, including those who were working hard to help me. Midway through year 11 I got into a significant amount of trouble with the police for a fight that I was involved in, this was the breaking point, I had to shape up, or leave home. I narrowly avoided being permanently expelled from school. This lead to me failing my GSCE’s.

I began to go to church pretty much straight after school was finished through a friend who had supported me through my time at school. In my friends’ mind, he felt as if church was the best thing for me, knowing the people who were there and what the church did for him. It was at that church I met several people who were willing to help and support me with my different problems. Ultimately I was very lucky to have met the main youth worker of the church who was willing to give up his time to sit and listen to how I felt for once and was able to relate to me as well as leading me onto a path of respect and change. He even helped to get the relationship between my parents and I stable. I was still not very nice to any of the people who were helping me, but they never gave up on me and made sure I felt listened to and valued!

Within the space of 6 months to a year, I managed to make a full transformation in my life, thanks to the amazing people who gave up and made the time for me. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, ADD and anger management and received the support I needed. It wasn’t all easy, and I still struggled, as I do now as a 20-year-old man, but I now have the control and help I need to keep myself grounded. As years, have gone on many things have changed and I am now studying at Cambridge University, training as a youth worker, despite being told that I would never amount to anything. My passion is now working with those who are going through what I did.

I just want to say, don’t let what what’s happened in your life define you, don’t let your past mistakes stop you, and don’t let people tell you you can’t make it. You can change your life. You have the power in you to be the best you can, so know that support is there and people understand. This is your life, you can all succeed. 

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Blue Monday

The article below was written by Graeme Bigg, a member of the SelfharmUK training team.

Christmas leftovers have been eaten, decorations have been tidied away and presents are either now in use or have been returned for store credit, and you’ve now been back at school or work for over a week.  Some people find it easy to return to the routine of regular life, with all the promise of a new year and a new start, but others can find it much tougher, particularly if there are stressful situations going on from which the holidays offered a all-too-brief break.

The third Monday in January has been labelled as ‘Blue Monday’  - the reasoning being that as the wait for the first pay day since Christmas goes on and the weather gets colder, there is very little to raise the mood.  Indeed, everything from mock exams to presidential inaugurations can add to that existing weight.  So, if you’re feeling glum at the start of 2017, here are a few things that might help:

Blue Monday is made up.  The concept of this being the most depressing day of the year was made up twelve years ago by a travel company[1] – who understandably have a lot to gain by people looking to cheer themselves up by booking a holiday.  Marking out a particular day as ‘the most depressing day in the year’ offers a lot for retailers, who would like you to make comfort purchases, but the meaning behind the day in question is even emptier than November’s Black Friday.  So while the media might play it up, try to remember: Blue Monday is a lie.

January can be depressing.  Although the science behind Blue Monday is rubbish, part of the reason the term persists is because we can see why it might be true.  Punishing New Year’s resolutions that involve depriving ourselves of things we enjoy (our favourite foods, our favourite TV shows), the struggle for funds, the return to our work, going to and returning from school in the dark[2]: all of these can get our mood down.  If you’re struggling with these things, you don’t need to hide them, and because January is a month where people are more aware that life can be hard, you might find it easier to chat about it.  Samaritans are running a campaign this year called ‘Brew Monday’, encouraging people to meet up for a conversation over a cuppa[3].  Whether you’re finding January tough, or actually life is always tough, why not meet up with someone to chat about it.  And if you’re not finding it tough, check in on those around you to see how they are.

New Year, new start.  The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is one I sometimes find a bit daunting, as people ask me what commitments have I made for the next twelve months.  Memories of resolutions that were quickly broken add to the pressure, as does the fear of not making any and what that might say about my character, or thoughts about what ambitious scheme I could set myself.  This year I’ve been reflecting on, when it comes to resolutions, smaller might be better.  A New Year’s resolution is, ultimately, a personal target: it’s for you.  Devising something massive that, when you fail, just crushes you, is not helping you.  Attaching such great value to a resolution that your value becomes wrapped up with it has a similar risk.  You are more than your resolutions; don’t let them define you.  Instead, try to create something that is achievable and fun, something that will build you up rather than knock you down.  I do think making resolutions is a good idea – it helps us focus and be positive – and so I would encourage you to make one (or some) and write them down, so that you can see how you get on  However, they are also not exclusive to New Year’s Eve/Day, so if you do break a resolution, start again.  Make it a year of new starts – however many are needed.

Don’t look back – not yet.  Janus, the Roman god from whom January traditionally takes its name, famously is depicted as having two faces, one looking forwards and one looking backwards.  Because the New Year start in January is an annual occurrence, sometimes we can get tied up remembering Januaries from the past, with their joys and pains.  But this is the first January 2017 we have come across; let’s aim to live this one and not the ones of the past.  We don’t need to ignore of forget the good or (particularly) the bad moments from 2016 and before, but at the start of this new year try to put them to one side and see what this year has.  There will be new conversations, new experiences, the chances to try new activities and make new friends.  It can be good for us to reflect on these new things and the old things together, but leave that for now.  Let’s get this year started first, and see what it has in store.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/blue-monday-the-science-behind-the-most-miserable-day-of-the-year-a6816926.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/jan/16/blue-monday-depressing-day-pseudoscience

[3] http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/our-campaigns/brew-monday

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Letter to January 2016 Me

Whilst Sophie was part of the Graduate Volunteer scheme at Youthscape, she worked closely with the SelfharmUK team. The blog post below is something Sophie found extremely helpful to write as it's helped her to reflect on her year and to think positively about the year ahead. Sophie continues to write blogs for us even though her time as a volunteer has come to an end. She hopes you find this blog helpful.

Christmas is almost here, and with that, the end of 2016. I’m sure there are many mixed feelings out there about this, and I am one of those people with mixed feelings! When I reflect on my year, I feel as though so much has happened, both good and bad, but I don’t have an immediate “2016, wow what a great/bad year” reaction. Recently, a friend told me about a letter she had written to her younger self, and I thought it would be the perfect way to help me reflect on my year and encourage myself for the year ahead. Maybe it’s something you could try?

So here goes:

Hi Soph,

Future you here (it’s currently December 2016). 2016 is going to be an interesting one, it’s going to have highs and lows, but don’t worry, it looks like it will end on a high.

I know you’ve just come off your medication, and I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a tough few months, but I promise you; your body WILL adjust, so bear with it. Yes, at some points during the year you’ll slip back into self-harm, anxiety will get the better of you every now and then, some ‘sucky’ things happen, and at times life is going to feel pretty overwhelming. BUT, good news! As horrid as it may be, those times don’t last.

You grow so much this year, Soph. You FINALLY start making decisions that are looking out for your own wellbeing rather than based on making other people happy, how great is that?? I won’t tell you what these decisions are, but just go with your gut and know it’s okay to look after yourself. Oh and remember, admitting you need a bit of help again doesn’t mean you’re back to square one.

You know this already, but you have some really amazing people in your life who are totally going to be there for you – try to not feel guilty or ashamed to reach out to them if you need it – they HONESTLY don’t mind and only want the best for you. And be honest, Soph, I know being vulnerable can be scary, but opening up to these people is so safe.

You’ll start worrying about what to do job-wise after July, and then you’ll freak out about not having a job. Again, things work out; don’t put a load of unnecessary pressure on yourself. You don’t need to try and live up to the expectations of other people, this is YOUR life, and you need to do what’s best for you.

Spoiler Alert! You voluntarily say you’ll get up on stage and talk to 100+ people, AND you actually go through with it… AND it goes pretty well! Who would have thought it!?

2016 will be okay, but here’s a little peak at what I’ll try to remember and take into 2017 with me:

  • You are SO loved
  • You are SO blessed. Even when life is tough, keep what you’re thankful for close to your heart.
  • It’s okay to ask for help
  • Fight the fear
  • Being vulnerable is not weak, it shows strength and courage
  • Keep writing down what goes on in your head; it’s a great way to get it out!
  • Keep your chin up girl, you can do this!

Love, almost-2017-Soph

If you were to write a letter to yourself this year, what would you say? How would you encourage yourself for 2017?

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Let’s be honest: Christmas isn’t always fun is it?

This article was written by a member of the SelfharmUK team, Jo Fitzsimmons. Jo is our Alumina Program Manager and has parented a child who was a self-harmer for many years. She has an acute understanding of the impact self-harm has on not only young people, but their whole family. She hopes you find the below helpful.

All those lovely adverts on tv of families playing board games, watching each other open their presents laughing and smiling, the Christmas films where families realise they love each other more than any present they have ever had….

In my house reality looked like:

Smiling when you got a knocked off Care Bear that was misshapen and looked nothing like the ones my friends had; watching your parents  argue by 10 am as the pressure to be nice to each other all day is too much; my missing my Nan who passed away recently but we never mention her; once the presents have been opened we all disperse and meet up 3 hours later to eat too much food (that I hate myself for doing) and then fall asleep watching a crud film….

Sound like yours?

Or Maybe YOU LOVE Christmas?

Perhaps having people around you is a good thing as it makes you smile, gives you chance to see people who you actually like spending time with and you feel you can talk to; maybe the Christmas films take you back to feeling younger and happier…?

Either way – we can’t ignore it…It is Christmas! However we feel about it….

We know for some young people the idea of endless days spent at home with family is hard; perhaps being told you have to see relatives you don’t like causes you anxiety; perhaps you are missing a person you love at Christmas. However you feel, we want to get you through this, so here’s our tips for you:

Surviving Christmas Tips:

  • If you struggle spending time with family you don’t often see – find the nicest one in the room and zone in on them (easy if it’s someone you can play on an ipad or wii with so your family can’t complain too much about you ‘not being sociable’!
  • Give yourself breaks on your own if you need them- song lyrics, art, writing, music, reading, knitting are good ways to relax, sometimes our hands and our minds are best off busy so we focus in things other than how we feel.
  • Plan- maybe do yourself a daily plan to keep busy, combining gentle exercise with your fav hobby…try a new thing you have been thinking of.
  • Have a ready made contact list of friends if you need to – people you can text/message day and night.
  • If you are missing a loved one, how about making a present for them and putting it under the tree? It can be very helpful to acknowledge them over the Christmas time. Memory boxes out of shoes boxes, stars to put on the Tree, letters to the person – might all be helpful things to try.
  • Relaxing is so important especially if you find this time of year hard- slowing your breathing and relaxing your muscles helps reduce your anxiety, try downloading a Mindfulness app, give it a try a few times….
  • Eat healthily and sleep well – try and keep routines as much as possible, and yes, we know how tempting it is to eat the whole box of Quality Street and we all deserve a treat but….
  • Alumina on Demand is our on demand support for young people aged 14-18 who are struggling with self harm – while it’s the Christmas holidays, maybe join up and begin to work through the programme while you don’t have school and college pressures? Most days of the Christmas break someone on the Self Harm UK team is working, you can email us.
  • If you happen to feel very low, you can call Childline or Samaritans anytime at all.

May you know Hope this Christmas.

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My friend self-harms

It sounds like you are worried about your friend, and it’s great to hear you want to support them. Self-harming can be risky and it is understandable that you are concerned.

Firstly, it is important to remember the following things;

- you are not responsible for your friend’s actions.
- you cannot make them stop self-harming if they are not ready to.
- there is no quick fix or magic formula that works for everybody.

But here’s what you can do.

Friendship can be a powerful thing, and just being there for your friend may be a great comfort to them – to know they are not alone.

This doesn’t mean you should feel a pressure to be able to be around for your friend at all hours. Helping them create a bigger support network may be of great benefit to you both. Maybe you could tell them about this website or the young minds website. They could contact Childline and chat to a counsellor in confidence at any time of day or night, (for children and young people up to the age of 19). Or perhaps you could find out who else they trust that they could talk to.

People try all sorts of different ways to cope with their feelings – and different things work for different people. Some people keep a diary, others like to read or listen to music. Some people find it helpful to stimulate their senses – so they might put on their favourite perfume or aftershave for the nice smell, eat their favourite snack for the taste, cuddle their pillow or pet for the soft touch and so on. Maybe you could think about telling your friend about this.

Perhaps your friend might find it helpful to have a think about the things that trigger their self-harm. Perhaps they need support more so for the trigger than the self-harm itself. For example, if bullying is triggering their self-harm, perhaps reporting this will help take the trigger away. Or if exam stress is the trigger, maybe asking a teacher to help with a revision timetable will help.

Many people who self-harm and try to stop, feel like they’ve failed if they do hurt themselves again. Reassure your friend that it is normal to find stopping self-harming difficult, and that every urge they do manage to conquer is a victory.

Just by reading this article shows you are an amazing friend and doing a great job. It is a real balancing act to support a friend and look after your own feelings at the same time. It is a good idea to make sure you have support too, whether that be from another friend, an adult you trust or from a reliable website like this one, young minds or Childline

By Sam Firth who works for Childline

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Self-harm is real

Sanyha is a sixth form student that the SelfharmUK team met at the Priory School Mental Wellbeing Fayre. Sanyha has suffered with depression and self-harm and uses this blog to talk to us about the reality of self-harm urging us to break the stigma.

"You only self-harm for attention."

The number of times I have heard this comment is ridiculous, whether it was aimed at me or somebody else; to be completely honest it does make my blood boil when people think its acceptable to make assumptions like this. However, I do understand that there are people out there who are uneducated about mental illness and self-harm therefore they may not "get it". But do you not think that this assumption comes across at least a tad judgmental whether you are educated or not?

I started self-harming in 2014 due to feeling uncomfortable in the body and self I lived in, it started off as a very small type of self-harm - a few intentional scratches on my wrists every week. At first I didn't think of this as self-harm because I had no knowledge in this topic, this was also the case even when I started actually cutting my forearms and thighs in 2015. This form of self-harm seemed to be an on and off method of coping for the two years. When I developed a hate for myself as a person to a bigger extent, and began to convince myself that I deserved the pain that I inflicted upon myself, the cutting became more frequent - there was a phase of cutting everyday or every other day. The spring of 2015, I went through a few months of being close to starving myself as I only allowed myself to have one full meal a day and if I was to go over that limit then I would punish myself further through cutting – I did this as another form of self-harm.

By the end of 2015 I started to break away from self-harming as I realised that it was not going to solve anything and yes I know you may be thinking, why did it take me this long to realise this? This is what having a mental illness does to you, you cannot always think like you 'normally' would and your mind prevents you from the realisation. I started to find out alternatives but it was difficult for me, however keeping a hairband on my wrist seemed to work for a while; I even do that to this day to give me a sense of relief at times when I feel irritated. Another thing that made me break away from self-harming is the fact that my scars started to make me feel even more insecure than I already was. Therapy helped me to learn many strategies that I could use during my low mood episodes as well as being able to control certain thoughts I had.

Self-harm is real. Mental health is real.

So stop assuming and start helping, we cannot stop this stigma without you.

You can see more about what Sanyha is up to here  http://sanzshares.blogspot.co.uk

There are books that can help with your own recovery here http://www.youthscape.co.uk/store/project/selfharm

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How Zayn’s pain helps us to think differently about eating disorders

One Direction: the biggest boy band on the planet; the one with all the screaming fans and everyone wondering about their every move. People will often assume these pop stars and many others in the public eye have a perfect, pain-free life. We might think, if I could have one day in their life, all my problems would seem to disappear.

This week Zayn Malik released his book, “Zayn”. It offers an insight into what he describes as the darkest and most difficult times of his life. It’s even refreshing to hear that sentence isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – I would not wish dark and difficult times on anyone, but I think that sentence causes us to take a step back and realise that those times come to and are felt by everyone.

Zayn openly expresses in his book that during the last few months of One Direction he had an eating disorder. He says this:

“I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did, I had lost so much weight I had become ill. The workload and the pace of life on the road put together with the pressures and strains of everything going on within the band had badly affected my eating habits.” (Taken from Zayn Malik’s autobiography Zayn 2016)

There can be many reasons why people can develop eating disorders, and most of us instantly assume it is about being thin. While this can sometimes be the case, as Zayn so eloquently points out one big reason can be about gaining some control.

The online resource Eating Disorder Hope talks about anxiety and control linked to eating disorders:

"Often, it is the case that anxiety precedes an eating disorder. In struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control the aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, indirectly gives the suffer a false sense of control, which can temporarily relieve symptoms experienced due to anxiety." (Taken from Eating Disorder Hope website 2016)  

Zayn has also spoken in depth before about his own anxiety and how he has at times been unable to go on stage due to feelings of overwhelming panic. This is actually one reason he gave when he left the band back in March 2015. Popular vlogger Zoella has also created a fantastic video about her own panic attacks and anxiety, you can see it here

I think it is important for us to try to realise a couple of things from stories like Zayn’s. Firstly, we must remember that all people – whoever they are and whatever they do for a living – feel, live and experience pain. Secondly we should be challenged to think about our own recovery, so ask yourself:

What are the things that are causing you to try to gain some control?
How does controlling food help to make things better?
What things may need to change in order for the need to control to fade?

From there you can begin, as Zayn did, to find a place of freedom. 

SelfharmUK eating disorder resources can be found here

A Parents guide to eating disorders can be found here

B-eat are another eating disorder charity that are there to help you 

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Finding Myself

Sanyha is a sixth form student and the self-harm team met her at the Priory School Mental Wellbeing Fayre, Sanyha has suffered with depression and self-harm and uses this blog to talk to us about where she has come from and where she is now. It's really inspiring to read and we hope this helps some of you think about a life without self-harm. 

Imagine being so confused with yourself to the point where you can't even recognise who you are anymore; well that was me roughly two years ago.

I was diagnosed with severe depression in January 2015 when I was fifteen years old, at this time I was referred to CAMHS where I had regular therapy sessions since until October 2016. I have been discharged from the services, however in the past two years I had an incredibly difficult time in living my life as the thoughts of worthlessness and uselessness overwhelmed the positivity that I once had. Fortunately, I have regained my usual self through therapy as well as medication which I was put on in December 2015 as this was known to be a better route for me. I went through more than 3 suicide attempts and I am near to 11 months clean from self harm which is such a proud achievement for me.

I can honestly say that, I would never wish any of the experiences I went through on anybody at all because feeling like you want to leave the world is such a horrible feeling and us teenagers should not be thinking such a thought when we have our whole life ahead of us. The same goes for anybody of any age group as everybody has a purpose, whether you can see it yourself or not. This is why mental health awareness is vital and too important to ignore. Since my diagnosis, I have learnt so much about mental health and this has added to my passion about mental health and getting people to start talking about this topic rather than viewing it as a weakness and a taboo thing to talk about. It is my mission to do my best in raising awareness to mental health as it certainly does not get the attention that it should do. I raise awareness through my blog, YouTube Channel, Instagram, Twitter and my Snapchat Vlogs.

Currently, I am at Sixth Form studying Art, Sociology and Philosophy & Ethics and I am absolutely loving Sixth Form life! As well as studying my A Levels, I am beginning an Art Therapy group for the younger students at my school. I have started doing freelance makeup artistry as I have a passion for beauty as well and I also attend blogging events and meetings.

I have huge plans for my future which I did not think I would have as I honestly did not think I would get this far in life but I have, which is saying something – if I can then anybody can! I want to make a difference and I want to inspire, those are my main goals.

Mental health is like physical illness; how long will it take for people to realise this?

You can see more about what Sanyha is up to here  http://sanzshares.blogspot.co.uk

There are books that can help with your own recovery here https://www.youthscape.co.uk/store/project/selfharm

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Recovery from Depression in a Spiritual Community

Oliver shares with us some of their own journey around finding peace with their mental health and identity. This is a personal story of transformation and whilst none of this may ring true for you, Oliver challenges us to think about our own recovery and how community and the support of others can bring about the change that we need in our own lives to heal. SelfharmUK is for those from all backgrounds and faith groups, this story is personal and in our sharing of this article our only hope is that you are challenged to find a community that works for you. 

I grew up a pastors’ daughter on the outskirts of Birmingham, attending church religiously, so to speak, every Sunday. I enjoyed running around with my best friend Laura – who was also the daughter of a pastor – as opposed to actually participating in the service, although I did have a handful of favourite hymns which I would frequently request my father to play each week. Another highlight of mine was the continuous handfuls of candy I would convince the elderly churchgoers to give me; I had a particularly convincing smile.

My love of attending church came to an end gradually as I got older. Running around was no longer acceptable and my convincing smile had slowly withered away. I began losing interest and after 10 years of working in the same job my dad resigned as head of the church. We moved out of the vicarage and began attending a different church slightly further away – I still don’t know for certain why we stopped attending our original place of worship, although I have the suspicion tensions were high after we left and perhaps some attendees of the church saw us leaving as giving up on our faith.

As a family we began a new leg of our worship at a church run by very close friends. A new start had sparked my interest once again, however a decline in my mental health had meant that burst of intrigue didn’t last exceptionally long. As depression sank in I started to find every aspect of my life mundane and uninteresting, including spiritually. By this time I was 11 and had stopped attending church altogether. Not particularly long after this I became isolated and also began to self-harm.

Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) took me on as a patient in the year 2012 due to my mums’ persistence to get me medical help – which was predominantly driven by her faith, words of solidarity she took from the Bible, and the network my parents had built up around them over many years of hard work within the Christian community. I received frequent therapy sessions plus plenty of support from friends and family, but their efforts went unnoticed and I continued to deteriorate. My self-harm persisted, I attempted suicide and was starving myself.

After receiving several diagnoses including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and EDNOS (Eating Disoders Not Otherwise Specified), I was hospitalised on the 29th of May 2013, after being in and out of A&E several times. I vividly remember my mother getting the call the night before, stating that a bed had been made available and that I would be a full-time in patient by the next day.

The 8am drive to the hospital was bleak, literally and emotionally. There was a light drizzle of rain and the fog had begun to stagnate, as if it would never lift. To say there was an air of pathetic fallacy that morning is a gross understatement. Along with the macabre shadow following me around, I too felt an absence of God, in all its forms. An absence of communal support. An absence of faith. These things shaped my childhood and now had dwindled away. It felt as if the life I was living were completely separate from my younger self. All trace of who I used to be had been destroyed in the face of depression, also dragging with it a previously overwhelming sense of trust in my parents and love for my religious community.

Those 8 months in hospital were the centre point of one of the most transformative times in my life, and still today impacts who I am greatly – luckily for me the treatment was a success for the most part and it sculpted me in a positive manner.

I was eventually discharged on the 13th of December 2013, yet there was still a long road of healing ahead. I was put under the home visiting team working for CAMHS who, for the first few weeks, would visit my house each day to not only monitor my weight and blood pressure, but also my scars, if there were any new ones, and how my emotional stability was faring.

No interest in the spiritual life had showed itself again as of yet, for all my energy and time was being spent on merely trying to function once more in a society I had been isolated from for the best part of a year. This remained the case for some time and while a lot of progress was being made in the realm of my mental health, my spiritual health continued to be malnourished and uninspired. (Also during this time I came out as genderqueer, otherwise known by its more socially acceptable term of ‘non-binary’, which also aided in my positive progression with my mental health. I would go into this further but I feel it would best to leave it for its own article).

It wasn’t until the dawn of 2016 that I set about exploring afresh the religious aspect of my life – or lack of, for that matter. This led me to exploring Buddhism more in-depth, and took me to my local Triratna Buddhist centre. Entering the building I felt something which had been absent for most of my life; a spiritual community in which I had a place. A spiritually stimulating community where my gender expression and sexuality did not deem me unworthy, but where my actions and the peace or hatred I contributed to the world defined me. From then on I attended the centre every Thursday evening where groups of up to 60 people would meditate and have discussions on different Buddhist teachings.

I began attending the centre in May this year, and by July I had been discharged from CAMHS after being a patient of theirs for 4 years. The absence of CAMHS threw me off kilter very briefly for a few weeks, which resulted in me taking that time off from the Buddhist centre to fully assess the direction I wanted my religious practice to go in. As I am writing this it is getting towards the end of September and I have been attending the centre again since the beginning of this month and now I can truly see how deprived and dissatisfactory my life is without Buddhism.

I feel I can truly now comprehend the importance of a spiritual or religious community in aiding positive mental states.

On that note I feel it is time to bring this article to a close, but not quite yet. I would like to leave you with a warning not to take my words from a subjective viewpoint and believe I am saying that Buddhism is the only way to connect spiritually. Buddhism is not the only way, and that is definitely not the message I would like people to take from this. We all connect to various communities differently, and what I am trying to project as best I can, is that we should not give up on finding the right place for us if the first one does not work out how we would have liked. There is a place for everyone to find religious inspiration and encouragement, we just have to find it. This is my attempt at motivating you to find it.

Oliver Fitzsimmons, aged 16

Image courtersy of Jubair1985

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Embrace the Change

Bethany Murray has been known to SelfharmUK for a long time and is an inspirational young person who has overcome some challenging things in her life. She shares openly with us about the struggles she is facing as she transitions to university and gives some hints to help us in our own transitions. 

Earlier this week I posted this tweet:   "Yes I am rather melodramatic but I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I think of everything being left behind as I move to uni." 

At the end of this week I am moving to the other side of the country to study psychology at uni. It's scary. It's a massive change. I am in a period of transition. And, in all honestly I feel a real fear about starting this new phase of life. 

Change is one of the most common things people feel afraid of. Myself included.  

What's interesting, is that things have changed in my life before...obviously. Life, for each of us, is made up of many different chapters and phases. Before each of these times of significant change in my life I've felt this horrible anxious almost heartbroken feeling. Moving house, starting secondary school, my brother and sister leaving home etc. etc. 

I have three simple things I am holding onto at the moment as I enter this new period of change and tradition. If you're feeling similarly worried or overwhelmed while being faced with change in your life, I want to suggest repeating after me: 

I have already survived many big changes in my life.
Positive things have often come from changes that I once spent many nights crying over.
If nothing ever changed I would still be wearing a nappy and having my bum wiped. 

Change can make us feel scared, uncertain, overwhelmed, bereft, heartbroken and regretful. Yet we must remember that change is good and change is necessary.

Without change we don't grow. We don't have a chance to implement things we've learnt. We aren't able to learn new things. We can't experience more of the amazing world we live in. Without change we wouldn’t be able to find out about things that we currently have no knowledge or experience of. Without change we cannot reach our full potential.  

When I know a big change is happening in my life, the thing I struggle with most is the "what ifs?". 

What if I make no friends at uni?

What if I get behind on work?

What if I get lost in a big new city? 

What if people at home forget about me? 

What if I don't have the help I need? 

What if…

What if… 

What if…

"What if" thoughts come from a place of insecurity. Of anxiety. These "what if" thoughts are never likely to be projecting a positive forecast. And so that's where I have learnt to intervene. My brain chatters away and my thoughts are swirling with fear and uncertainty and all I can imagine is complete and utter catastrophe and so I force myself to imagine a positive scenario for each negative "what if". 

What if I meet my life long best friend at uni? 

What if the work isn't as hard as I’m imagining? 

What if I discover beautiful corners of a new city? 

What if writing letters to people at home becomes a new favourite hobby?

What if I meet new people who help me more than anyone I've met before?

What if… 

What if…

What if… 

For me, as someone who has struggled with self-harm and mental illness for a long time, I know times of transition are particularly difficult. I have noticed negative patterns during these times and are often when I struggle most.  And so I have now worked on strategies that help me cope. 

Acknowledging that loss is a real part of change is important. With any change happening in life, you will be losing something that has been positive. Even exciting changes may bring sadness about some elements of your life ceasing to be the way they were. It's okay to feel sad about these things. It's okay to need some time to process that. 

Focusing on the positives sounds a cliché piece of advice but, it's still probably the best I can give. Sometimes things change in life for very negative reasons, but a lot of the transitions we face in life have many pros as well as the cons we may be focusing on. Keeping these in mind, even writing them down is really helpful.

Finding supportive people with whom you can talk through these fears with will make a real difference. For me, my anxiety gets worse the more time I’m left to think things through alone without another more rational voice. Having people I know I can speak to when I’m facing a difficult change or time of transition is so important. These people make me think about whether the things I worry about happening are actually likely and help me put plans in place for coping with different eventualities.

I want to finish this blog post with a quote that helps me greatly.

“When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tight-rope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.” – Jeanette Winterson

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Is It Just A Picture?

Sometimes things will catch your eye on social media and get you hooked for hours looking at posts, responses to posts and re-tweets. This happened for me a couple of weeks ago. Urban Decay pushed out some new make-up and did the usual swatching of said make-up on a models arm. The particular imagery used by the big make-up brand caused some controversy amongst people on social media. The company took a huge backlash from people all over the globe stating that it was distasteful and difficult for people to look at who were struggling with or who had struggled with self-harm. It didn’t help that the product was called ‘Razor Sharp’ and so the image teamed with the words, really did put Urban Decay in a sticky situation. If you haven't see the picture and feel strong and able enough to look at it, it can be found here **trigger warning** only look if you can. 

This got us thinking at SelfharmUK about the use of images in general, but also the lack of thought that is still given to self-harm in the world of branding and marketing. It is a clear sign that self-harm does not appear on people’s radar and is still something that is missed. Lots of people took to twitter and told Urban Decay in no uncertain terms that for them, this had felt triggering and upsetting.

I really thought we were getting somewhere with understanding that names and pictures have an effect on people and if we are going to brand something we have to ensure we think this through. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE make-up and I understand that the arm is where swatching is done, but the thin lines, the name of the brand and the lack of sensitivity towards people is quite frankly upsetting. Urban Decay have remained ignorant to both current and past self-harmers and have to this point not given a clear and appropriate apology.

We need to be challenging brands, marketing moguls, products and anyone with influence that people are sore and people are hurting. We need to make people aware that self-harm affects a lot of people and the things we say, do, post and write about can cause people distress and discomfort.

I contacted Urban Decay for a comment to this post I said this;

Hi I am the project manager of a charity called SelfharmUK and am emailing to see if someone will give me a response to the recent image and eyeliner name that caused an outcry on twitter. I am in the process of writing a piece for our website and think it would be right if I included a comment, apology or response from yourselves. The image and the name of the product have left current and ex self-harmers feeling upset by the post and as of yet I am unaware if you have issued an apology. I would be interested in talking to you about this more and looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks

I am yet to have a response, but be sure to know this. As a charity we will never stop calling people to account on things that are triggering for people, that cause them distress around self-harm and we will continue to be an advocate for any issues on this topic. 

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Festival Love

Laura Haddow, Training and Marketing Manger for SelfharmUK, talks openly and honestly about how she supported her ex-partner with self-harm. She talks frankly about how lonely this can feel and ends with some encouraging words for all who may be supporting a loved one with self-harm. 

 

We first met at a festival.

It was July and I was a blue haired 16-year-old girl who sat down next to a long haired (hot) musician guy in a field and unexpectedly became swept up in a summer romance that lasted the next 5 years.

He was the singer/songwriter in a band and so insanely talented. Watching him perform on stage night after night you just couldn’t take your eyes off him, so full of energy and passion in being in the spotlight and doing what he loved.

Life moved fast and before we knew it we had moved in together and got engaged, I was smitten.

I’d never really come across self-harm before so when it first happened I didn’t really know what to feel other than panic.

Things would suddenly just overwhelm him and this wonderful outwardly happy guy would spiral fast into a very dark place where even I wasn’t allowed in to help.

I didn’t talk to anyone for years about it. It got worse and worse, the anger, the harming, I felt alone and helpless. How do you stop someone you love from hurting themselves? Was it my fault? Why was it getting worse?

I look back at myself then and wish I knew what I know now, I wish the world was as ready and open to talk about self-harm and mental health back then as it is now but it wasn’t, and whatever avenue I took for help ended in a full stop.

Maybe you relate to this? Maybe you’re watching someone you love battling with self-harm and are at a crossroads unsure of what to do or where to go for help. Here’s a few pointers that I hope will help:

 

You are not alone and you are not to blame I repeat, you are not alone and are not to blame.

You also urgently need support and you mustn’t keep handling this alone without help, it’s too hard and will start having an impact on you- find someone you trust and tell them what is going on.
Talk to your GP for advice

Get resourced with some good information around the subject and ways to support a loved one. SelfharmUK has lots of helpful information pages plus some great resources on the store especially the Parents Guide and book- Self-harm; the path to recovery).

Look after yourself as well as your loved one, it can be incredibly draining supporting someone around this issue so make sure you are taking care of your health too, talk, rest, eat well and ask for extra help when you feel you need it.

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Feel it, own it, explore it

Oby Bamidele, a qualified counsellor helps us to think about the best way to reach out and work with young people who are self-harming. She challenges us to think first about ourselves and leaves us with powerful lessons in helping young people to own and explore their pain.  

 

When I started working with young people who self-harm, I was deeply challenged in my thinking and in the way I work. I realised that in order for me to support a self-harmer I had to do the following things.

1) Challenge my own thoughts and feelings about self-harm
2) Stop trying to “fix” the self-harmer’s behaviour
3) Listen
4) Ask questions
5) Be honest and open

As soon as I began to apply the above,

I noticed a vast improvement in the way I worked with my clients. It became about understanding the emotions behind self-harm rather than focusing on self-harming itself. One thing all self-harmers have in common is emotional pain.

Emotional pain can be so intense and it can hurt just like physical pain. With physical pain you can at least pinpoint the source. Not so with emotional pain. Sometimes the busyness of the day can block it away, but soon enough that same old familiar feeling that threatens to drown, condemn and consume you resurfaces.  Self-harm itself becomes the outlet to release the emotional pain and find respite, even if just for a little while.

Listening is a major part of the work in self-harm as it allows the self-harmer to process their thoughts and feelings. There is a tendency to block off or suppress inner thoughts and feelings which are too painful to accept or perhaps we feel others will find unacceptable. However, the more you can open up to working through those feelings, the more you can understand.

I encourage my self-harmers to own their pain using the model:

 FEEL IT, OWN IT, EXPLORE IT

1) Feel your pain - When you recognise that familiar painful feeling beckoning, allow yourself a few minutes to sit and feel the pain. My emotional pain is my mind’s way of telling me that there are some deep feelings which I need to address. What is the pain you are feeling? Is it hurt, shame, anger, hate, betrayal, jealousy? Do you feel like crying?  It helps to speak out what you are feeling. For example, “I feel ashamed” “I feel like crying” “I feel horrible about myself”

2) Own Your Pain – We tend to struggle to own our pain, because it is usually associated with a judgement of ourselves and shows a side of us we don’t want to accept. For example, it might feel really difficult to own feelings of hate, shame or rejection. But the emotion already exists and until we own it we can’t address or begin to understand it.

3) Explore your pain – Once you have been through the process of feeling and owning our pain, you are then able to explore and understand it. Remember that pain is a signal that something is amiss within us.  We can use our pain to direct us to the source. What triggered the feelings? What was the experience? What does it say about you? How do you feel about you? What is the way forward?

Working through emotional pain in this way is a powerful self-awareness practice and can really heal painful emotions. 

Oby Bamidele (MBACP)
Counsellor
web: www.obybamidele.com
website: www.wisegate-schoolcounselling.co.uk

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Frustration Explored

Frustration can be, well, frustrating in itself.

The smallest things can make us frustrated - I get easily frustrated when I’m trying to untangle my headphones or if my phone isn’t working properly! Frustration can come from the bigger things too, such as not getting the exam grades or job you want. 

How do we manage these frustrations life throws at us? We can either:

  • do nothing and let it frustrate us
  • accept it and try and move on/let it go
  • do something about it by making a change or using it for good 

Sometimes there will be frustrating situations that we can’t change, and learning to let go of this frustration can be quite difficult. At the end of last year, we had to move house. Moving out of a house I’d lived in for the past 13 years, to a new house which was about an hour’s drive away, away from my hometown, friends, and half of my family, was really frustrating. It was something I couldn’t change, but had to accept – easier said than done – but possible. Telling myself that everything would be okay and that something great could come from the move really helped me accept it and let go of some of that frustration.

Sometimes there will be situations we can change, and sometimes we can use our frustration for good. I came across this quote:

‘Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.’ – Bo Bennett

Frustration can spur us on to greater things. Frustration can make us more determined to succeed – the frustration of not doing as well on an exam as we’d hoped, can give us the determination to work harder and achieve the grades we want. We have the choice of whether or not we decide to use the frustration for good and make a change.

I find that not only does music, taking deep breaths or having a cry help relieve frustration, but also telling myself certain things. Putting your frustration into perspective can make such a difference to how you feel. For example, if I get frustrated by how tangled my headphones are, I can remind myself that on the scale of things, this really isn’t a big deal. I just need to slow down and be patient. This can really lessen how frustrated I’m feeling and in some cases, almost make me laugh at how I’ve let something so small annoy me so much!

Recently I’ve discovered a really great way of minimizing the time I give to thinking about the bigger frustrations in life - focusing on what I’m thankful for. Starting to remind myself of all the things I’m thankful for doesn’t leave as much room to be frustrated by the other things!

Remind yourself that you can make a change. 

Life is what we make of it – we can’t fully control what happens in our life, but we can choose how we react to it.

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Living free living as me

In this article SelfharmUK Project Manager Ruth Ayres sits down to talk to Oliver and Lewis about their gender identity and self-harm

SHUK: Oliver, what age did you begin self-harming?

O: I started at 11 years old, I have always struggled with talking about my emotions and I remember the exact moment my eating disorder started. I was in Paris on a school trip and my boyfriend at the time was talking to a friend and said my thighs were really fat. I look back now astonished, I was a size 10 at the time. I was nowhere near fat. But that comment had a huge effect on me. I can remember everything about that moment, from what I was wearing to the exact place we were in Paris.    

SHUK: How did you self-harm?

O: Lots of different ways, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 12, this was a lot to do with stopping my body from developing as a girl. I didn’t want that to happen. I was hospitalised for 8 months, from May to December 2013. I was force fed in that time. Not by way of a tube, but I was told, I could eat a meal or drink a high calorie drink, which I have to say tasted disgusting. I picked the drink though, because at the time the thought of chewing was awful for me.

SHUK: Really why so?

O: I don’t know; I just couldn’t cope with it.

SHUK: Were you self-harming in other ways?

O: Yeah I was cutting and I tried to take my own life, on 2 occasions.  

SHUK: Jo, (Oliver’s mum) how was it for you when you first realised Oliver was self-harming?

J: Awful, I felt like a massive failure and I was constantly asking the question why couldn’t Oliver talk to us about their feelings. Given all the jobs I have done, often in counselling and supporting young people, I felt like I had massively let Oliver down. I had to however begin to think about how we as a family helped Oliver to get better. 

SHUK: What did you want to do?

J: A combination of wrap Oliver up in cotton wool and scream at the whole world. I wanted to stop them self-harming and essentially make everything better.

SHUK: Did you at this stage have any idea why?

J: Not at all, Oliver had struggled with their transition to high school and we as parents assumed that this was the reason for their self-harm.

SHUK: Oliver, can you talk to me about your gender identity?

O: I feel totally fluid in my gender at the moment, and I am not sure if I want to fully transition my body from female to male. I am living life as me, non-defined by my gender. I would describe myself as Agender – living without gender rather than transgender.

SHUK: Do you think your self-harm was linked to your gender identity?

O: Yes; I felt a huge lack of community and acceptance, community is really important and I now feel a huge sense of belonging to the queer community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). There is a total lack of education around gender identity and we are still seen as outcasts I guess. I mean just recently 50 people were killed in Orlando, in place where they should have been safe. I think people who are exploring gender identity feel unable to come out for fear of not being accepted and loved, or killed. My self-harm was about controlling my emotions that I didn’t understand or couldn’t talk about, these emotions were linked to my gender identity.

Oliver and I had a long discussion about where they were now and they were able to express very freely the peace they now feel as a result of being agender. Oliver was clear with me that there needed to be more education around being agender, and they became incredibly passionate about the fact that people had died and the world needed educating. However, what is totally evident and what they do know is that they feel more comfortable in their own skin than ever before. They feel much more confident in expressing themselves. Oliver feels there is a sense of them being able to understand themselves and not conforming.

SHUK asked Jo what advice she would give to parents if their child is self-harming?

J: Don’t panic, talk to someone outside of the family for support and try in a very gentle non- threatening way to open up conversations with your children about self-harm.   

SHUK: Oliver, if you could go back 12 months what advice would you give yourself?

O: I would tell myself to not try and run away from my community and I would tell myself to accept that this is who I am. I would try not to be anything other than myself. I would also remind myself that being queer is empowering, not strange. It is an escape from a heteronormative society, which is something I’ve always searched for, and that one day I will finally be free to be as queer and loud as I want.

Since coming out Oliver has not self-harmed for 18 months and is doing extremely well, it is obvious from my time with them that they are at peace. Oliver is able to speak honestly and freely about who they are and I have to say they are a very inspiring person to be around.

 

Lewis Hancox is YouTube vlogger and up and coming comedy writer, with many exciting things in the firing line, he also happens to be transgender. Lewis took part in a channel 4 programme in 2011 called My Transsexual Summer, which followed 7 people at different stages of their transition. Lewis has now completed his surgery and feels far more at peace than ever living life as a man. Lewis has always identified as a heterosexual male and for him the loneliness of living as a girl was incredibly tough.

Lewis gave me some of his time over coffee one afternoon and I was able to ask him a few questions about transgender young people, suicide and self-harm. Here is what he had to say.  

SHUK: Was self-harm anything that ever you struggled with, by this I mean any area of self-harm from cutting to self-poisoning to eating disorders?

L: Well actually I was going to answer no then, but I guess you’re right, eating disorders are part of self-harm. I developed an eating disorder when I was in high school and this was due to the changes I was seeing in my body, I was desperate to not go through puberty as a girl and wanted to stop the development of my body parts as much as possible. I was diagnosed with anorexia and I knew there was something else underlying this. If I’d have known about being transgender back then this would have definitely helped, I would have felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

SHUK: Were you ever hospitalised?

L: Yeah I was, due to my periods stopping they needed to be sure that my vital organs were not shutting down. I was in for a night, they ran some tests and I was discharged. I was then referred to a counsellor.

SHUK: How can we help transgender young people around self-harm?

L: I think education on the subject is the key, when I saw my counsellor after being discharged form hospital my mum mentioned to her that when I was younger I never wanted to wear girls; clothes or be called “she”. The counsellor dismissed this and said “oh no that’s nothing, lots of young children feel that way.” She put my eating disorder down to my parents splitting up. I know that if I’d have had the space to talk about my confusion around my gender it would have been different. It’s about people being educated, especially professionals.

SHUK: Why do you think self-harm and suicide is such a massive issue in the Trans community?

L: I think there is a few reasons really, I think that people feel isolated and unaccepted and even when they have come to terms with being trans themselves they often feel isolated and rejected by their family and friends, who perhaps don’t understand. I also think a huge issue is the waiting times for people to have access to testosterone and surgery. I was rejected for my surgery in St. Helens and I waited two years for testosterone. This means that even when people have made their peace with being trans, they still feel out of control while they wait for the right support to start their transition. Self-harm is something that they can control and I think this is why it is such a big issue. I have trans friends who have self-harmed and also attempted to take their own life.

SHUK: If you could go back to in time to your younger self, what would you say?

L: I would reassure myself that I am going to live a perfectly happy life once I have transitioned and that my body isn’t the be all and end all. I would tell myself to not put my life on hold and focus on my ambitions and things that I can work towards. I feel like I lost a good few years of my life when all I could focus on was my transition and I guess a part of me regrets that now.

 

Gender continues to be a complex, challenging and difficult subject for many young people, gender identity is a concept that needs to be talked about, celebrated and accepted.

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates 

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Talking To The Doctor

Here at SelfharmUK we want to help people understand their harming behaviour and explore other ways to cope with life's challenges.

If you get in touch we'll listen to your story and suggest ways to help you move forward ... but somewhere along the line we'll almost always suggest you visit your GP.  This can be a really tough thing to do, we know it can be scary, and can mean having to tell your parents too (though not always) but we believe it can be a significant step towards feeling better.

We asked GP David Roberts what you can expect when talking to your doctor about self-harm and whilst this article is only a guide - and not a definitive set of facts - we hope it will help you feel more in control, if and when, you walk into that consulting room...

Why do I have to go to the Doctor?

Self-harming is usually an indication that all is not right. People sometimes do it because it relieves internal tension and stress. It is not a very good way of doing this and like drugs, alcohol and smoking ultimately doesn't do any good. But in the short term it gives a temporary relief from emotional pain. However, it can be a symptom of a more serious mental illness and so your doctor can make sure you get the help you need.

Can I go on my own or do I have to take a parent?

You can legally go to the GP alone aged 16, but doctors can accept that you may be able to make your own decisions about your health (eg contraception) from 14 if they think you understand things and are mature enough to do so. A doctor would want you to involve your parent(s) in your care until you are 16 and are likely to encourage you. They would not give you an injection or carry out an operation, or even do an intimate (embarrassing) examination (physical check) without your parent's permission before you are 16.

How can I get ready for my appointment?

Even if you are under 16 That does not mean that you cannot talk to them about your problems or issues. It is a good idea to think about what you want to say and write the main points down. Lots of people get embarrassed at what they want to say and so don't get to the point. Doctors are busy and don't get embarrassed by what you think or say, so it is better to take a deep breath and say it right at the beginning rather than put it off. They won't mind and it will give them more time to talk to you than if you spend the first five minutes talking about a rash that no one can see because it really isn't there!  Think about what you want to get out of the appointment - do you just want to tell someone and get it off your chest, do you want help stopping it, do you want them to refer you on to someone who could give you specialist help? If you tell them what you want then they can work out how best to support you.

What will happen if I say I self harm?

Self harming is quite common and they will have seen other people who do it. So they won't be shocked, but they will be concerned. The biggest concern they would have is that you might want to kill yourself. Not many people who self harm want to do this but doctors have a professional duty to assess the risk of that happening. they are obliged to keep what you say confidential and private between you and them, unless you tell them something that they think might indicate that your health is seriously at risk (or you might be planning to do something that might endanger someone else) - see later - in which case they may be obliged to break your confidence. They should tell you this. They will want to help you, and so if you have plucked up courage to tell them, they will try to find ways to do that.

What will they ask me?

This might include asking some deep questions which you might find embarrassing: don't be though, they're only trying to work out what's making you do this. They'll ask about cutting, taking drugs, overdoses, and other ways you might be tempted to hurt yourself. They may ask you about how you feel (low, depressed, crying, worried, frightened, angry) and how things are at home or school or work.  If they feel you trust them they might ask you to come back again to see them, and they might suggest that they refer you on to see a specialist from the CAMH service (people who work most of their time with young people with similar problems). They might encourage you to speak to a counsellor at school, particularly if there is someone there you feel you can talk to. They will want to know why you have come to see them at that time and to find out what help you want them to give you. You may not be able to say this, but if you've thought about it beforehand it will help.

Do they have to tell my parents?

They are obliged in law to protect you and others from actions you might take that might harm you or others. But they need to check how likely your might be to do something you say you want to do so they will question you quite hard. If you are under 16 and they think you are suicidal (or planning a murder!) they will have to tell your parents or other authorities. They will still encourage you to involve your parents as they have legal responsibility for you, but if the risk is low in their view, they will try their best to keep what you say confidential.

Will I have to show them where I have self-harmed?

They can't and won't force you (unless they are seriously worried about you being in danger and even then they will ask for advice from someone who specialises in child protection). They will want to assess how bad your injuries are - you might need antibiotics if your cuts are infected, and you might need dressings to protect the wounds.

Remember they aren't easily shocked or embarrassed and really want to help you - showing them the extent of your cutting will help them work out how serious the problem is and how to get you the best help.

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Black Girls Dont Self-Harm

Self-harm is no laughing matter and having the courage to share your story or admit you need help to family or close friends is difficult for anyone to do … whatever your ethnicity or cultural background.

But from my experience, within the Afro-Caribbean community there is this belief that self-harming, mental health problems and depression are not a ‘black thing’.  Many people in our community believe that only Caucasian people suffer with depression or mental illnesses and it’s this sort of mentality that leads to young black people failing to seek the help and advice they need.

According to The British Journal of Psychiatry black girls are surprisingly more likely to self-harm than white girls, but less likely to receive any type of treatment. Yes you read that right! With shocking facts such as that, it seems bizarre to me that I couldn’t find at least one online platform that offers support to black girls who self-harm.

Now of course, there are many platforms that offer young people support and guidance that black girls can turn to. But they don’t seem to feature how much of a big deal it is for black girls to tell their close family or friends about their problems and try to seek help.

When I was sixteen I use to self-harm, it was brought on by various things that were going on in my life from family issues to my deeply rooted insecurities. I never sought help, firstly because I was scared and because I was always being told that things like depression and mental illness was associated with white people. Eventually my mum saw the scars on my arms and we had a long discussion about depression and how I could actively seek help.

A few years later and my life couldn’t be better! But sometimes I do think about that little insecure black girl who self-harms because she is bullied at school, abused at home or dealing with family problems, who is telling her that it is okay to admit she needs help? Who is helping?

 YES some black girls - and boys - do self-harm and it’s the cultural stigma that is deterring them from seeking help. Please if you are reading this and you are scared to admit you self-harm due to cultural shaming or embarrassment, understand that your family and friends do love you and there are people out there who will take time to listen and help you take the first step towards recovery. Post to our Question page or visit the Information page to get all you need to know, or maybe check out Alumina - our online course that give you the tools to move towards recovery.

Lateefah Jean-Baptiste is a 22 year old media researcher and writer from London. I like to write pieces that can encourage, help and inspire others like me. I am my happiest when I am around loved ones and as we're talking about what frustrates us this month, for me it's people who are unnecessarily rude and angry.     

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If You Could Change One Thing...

That voice.

That voice.

That voice that creeps in, it lingers, hanging around when it knows it isn't welcome. That voice which can be self critiquing about my appearance. That tells me nothing looks good on me as I get ready to go to work in the morning; which makes me think for a while I am all that I can see in the mirror. That voice. That voice that makes me doubt the size I actually am. Knowing I'm a healthy size 10 yet the mirror making me feel dissatisfied at times with the reflection looking back at me. That voice that then makes me annoyed, knowing it isn't welcome and I shouldn't listen to it. Knowing I've developed a healthy relationship with food, no longer comfort eating my emotions away.

But If I could change one thing it would be that voice. That voice that pops up once in a while and then stays a little longer than welcome.

Over the years I've learnt to become more and more satisfied with life, with what I have and enjoying life in the present, not wishing for the future or longing for the past.

Yet that voice still pops up every now and then... And when it does, it makes me doubt myself.

When I was given the theme for this blog post, I decided I would be vulnerable.  Decided I'd let some of my guard down and share that battle I still face at times.

So often, people can be quick to look at pictures of my slimmer figure and assume everything must be perfect.  Yes, I do feel better, so much better in myself since losing some weight to benefit my health and yes, I am in a good and happy place with life overall. However, that doesn't mean I don't still struggle at times with that voice.

I had been in a great place with loving myself and all that I am.  But the other night saw me burst into tears when someone asked me an innocent question and that voice told me they must have thought I had put on weight. Yet as I processed how I was feeling, I was  reminded that anxiety can have a way of lying to you, of making you believe things which aren't true and can leave you feeling exposed, vulnerable and raw.

Thankfully time and time again, I am reminded that vulnerability is strength.

Choosing to tell someone when you're struggling brings a sense of freedom. Knowing you're not on your own. Knowing someone cares and not only listens but hears what you're saying.

I've found speaking out and saying how I feel when that voice visits, lets me fight it quicker and stops it getting louder and bigger. I continue to enjoy my food, good meals out and love cooking, that voice isn't related to that, it's related to appearance.

It can be a scary concept telling someone how you're really feeling, but by doing so, it can also be the very thing to help you work through situations you face, knowing you're not alone.

Despite me telling my boyfriend how stupid I was for crying and feeling rubbish and horrid, and a load of other things; he comforted me and told me I wasn't any of those things but he heard me. He didn't try to dismiss how I felt but he reassured me and worked through with me how I felt and helped me corme out the other side. Sometimes we need to find another voice, outside of our own to help guide us through.

I wonder if you have a voice, whatever that voice may be that you could sit with and share with others? Choosing to be vulnerable can be the steps to rising above it and moving forwards.  After all, as Brene Brown says 'vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."

What is out there that could be new for you?

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Designing A Difference

This month our theme is dissatisfaction. There are many things that can lead us to be frustrated with life, those feelings can be hard to handle and a deep rut to get out of. However, once in a while our need for change can lead us to do something incredible in the face of life’s challenges. Final Year Student, Ruth McCallum did just that...

"I'm a Fashion Design Student and I chose to base my final collection on mental health. It is something I feel strongly about, having struggled in this area and I wanted to use fashion as a way to normalise it and raise awareness of the young people going through the same thing.

My work which is in denim, leather and embroidery focuses in part on self-harm. It became a way for me to release some of the emotions I felt dealing with bulimia and depression over the past 3 years.  I used to (and still do at times) feel very self-conscious about having scars, but using it as a very obvious detail on some of my garments made me address the issue head on and talk about it. An unexpected result was feeling my self-harm is more accepted through people appreciating the work I was doing.

It has been good to express my feelings in a creative way it but it’s also been an extremely difficult process.  Starting my final year I felt I was “better” but after a few months I began to struggle again with the issues of eating, depression and self-harm and most scarily, it was worse than ever. Maybe because of stress or increasing pressure, I began to think I couldn’t do it and I wouldn’t get “better” again, that terrified me the most. I put pressure on myself wanting to do the subject justice and make something positive come from it but that’s me; always wanting to do well or fearing I’m not good enough.

But I did it and now my collection is featuring at Graduate Fashion week in London! If you’d have asked me about 2 months ago, I could’ve never seen it coming. It is a great opportunity as I really hope it can raise awareness in some way. Even if just one person takes something away from seeing it I will feel like it has had some kind of impact.

Mental health should be more talked about, and doing so helps others, as the more people I speak to, the more of a “normal” part it is of many people’s lives.  I would hope that if someone were to read this going through similar feelings, they could feel that it is okay to talk about how you feel and that doing so will help as it will not be trapped in your head.

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Alternate Family

You could say my family is pretty dysfunctional and all over the place, there have been a number of divorces, step siblings have come and gone, and living in two houses can be tiring. But at the end of the day, we are family. However, for me family doesn’t end at this.

During the Easter holiday, I spent a week with a pretty large group of people who I consider to be family. Why family? I’ve never really thought about the ins and outs of why I felt like I was surrounded by family – it just felt like that. So I had quick think and these were the reasons that immediately sprung to mind:

  • Inclusivity and acceptance – Some of us had known each other for years, others were there for the first time and didn’t know anyone. But that didn’t matter, no one was left on their own, everyone was included. It didn’t matter who you were, what you looked like, what you did or where you came from, you were totally accepted for who you are! When I spoke to a number of people who had come along for the first time, they all mentioned how everyone was so welcoming and how comfortable they felt.
     
  • Something shared – In all of our families, there may be certain values/beliefs/interests that are shared, and with this group of people, we all shared the same faith. It brought us together and created such a special family feel.
     
  • People who care and help you – I was surrounded by people who really cared about each other and genuinely wanted to get to know you more. Some of these people have helped me through a lot and continue to – I can’t explain how much they’ve lovingly challenged me, helped me grow, and have encouraged me.
     
  • You don’t have to hide how you feel – As these people genuinely care about how you’re doing, they don’t want you to put a mask on and pretend everything is okay if it isn’t. There is no shame in having a big cry around this lot!
     
  • You don’t have to see them all the time but still have that connection – This group of people are from all over the country and many of us won’t see each other for months at a time, but whenever we do, things are still the same. That’s the thing with family, it doesn’t matter where you are or how often you see each other, you still have that bond!

So I suppose that’s why this great bunch of people feel like family to me, being amongst them just feels like home!

Family doesn’t have to stop at who you live with, or who you are related to.

Who do you consider family?

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Self Poisoning: Why I Did It

Self-poisoning is back in the news, with reports that more young teenage girls are using it as a form of self-harm than ever before.

We’ve said before that self-poisoning is much more than the assumed suicide attempt. People also use self-poisoning or overdosing as a method of self-harm – how we distinguish between the two is by understanding the intent, and the only way we can do that is by talking to those who are struggling in this way and understanding how they feel and and what they’re going through – not easy when mental health services are constantly being trimmed down.

Self-poisoning is incredibly dangerous; one of the only methods of self-harm that always requires medical attention, and potentially one of the riskiest in terms of endangering life. Even the smallest overdose can do irreversible damage, and the effects of such actions may not be evident straight away, leading some into a false sense of wellness. Self-poisoning kills.

I was one of the lucky ones. I was a teenage self-poisoner and lived to tell the tale. Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was going on or why it suddenly seemed to be the best thing to be doing. I guess deep down there was an unbearable pain, and a desperate need to be heard. I’m not talking about someone sitting down and having a chat, I mean an urgent longing for someone – anyone – to hear something I had no way of communicating; of understanding The Thing I didn’t have a clue about. I didn’t have the words to express what was going on, and so it began to leak out through my behaviours instead.

Let’s be clear about something, though – taking an overdose is HORRID. Don’t ever for one second think anyone gets any pleasure from it, and the treatment isn’t exactly a walk in the park either – I’ve been made to drink charcoal, have had countless blood tests, and yes, I’m pretty familiar with what stomach pumping involves. Nothing before or since has made me feel as wretched as having my stomach washed out – it hurts, it’s undignified and you invariably end up with your hair matted in vomit. It’s not what some chooses if they think they’re being funny or just want a bit of attention; it’s seriously unpleasant.

But – it does get you in the system. People struggling with self-harm want to be heard and they long for a life of freedom, but getting the help can feel impossible at times. Too many people have now been assessed only on the extent of their wounds, and have left GP surgeries or A&E Departments with an indirect message of ‘you don’t cut deeply enough’ or ‘you’re not ill enough’ to qualify for treatment. This means we have a generation of people self-harming, but believing they’re not ‘good enough’ at being in pain or suffering in order to be taken seriously. It might not be what the intended message is, but it’s what’s being heard.

We need the tide to turn, we need people to be able to go to hospital saying they struggling with the thought of self-poisoning rather than turn up only when they have a stomach full of tablets or bleach or something else utterly destroying their health. We need access to mental health services to be about what someone is feeling rather than what they’re doing, and we need to know that the support will be given, that it’s ok to hope of a life free from harm.

Self-poisoning kills, and every time someone does it we risk losing another life. Don’t let it be you.

BeFree|LiveFree

@FreedomFromHarm | @RachelWelch

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Making Time For Me

It has taken me a while to find the time to sit down and write this …that sums up who I am now.

I love to be busy all the time but I really treasure the moments when I can sit quietly or get some stuff done for me. It’s another kind of achievement, one I know I need to factor in to my week, but it hasn’t always been this way.

Being busy is something I get from my family and something that I now love. However, when I was younger, I used being busy to not let myself have time to think. I didn’t like the idea of being alone with my own thoughts; it’s a strange feeling being scared of yourself.

The problem was that I didn’t leave myself time to process, things would build up and I would need to find a release.  As with finding time to write this, it would take me a while to be able to tell anyone how I was feeling or to find the words to explain it. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful, strong, caring family, but I could not bring myself to admit that I was feeling this way or doing something that I knew deep-down wasn’t really a solution.

For me, self-harm was a quick way to release the very physical feeling of stress that I felt but it was always followed, by an equally horrible feeling of guilt. Guilt because I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt this way and therefore felt I had no right to. And guilt at how it would make those who loved me feel when they found out. For a long time I hid the results but not talking about it would make the feeling worse and kept me stuck in the cycle. I had to speak to someone and for me that person was my mum.

Yes I could see that it upset her, of course it would, but when I wasn’t able to see a solution, she was able to be rational, to talk me through it and offer a solution even if I couldn’t identify the exact reasons. When I panicked about leaving the house in the morning for school, often turning it in to frustrated anger directed at her, she would sit with me to help me feel calm and ready to face the world. She didn’t force me to stop or force me to talk to anyone else. She helped me make my own decisions and find other ways to deal with life’s challenges.

I don’t say thank you to her enough. I am lucky to have this support base and while I have learnt to leave my guilt, my only regret is not to speaking about it sooner. I am not perfect now, sometimes I still struggle, but instead of being scared of myself, I talk to my family. That may be my parents or sister, or the family I have made myself in my friends and my boyfriend. Now I enjoy opportunities to be with myself; I believe we all need that time in order to appreciate the other moments in life, especially those with the people who care about us.

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Warning - Implosive!

Emotionally exploding can be dangerous, often we end up hurting those closest to us and we don’t necessarily feel any better for it afterwards. That being said, sometimes I wish I had just exploded. Instead I was imploding.  I thought the latter would be safer, only hurting myself but really it’s just as dangerous as the first option.  I thought that I could handle everything I was feeling but the truth is I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I couldn’t separate out my emotions. Was I angry, hurt, depressed, frustrated, sad…? If I couldn’t even pin point what I was feeling, how could I explain it to anyone else?  How could someone else understand what I couldn’t understand? So I bottled it up inside, trying to deal with it myself.  Anxiety started to become the overriding emotion and once a week I would implode.  Panic would take over my body; I couldn’t get out of bed.  Simple tasks would fill me with fear and make my heart race. 

I tried talking to a friend about it a couple of times – they wanted to help and suggest things that I could do to help myself but I couldn’t hear it.  The fact that they could talk about my feelings so rationally and offer solutions so easily just made me feel pathetic.  I felt that I was the problem – I couldn’t cope with simple situations that other people could easily manage if they were in my position.

It seemed so hopeless until one day I had arranged to see the careers advisor at my work.  Before I knew it I was blurting out an incoherent, blubbering, rambling mess of how I was feeling. She was a stranger, sat there listening in silence until I had finished. When I’d finished, she didn’t try to offer an answer, she simply acknowledged that what I was feeling was valid. I wasn’t crazy, just confused and being too hard on myself. She offered me sessions with a counsellor where I could have the space and time to try and get to the source of what I was feeling, identify what was triggering my anxiety, and work on some practical tools I could use to stay calmer during an episode of anxiety. I’m still a work in progress but, a year after my turning point I feel the burden has lifted significantly. I’m trying to keep my family and friends clued in on what I’m working through so they can help spot when I am feeling overwhelmed.  When I feel the tendency to bottle it all up and implode I turn to someone I really trust and simply say “I’m feeling anxious today but I’m not really sure why”.  They don’t always understand but they are trying to.  I think it helps them to know I am not being distant and moody; I’m just trying to stay above water.

Try talking to someone. If you feel you can talk to a friend or family member then give it a go. If it doesn’t make you feel instantly better that’s ok. There are other options out there. If you would rather talk to a stranger, there are great free services through school, or through a recommendation by your GP.  If you don’t know what to talk about or can’t put into words how you are feeling then even saying that is a start. Stop beating yourself up for not being able to cope.  It’s ok to admit that you feel overwhelmed.  It will take time but you can feel better.  You deserve to be happy.

 Louise is a Research Scientist working in Dublin i.e. she is a massive geek. She is passionate about informing and encouraging young adults - empowering them to realise how awesome they truly are!

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Walking on Custard

Anxiety. 

I know so many people who struggle with this, and over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a number of people speak out about it, sharing their journey and ways they have started to overcome it.

Recently, a guy called Neil Hugh's TED Talk came out, and in this he shared how he relates his anxiety to walking on custard! (Intriguing, right?!)

He spoke about how to live life less anxiously by recognising and changing our unhelpful mental habits. One thing that stood out for me was how we need to get to know ourselves more, and pay attention to the thoughts we have. A habit we tend to have with anxiety, is letting our thoughts spiral. I know I’ve done this a numerous amount of times – I’d make a comment, and straight away notice how ‘stupid’ it was. This would slowly spiral to the conclusion that the people who heard my ‘ridiculous’ comment now hated me, when in reality, they most likely didn't think anything of it. Neil explains that when we recognise our first thought, we can choose our reaction to it, and therefore we don’t have to let it spiral.

Neil really wants to encourage others to open up and speak out about anxiety and mental health.

Here’s Neil’s TED talk, it’s definitely worth a watch!

A new plan for anxious feelings: escape the custard!
Neil Hugh's TED Talk
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Coping With Scars

Whether you’re currently in the midst of struggling with self harm, giving up, or have stopped for years, scars can be a difficult part of self harm to deal with. I’d say I’ve pretty much accepted my scars now, yet sat on a coach writing this, bare arms, I still find myself automatically trying to cover up as someone walks past my seat.

When you were younger, did you love to show your grazes and cuts to others when you were injured from maybe climbing a tree, or doing something adventurous? Feeling proud and wanting to tell everyone how you got that injury, and even once it had healed, still showing off your scars, no matter how big or small it was?

As we grow up, this can still be the case, but scars from self harm can leave us feeling ashamed, disgusted or angry at ourselves, and are certainly something we wouldn’t point out to everyone. We even go that bit further and make the effort to actively hide them - to avoid exposing our secret, avoid the stares or questions, avoid being made to feel uncomfortable.

I really like the theme this month – Survival Scars. It makes you look at scars in a different way. They make me think of coming out of a battle, like warriors with scars, reminding us that we fought and survived. I’ve found that the way we view scars makes a huge difference when coping with them.

Being able to cope with your scars doesn’t necessarily mean showing them off. Scars are there whether we hide them or not. I think coping with scars, for me, is about acceptance. The more we accept our scars, the easier we will find it to cope with them.

A few important things to remember:

> Scars may not be as obvious as we think they are to other people. Because we know they’re there it means we’re naturally going to be more aware of them.

> One day your scars could give you the opportunity to help someone else on their journey.

> They show that through deep emotional pain, you strove to survive – so if people stare or make comments about them, don’t be ashamed, they don’t know your story and how far you’ve come.

> If you have worries about later on in life, about how you’ll deal with your scars in marriage/if you have children etc. Don’t worry about that right now, you don’t know how far you will have come by then, and it may not be a worry at all when you reach that point

Accepting your scars is a process, it may be difficult at first, but just as wounds take time to heal, so does how you view your scars. Each person is different so what could take months for one person could take years for someone else, and that’s totally okay.

Your scars are a sign of survival and healing, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that. You made it out of battle, and that is awesome.

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Rejection Inspection

Rejection is a hideous experience and we can build up a catalogue of wounds - emotional or physical - as different parts of us are under lifes spotlight. It might not get any easier to handle but there are things we can learn. Self confessed Geography Geek and cat loving Yorkshire girl, Heather has shared her story of life's knocks and what they showed her so far...

From not being allowed to do your singing exam to missing an invite to the latest party; rejection is unfortunately a part of life and it simply makes you feel like you’re not good enough.   But somehow as we grow older, this feeling can seem to have more of an impact on our lives.

At 19, I finished art college and applied to 5 universities,  2 choices were at my boyfriend’s uni so I was feeling pretty excited; I was just doing what I thought  every 19 year old had to do.  I had 5 interviews, 5 trips to new cities and 5 rounds of preparation and nerves. However despite my best efforts, I was soon left with 5 lines of ‘unsuccessful’ staring back at me and the feeling of not being good enough engulfed me for months.  Not only this, but my boyfriend too rejected me for his ‘super fun’ university life; I was utterly heartbroken.  Heartbroken and rejected by the life I thought I was meant to be leading.  I was the lowest I had every felt, my confidence was knocked massively and all I could do was sit and compare myself to everyone having ‘the time of their lives’.  Or so it seemed.

A year later after a lot of hard work, I had 5 unconditional offers to study Geography and I ended up at my perfect university, I could not have been happier – it was finally my turn to have an amazing university experience, I mean it looked perfect on my friends Facebook pages!   However, 3 years, 1 bout of anxiety and 1 emotionally abusive relationship later I graduated and was back in the same place I found myself at 19 – this time I’d gone through so much at university that the pressure was on to get that well-paid graduate job.  After all that’s what every 22 year old was doing right?!

After what seemed like ages, I was head hunted by a recruitment agency for a ‘fantastic opportunity’ at a start-up company with brilliant pay and a ‘friendly’ close knit team.  I couldn’t say no, the emails that were exchanged were filled with positive words and I truly felt they were excited to have me on board.   It was all going so well, or so I thought, then I was sacked. Exactly a month after starting with no warning or notice, I was gone and all they could really say was they were ‘saving me’ from office life.  I look back now at all the small things I did wondering if that was wrong, or I wasn’t smart enough to understand that, or if they were silently mocking me and I was totally oblivious.  I cried for days; not because of losing the job (I knew it wasn’t for me anyway) but because I was humiliated, embarrassed that I wasn’t liked.  That massive knock to my confidence, the hot feeling in your tummy when you get rejected was the biggest I had ever had, this was serious, this was my income and my chance at a career completely torn away.  

I am a huge believer of everything happens for a reason.  I think, 99% of the time, we get rejected because it simply is not the best thing for us.  The night before I got sacked I received a job offer for my dream Geography graduate job, and now I look back and realise it could not have worked out any better.  I do sometimes worry that anyone could turn around and reject me; but I just remind myself every day that it has nothing to do with who I am as a person.  Going through what I have has given me chance to take a step back from hectic emotional situations and work out what I really wanted; it may have been horrible at the time but I am finally thankful.

Rejection hurts more when you think you’re meant to be following the same path as everyone else and your life doesnt match up. But everyone is unique and everyone leads a completely different life, that’s what’s so exciting. Respect your uniqueness and it will help you battle those negative emotions brought up by rejection, self-approval is what truly matters.  

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It's Better to Talk

What would stop me from telling someone about my self harm? Probably the jokes people make about it - it is frowned upon and often laughed about instead of being taken seriously. A common myth is that only “goths” or “emos” do it, that it's for attention, being part of a trend or belonging to that certain culture involving black clothes, darkness and self hating. I was worried I would be seen as a freak under the assumption I was doing it for the wrong reasons. But you cannot assume someone is doing it for a particular reason, you have no idea what they are feeling or the thoughts happening inside their head. Not everyone who self harms is ‘crazy’, not eveyone who self harms wants to kill themselves, not everyone who self harms is attention seeking.

One of the reasons for me personally, was a way of punishing myself for not being 'good enough'. It was a coping mechanism, and a way to turn those bad feelings into something physical and being able to let the pain out. It was, in truth, probably a cry for help, I was always trying my best to cover up and hide it but also secretly hoping someone might see, just so they knew something was wrong. I was ashamed of doing it, after all, so many people go through undeserving suffering caused by an illness or disease when they would choose not to, and what I was doing was self imposed. I would have pangs of guilt for someone worrying about me for something I'd done to myself on purpose, and this held me back from telling anyone.

However, even though I didn't like talking about it with anyone, the last time I did, the person I spoke to was supportive. They didn't fully understand as it’s hard to grasp the extent of it when you haven't been through it yourself. But despite this, the worries in my head and the myths out there, they were still supportive!

I still find it uncomfortable to talk about sometimes, but, it’s so much better to talk about self harm more to reduce the stigma surrounding it. It is something that should be taken very seriously, and it is important to remember the signs may not be so obvious, and there will be mental pain as well as physical.

It is so important to address it with compassion rather than disgust.

If I could give any advice to someone learning of a person they know self-harming, it would be to listen and take time to respond. Always offer support and words of encouragement instead of reacting negatively.

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Do only Girls Self-harm?

In my job, I will often come across people who believe this myth that only girls self-harm. It’s not just one group of people either- there are patients, relatives and members of the public who all buy into this misbelief.

There is already a big stigma around self-harm, which I think is mainly because of the lack of understanding about it. But there is a further stigma around the idea that men, in all our macho-manliness, could possibly use self-harm as a way of coping with the distress and emotional pain that they are feeling. Not only is this myth unhelpful to the millions of men who are suffering with mental illness around the world, it lends to a further misconception that it is less acceptable for a man to be vulnerable than a woman. But the reality is that mental illness does not discriminate- male or female, old or young, rich or poor- anybody can become ill at any point in their life. Luckily, there are some great treatments available that can help people to recover and get their lives back. But if men are made to feel that they can’t show their emotions like women can, how can we hope to support their recovery? I myself went through many years of mental illness when I was a teenager, and I was always worried about how talking about my feelings might make me ‘less manly’ in some way. In reality, I now believe that being able to talk about your emotions and be vulnerable can be very empowering, and is a completely normal and human experience. Now as a mental health professional, I see that guys who can cast aside the effort to be macho and instead look at how their illness is affecting their lives often make the most progress in their recovery.

Statistics will often say that more girls self-harm than boys, but I personally think this is untrue. I think it’s true that guys and girls self-harm in different ways, for example girls may cut themselves whereas boys may drink and use drugs dangerously. Both are harmful ways of coping with mental illness and both are forms of self-harm, but it is likely that cutting would be widely recognised in statistics whereas substance abuse may not be. And because of the stigma making men feel less able to tell their stories than women, much fewer men come forward to talk about their experiences of self-harm. So although statistics can be really helpful a lot of the time, the figures for the difference between men and women might not be totally true!

So what can we do to break down the walls of this myth? Simply, we can all encourage each other to be open and honest about our experiences of self-harm and mental illness. This site is so great because it breaks down those walls, and allows people to share what they’ve been through to help more people recover. Let’s all make a special effort to help the guys in our lives- friends, brothers, cousins- feel comfortable talking about their mental health and any experiences of self-harm that they may be going through. Big or small, everything that we share will help to make men feel less bothered about society’s idea of how men should be and will make a huge difference to their recovery.

And remember, self-harm is not a sign of weakness. Beating self-harm and recovering from mental illness is a sign of huge strength.

Sam is 20 and currently training to be a mental health nurse. He is passionate about using his own experiences of mental health to be the best nurse he can be and to help people recover and change their lives. He loves cooking, going for walks with his family, going to church and spending time with friends.

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Responses

For years I was known by certain staff members in school for my use of self-harm. It was the way I felt able to survive in a world that seemed to be falling apart around me. I knew it wasn’t the best way of coping, but I needed it at the time; I needed it to show me an outward sign of my inward suffering. Over time I managed to build up some trusting relationships within school staff who knew I self-harmed but remained respectful, avoiding forcing me to show them or talking about it. This understanding and respect was important for me in order to allow me to begin the process of recovery from self-harm.

After one particularly bad night, I attended school afraid that I may need some extra support with cleaning and caring for my self-harm. I was a part of a support community on a social media site so I asked around for advice when bringing it to the attention of school staff. I was met by negativity due to past experiences of others. Some were rushed to A&E by panicked teachers, others had been told to sort it out for themselves as they were self-inflicted, and others were taken from their classes and away from their classmates to a seclusion room. Fearful that I may be met with a similar negative response I approached the school chaplain who gave me time and space to open up about what had happened that particular night. She was calm and empathetic and this made me feel comfortable and confident in my sharing. The chaplain spoke to me about what I needed to do to keep the wounds clean rather than forcing me to show her so that she could deal with the wound; this made me feel empowered and responsible to take care and take control.

Because of the positive response I received in seeking help, I felt more able to open up and receive the support I desperately needed at times. I felt confident in knowing I wasn’t going to be secluded for a behaviour I felt I needed temporarily to help me, and I knew I would be listened to and met with support when I sought it.

It’s completely okay to feel afraid about opening up to someone about your self-harm. Talking for the first time or the 100th time can be daunting as self-harm is very personal and there are a lot of emotions attached to it. Although there are people who do respond in the wrong ways to people who do self-harm, there are others who really do want to help you and want the best for you. So, I encourage you just to try building a relationship with someone you feel able to. Over time open up and, when you’re ready, seek the support you need because you really do not have to face anything in this world alone.

Miriam Jarvis is a student Mental Health Nurse studying in Plymouth, she is passionate about all things Mental Health, church and can usually be found with a cup of tea in hand! You can find some of her work raising awareness of mental illness dotted around the internet:

http://blurtitout.org/2013/12/24/depression-miriams-useless-guide/

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Is Self-harm really Attention Seeking?

I wonder what you think when you see someone with a cast on? Do you think, poor them, they’re obviously hurting? Or do you think they’re putting it on for sympathy?

And what about someone who’s coughing and sneezing? Do you think they’re doing it to attract attention, or because they have a cold?

Now consider what you think when you see the tell-tale scars of self-harm making plain the pain the days and weeks gone by. 

Do you ask what could have driven them to harm themselves?

Or do you brush them off as attention-seeking?

Attention-seeking is strange concept; we apply it to toddlers having tantrums, celebrities flaunting their latest selfie and increasingly, we see it applied to those who struggle with self-harm. 

And yet for the most part, self-harm is a secret act. It’s something done in the silence of night or the privacy of a bedroom, it’s a way to make sense of hearts and minds in chaos. It’s a futile attempt to balance the outward appearance with the inner pain.

Admittedly many are far more public than I was with their battle; whether it be for respect or seeking understanding, one of the most common conversations I have when I’m running self harm training is why young people in particular feel the need to be so public about their self-harm, why they do it to ‘seek attention’?

In response, I would argue that if our young people can think of no other way to communicate their pain to us, we’re not doing our job well enough. Surely our youth work must enable young people to express creatively what their going through without turning on themselves? It must seek out ways for people to understand and express their deepest emotions.

Self-harm is not a pleasure seeking exercise, it’s the desire to be seen and be heard when we’re hurting. And on one level or another, we’ve probably all done it. We might drink a little more to prove that we’re struggling with that break up, or perhaps we’ll make sure that we aren’t hiding the tracks of our tears, just so that someone will ask us what’s wrong. It’s not attention-seeking, it’s a very real need to be noticed and heard which drives us to make pain public.

But more than that, calling self-harm attention-seeking indicates that people who self-harm aren’t worth our attention, it seems to say that their self-harm is drawing us away from other, more important pursuits. 

And yet what can be more important than hearing the cries of young people, and responding with compassion and understanding?

Young people need our attention, they need our presence and our listening ears. 

They need us to tell them that they are not alone and that they will get through this. 

Self-harm is not done to be attention-seeking, but young people who self-harm deserve our attention. 

Rachael Newham is the Founding Director of ThinkTwice and can usually be found writing words and drinking coffee.

Follow her on @RachaelNewham90 @ThinkTwiceInfo

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Self-harm Triggers

I have no idea how to write a piece on triggers without triggering someone, so this is a heads up. Please look after yourself when reading this, and I wont take it personally if you don’t read it.

Recovery takes hard work and dedication, it takes soul searching and a huge amount of self awareness. Recovery is an ongoing process, well it is for me any way. It’s not like I woke up one day and thought “oh hey I’m perfectly fine now and couldn’t imagine hurting myself in anyway shape or form ever again.”

It doesn’t work like that.

I’ve been in recovery for my disordered eating and self-injury for years now, I’m doing pretty good, weeks can go by when I don’t think about Self-Harm. But then something will happen and I will have to fight with myself everyday to keep eating, to not physically hurt myself or distance myself from people.

My journey is tied up in my feelings of control, not having enough of it and feeling lost and it’s pretty hard to control when you feel out of control. That is my biggest trigger.

So how do I deal with that? 

I have had to learn to recognise that growing sense of anxiety that I feel when things seem chaotic or uncertain, I have to know who to ask for help and when to admit that I need it. I have had to learn other coping mechanisms to deal with that feeling.

But what about the actual trigger, what if unlike me, it is an image or a piece of music, if its specific words or phrases, if a certain thought pattern or smell or any number of other things. How do we help ourselves and keep ourselves safe with that.

There is no hard and fast rule for this. But I do have some guidelines...

Know your triggers – learn what it is that you struggle with, if possible try and avoid it, or limit your exposure until you feel strong enough and confident enough to start dealing with it.

Capture the thought – Sometimes our brains wander and we get lost in thought, or specific images and words get stuck in our heads. What we need to do is capture that thought. To recognise what it is, that is unhealthy and unhelpful and then we need to get rid of that thought, you can always ask a friend to help you breakdown why it is unhelpful and untrue and work through it with you. They can take that thought to court.

Have support – You can tell people that you struggle, it’s good to ask for help, whether it is from a friend, family member or a medical professional. You can tell them specifics, what is helpful and what isn’t. You can also tell people how to spot when you are struggling so that they can keep an eye out and step in without you saying anything. This also means telling them what you DO find helpful.

Be kind to yourself – You are only human, and those who struggle are often really hard on themselves. So be nice, give yourself a break, don’t be afraid to say no or eat that chocolate bar when it is needed. Say nice things to yourself and surround yourself with people who love you.

As I said this is just a guideline, but I know it’s helped me. 

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What Myths are Holding You Back?

We all believe things that other people tell us. Remember the time your mum told you to eat your carrots because they will make your eyes better? And the day your best mate joked that if you swallowed an apple seed a tree would grow inside of you? What about the bus ride home your older sibling said they had swallowed chewing gum and it was going to stay inside of them for seven years?

We believe people and we evaluate our choices based upon previous responses and personal beliefs.

During the years that I self harmed in Secondary School it was much easier to hide or lie about the marks on my arm instead of having to explain the complicated feelings that were dominating 90% of my waking thoughts. I didn’t feel loved or valued enough and I feared that if people knew they would love and value me even less. As much as I desperately wanted my friends to help me and advise me, wearing a jumper or twenty bracelets on my forearm was the easier option. To not self-harm was to be normal and that’s what I was trying to put across with all my might. 

I built up these myths in my head, I told them to myself daily to make sure the secret wouldn’t come out and the whole class didn’t think I was crazy.

“If you tell them, they won’t be your friend.”

“If you tell them, you will lose your value.”

“If you tell them, they will think you are crazy.”

My inner commentary was stuck on repeat.

I didn’t want to forfeit being loved by telling my friends about a few cuts on my arm. It didn’t seem worth it.

As I’ve been recovering over the last few years I have realised the importance of honesty. I have learnt that true friends will love you and value you for who you are. Even if you are in your lowest place, friends will be the people who pick you up, encourage you and set you back on the path. When you’ve relapsed for the third time in one week, friends are the ones who will give you a positive text, a smile and a hug. Real friends will be there for you no matter what the myths are that you tell yourself.

Self-harming does not make you any less of a person or any less worthy of being on this earth. It’s okay to be scared, talking about self harm isn’t like talking about any other injury, it has deep emotions attached to it. Our lives are fragile and it’s okay to struggle with showing the true you for fear of shame or embarrassment.

I challenge you to think about some of the myths you have built up. What’s holding you back? What do you fear most? What myth about sharing what you’re going through has controlled you for too long?

You matter, you are important. No myth you tell yourself about what others may think of you can take your value away. Recovery is done in community and you deserve friends to walk beside you, encouraging you and teaching you your true worth. 

Caitlin loves the seaside, loves community and is passionate about using her experiences of mental health to encourage and help others. She is currently living in lovely Brighton studying for a degree in International Development and Anthropology, however, spends most of her time eating cake, helping out at church and blogging. You can find her at caitlinfaithcollins.wordpress.com or touring the coffee shops of Brighton.

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Self Harm Awareness Day 2016

Today, March 1st, is National Self Harm Awareness Day, and during this month, we will continue to focus on this awareness.

Self harm can affect anyone - any age, gender, race, culture, religion. We all probably know of someone who self harms, and it seems to be becoming increasingly common. But with this comes misunderstanding. There has certainly been more awareness of self harm in recent years, but this still hasn’t stamped out the stigma of it and misconceptions people have of it.

Therefore, this month, we at SelfharmUK are going to be focused on busting some of the myths surrounding self harm.

Some of these myths and misconceptions might be:

- It’s only teenagers who self harm
- People who self harm are attention seeking
- Only girls self harm
- Self harm only involves cutting
- Self harm is easy to stop
- Self harm is a suicide attempt
- Anyone who self injures is crazy and should be locked up
- Self harm is a phase and something you just grow out of
- People only self harm if they’ve had a really bad life

This year we have teamed up with Childline, The Mix and YoungMinds again, to research and gather information from almost 1000 parents of children/young people up to the age of 24, as well as 3800 young people up to the age of 24 who self harm.

This research showed that 67% of parents believe that young people struggling with self harm should go to them for support, whereas only 16% of young people who self harm would choose to talk to their parents, and only 27% would talk to their doctor. It was found that instead, young people would rather turn to their friends (61%) or online (76%) to find support.

Research also found that 39% of parents thought one of the main reasons a young person engages in self harm was for ‘seeking attention’, whereas 80% of young people expressed they did not want other people thinking that they were attention seeking when asked what they wanted people to know about self harm.

This just highlights the gap in understanding around self harm. These won’t be the only unbalanced percentages when it comes to those who self harm and those who don’t. There is clearly a difference between what others think compared to what those who struggle actually think, which gives us all the more reason to bust a myth and offer an insight into the subject of self harm.

It can become very hard to open up about the struggles of self harm when there are all of these myths and misconceptions out there, and although awareness is growing, perceptions still need to change.

Throughout this month, we will also be sharing people’s experiences with self harm, and how myths around self harm have affected them in their journey. We will also be providing helpful information around areas such as triggers, alternatives, and finding the courage speaking up about self harm, whether that be to a parent, GP, friend or person you look up to, and vice versa, the best ways to respond to a young person telling you they self harm.

Telling someone you are self harming can be a very daunting thing, but the good news is, even with these myths and misconceptions out there, there are still people who want to help, regardless of what they understand about self harm. You are not alone in this. Maybe, on this day, you could make the decision to take that first step and reach out for the support you deserve! Maybe raise awareness by starting a conversation with someone about self harm. Maybe encourage someone you know who is struggling to find the help they need. Let's continue to break the silence surrounding self harm!

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Alternatives and Distractions

Sometimes when that urge to self harm arises, it can be extremely difficult to fight, and that’s completely normal. Everyone is different, everyone self harms for different reasons, and in the same way, everyone will have different alternatives and distractions that may work for them. One thing may work for one person, and may not necessarily work for another. There will be times where something that has worked before, may not work for you in that moment.

Many of you have offered a number of strategies that work for you, so we thought it would be helpful to put these into one place...

  • Scribble or draw something, perhaps how you are feeling
  • Splatter paint onto paper
  • Write down your feelings – sometimes it helps to get out how you’re feeling, and see it on paper. You can even rip this up after you are done.
  • Knitting
  • Write a letter to someone or yourself and don’t send it. This could even be a positive letter to your younger self
  • Create a scrap book
  • Write three positive statements about yourself
  • Make a positive jar, where you write down positive things about yourself, words of encouragement or any positive memories you have, and then when you are having a low day or the urge to self harm, you can take them out of the jar and read through them
  • Punch a pillow/something soft
  • Scream outloud or into a cushion
  • Rip pages out of an old book or rip up paper
  • Exercise
  • Go for a walk
  • Snapping twigs
  • Hitting a rolled up piece of newspaper against a door frame
  • Play with playdough/plasticine or roll it around in your hands
  • Listen to music
  • Sing at the top of your voice
  • Dance around to a song
  • Watch a film you love or spend some time on youtube watching some of your favourite video clips
  • Read a book
  • Talk to someone
  • Make yourself busy and tidy your room
  • Rubix cube
  • Baking
  • Play a game on your phone/console or computer
  • Eat your favourite food
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Online shopping – you don’t need to buy anything, but could just have a browse
  • Repetitive/therapuetic tasks such as washing up, something where you keep your hands busy
  • Wrap the part you harm and sleep it off
  • Drawing on yourself where you want to harm could work for you, drawing in red will also give the impression of blood
  • Holding, squeezing or rubbing ice where you want to harm can give the same kind of sensation
  • Have a nice and relaxing bubble bath
  • Having a rubber band around your wrist can always be an alternative, pinging it against yourself when having the urge to self harm

You could also... Make a Distraction Box!

In a distraction box, you can put any of these things mentioned above in it, and all sorts of things that make you smile. This could be photos of places you’ve been or people you love. A blanket, your favourite chocolate bar, favourite film or book, lots of creative bits and bobs…. It’s totally up to you! You could add in phone numbers of people you could call, or helplines. 

If you have any more distractions or alternatives that work for you, please share them in the comments below!

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Loving Yourself – And Your Inner Critic!

Have you ever noticed your inner critic?

Inner critic: What kind of stupid question is that?!

My inner critic tends to speak up a lot. In fact, for many years I never noticed this critical voice in my head, even as it told me how useless I am, how much I'm failing, how everyone secretly doesn't like me...

I was so used to the constant stream of negative thoughts that I thought it was unavoidable.

Even when everything seemed to be going well, my inner critic would pipe up with words of doom, warning me that something terrible was going to happen. And that it was probably my fault.

It's no wonder I ended up living with terrible anxiety.

Inner critic: It's hardly MY fault you're too lame to take a little criticism. Sort yourself out!

I was scared of everything and nothing, all at the same time. I was afraid of panic attacks. I was convinced there must be something wrong with me. Sometimes it seemed like a phobia I understood – like being trapped somewhere. At other times I felt anxious about existing at all.

The anxiety got so bad I couldn't see a way out. I thought I'd broken something in myself, and that I was stuck with anxiety forever.

Luckily, that wasn't true.

There were many steps that helped me to get on top of the anxiety. One of the first was noticing the existence of my inner critic.

Inner critic: YOU'RE IGNORING ME TODAY THOUGH, AREN'T YOU? HYPOCRITE!

After paying more attention to my thoughts I began to notice how many of them were negative. Even when these thoughts were true, they weren't helpful.

I started to think of this negative stream as my 'inner critic'. Labelling these thoughts in this way helped me to tune them out when they showed up: "Oh, that's just my inner critic again."

(Of course, it's not always easy to tune out thoughts, and I failed a lot – which gave the inner critic something else to criticise! But with perseverance I got better at it.)

Relating to the Inner Critic Long-term

You might think that the best way to relate to the inner critic is to fight back, or to tell them to shut up, or to argue. But actually those ideas don't help very much.

After all, the inner critic is part of me – if I go to war with them, I'm just going to war against myself.

Instead, developing a better relationship with our inner critic seems to help.

Befriending the inner critic seems like such a terrible idea. After all, almost everything they say is unhelpful: "You suck... no-one likes you... why are you even bothering to try."

If a friend behaved like that to you, you'd probably reconsider whether or not they were a good friend.

But when I looked into why the inner critic said what they said, I realised it was usually trying to protect me. They were afraid that if I tried something difficult, I would fail, and that this would be bad for me.

My inner critic was trying to help me, but they're not smart-

Inner critic: Hey!

- and they only have one skill: criticism! So they just criticise... over-and-over again, because they don't know how to do anything else.

In real life when someone is trying to help but doesn't really know how, we usually are grateful - but we would also ignore their advice.

Applying this to my relationship with my inner critic helped a lot. Instead of getting frustrated whenever they spoke up, I thanked them for it and moved on. This way I didn't get angry with myself, or listen too much to their negativity.

Saying "thanks inner critic. I get that you're trying to help, but I don't need that help right now," is much more loving approach than getting into an internal war.

(Of course this is difficult too... love often requires more effort than fighting.)

Anxiety is complicated, and sadly there usually isn't just one magic wand we can wave to fix it.

But perhaps being grateful to your inner critic, and remembering that they're just a part of you that wants you to succeed, can help you to both be more loving to yourself and to ignore the negative thoughts of your inner critic.

Neil Hughes is the writer of 'Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life', a comedy book about anxiety.

You can find out more at http://whats.walkingoncustard.com or you can follow him (and his inner critic) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/enhughesiasm

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Healthy Habits

We’re all very quick to judge ourselves when we do something wrong. Heck, we’re quick to judge ourselves even when we’ve done nothing wrong! It seems to be in our nature that we pick out all our flaws and use them against ourselves. What we often don’t realise is that by doing this, we’re allowing others to use these things against us.

The things that make us who we are – our mannerisms, character, physical attributes (to name just a few) – are unique to us, but we often mistake them for flaws and get caught up on them. It’s important to remember that over-thinking such tiny, irrelevant things is not going to help them disappear, or help us feel any happier. It’s easy to do, and it’s most definitely easier to criticise ourselves than to praise ourselves, but does it make us feel good? Nope!

The more negatively we think about ourselves, the more we are feeding our bad habits. Bad habits can be a range of things such as self-harming, cursing ourselves, complaining about how we look, and starving ourselves of the love that we deserve. 

Rather than continuing with these bad habits, why don’t we try accepting our individualities and loving ourselves instead?

You may think that you don’t deserve to love yourself. For as long as I can remember, I've put myself down, pushed away compliments, scolded myself when I look in the mirror, told myself repeatedly that I'm too this and too that, been ashamed of myself, wished I could be somebody else, be a better friend and a better sister and a better daughter and a better student, believed that I am not enough.

It is only recently that I have realised that I’ve been wrong all along. You see, you may think you don’t deserve love and respect, but these are just thoughts, and thoughts can be changed.

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing, and is very misunderstood. The mind does not control us. We control the mind. We have a choice of the thoughts that we feed it, the words that we tell ourselves. It may be that you choose to think negative thoughts about yourself. We all do it; you are not alone. But it doesn’t have to be this way – you can choose to think positively. When your thoughts change, your life will change.

Now – right this second – is the time for you to reduce your bad habits, and introduce healthy habits. We all want to feel happy, but in order to do so, we must be willing to work hard and make a change.

I’d like to share with you some of the healthy habits I am working on to develop my self-love...

  1. Stop yourself when you go to criticise yourself. Most of the time, nobody else will know that you’re being hard on yourself, because these criticisms are expressed as thoughts. In fact, you probably don’t even notice how much you criticise yourself. The first step is to start paying attention to your thoughts, listen to your mind. Recognise whether a thought is positive or negative. If you have a negative thought, make a conscious decision to push it away, and concentrate on the next thought. Create positive thoughts, too, and repeat these over and over like affirmations.
  2. Exercise regularly and feed yourself with goodness. I’m not a great fan of exercise or sport of any kind, but I know the importance of physical activity on your mental health. It’s incredible how the two work hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins which increase your sense of wellbeing. Find something that works for you. Run, go for walks, play tennis! For me, yoga is great – not too strenuous (as I suffer with asthma), helps me to focus on my breathing (and listen to my mind and body), and the uncomfortable positions on my mat help me to deal with discomfort in my life. Similarly, the foods that you eat don’t just feed your body – they feed your mind. Eat high goodness foods (as well as indulgent treats of course – we all need chocolate cake now and then) and give your body and mind the energy they need to function to the best of their ability. 
  3. Relax and treat yourself. For most of us, life is very busy at times, but we can always make time for some relaxation and pampering. Set aside at least half an hour every day to do something that will make you feel relaxed and loved. This could be taking a long hot bath with some candles, or reading your favourite book, or sitting down and doing some colouring. It could be writing, or doing some yoga, or watching a few episodes ofFriends. I can’t express enough the importance of taking time to do something that makes you happy.
  4. List 3 things that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. This is something that I really love doing and has made such a difference to my mood and perspective. Before I go to sleep, I always make a mental list of things that have made me happy during that day, or things that I am grateful for (my mum, sunny weather for walking to uni, nabbing the last chocolate bar on the shelf). I also have an Instagram account where I post a photo of something that’s made me happy every day of the year. It’s a great motivation tool and will gently increase your positivity. 
  5. Be willing to change your thoughts. None of this is possible if you’re not willing to make it happen. Your healthy habits won’t appear overnight – you have to work at them. But that’s not a bad thing – it can be a fun challenge! Tell yourself that you’re willing to learn and grow, that you’re ready to make a change and that you’re going to work hard at it.

So, do yourself a truly deserving favour and decide to change your thought patterns, and your relationship with yourself. Turn your bad habits into healthy habits! Everything negative in your life can be turned into a positive once you learn to love the self, approve of yourself, and make a decision to take control.

It’ll be worth it, I promise you.

Steph is 19 years old and studying Media Production at University. She's a cake-loving shopaholic who lives for yoga, gluten and dairy-free pizza, spending time with her friends and family and making people happy. Steph also blogs at www.stephslittleworld.com/

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Depression Doesn't Own Me, I Own It

I don’t remember exactly when I first decided to harm myself, or what my reasoning was for doing so. But I remember over the first year or two, the urge to self-harm and the severity of what I was doing to myself definitely grew worse. Sort of like being addicted to drugs – you build a tolerance and, over time, the dosage that once gave you exactly what you wanted wasn’t nearly enough to “satisfy” you. Over time, I had to cause more hurt to myself in order to feel the catharsis that I craved.

I also don’t remember any significant point where I decided to stop, though I’m sure there were multiple times I tried. It was probably when it became too hard to lie to my friends and family about why I was covered in cuts and scars, and when the pain it was causing those around me started to outweigh the relief it was giving me.

There have been countless times that I have stopped for periods of days, weeks, months, but generally always end up “relapsing” (if that’s what you want to call it) at some point – whether that be a one off occasion or a period of time where I was doing it regularly again. Needless to say, I found ways of making it far less obvious to others. But after getting into my first proper, long term relationship, my longest period of abstinence started. Another factor that I think stopped me from self-harming is when my girlfriend (at the time) found out that I had cut again, and seeing the look on her face as she looked at, touched, tried to heal my scars. I realised that I was hurting her more than I was hurting myself, and that by internalising my depression I was pushing her away.

During our time together (approx a year and a half) I only hurt myself on a handful of occasions. Naturally when we split up, I “relapsed”. Not for very long, albeit, but stopping after that short period was just as hard as the first time. Pain is like a drug; it helps you to escape from other feelings or situations that you can’t handle – in my case, anyway. There are still times where I feel like the only thing that will help me to deal with the anxiety, rage and sadness inside my head is to lash out on myself.

My way of justifying it is that I’d rather hurt myself than hurt another person, or a wall, or a window or whatever else I may unleash my anger on. But that’s not the way to process your emotions healthily, and now when I get those urges I sometimes do throw things, or cry, or scream. Most times I reach out to a friend or loved one, if I can. Sometimes I do end up giving in to self-harm, as I am human, after all. But sometimes I find the strength to make something beautiful out of it, by writing my feelings down, drawing, or putting on a song I know I can’t resist having a good sing/dance along too. There are always other ways to deal with negative feelings, and the key thing I try to remember is that it’s not me telling myself I’m worthless or a bad person or that I deserve pain, it’s my depression telling me those things. And my depression doesn’t own me; I own it. Or I’m trying to, at least.

Elani is doing a BA in Professional Musicianship (specialty in Guitar) at BIMM Brighton. She likes making music, cooking delicious food and making people laugh.

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10 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self

My teenage years were one of the hardest, most exciting, and emotional times of my life; yet so instrumental in setting the foundation for learning and growing into the woman I am today.

At the time I thought I’d be stuck there forever, surrounded by people I wasn’t sure I wanted to grow up being best friends with, teachers I knew didn’t have it all right, and caught on an emotional roller coaster day in day out.

Ironically, as a teen I couldn’t wait to ‘grow up’ and I’d always dream about the day I turned 18 and became a responsible, carefree adult.

Here’s the thing…becoming a grown up for me just wasn’t that simple, especially when I had a tonne of baggage, a broken heart in more than one place, and a bucket load of low-self esteem to carry across the threshold into adulthood with me.

 

So here’s 10 things I wish I could go back and tell myself when I was 13 going on 20, just to make the ride a little less bumpy:

 

1.  Your opinions matter!

It’s easy to feel as though others older or more experienced than you have it all together, but this isn’t true. By sharing a piece of yourself with others it will build your confidence over the years. No matter how small it is, you have something valid to bring to a conversation. So believe in the power of your own voice!

 

2. It’s okay to fail.

I don’t know about you, but failing just wasn’t an option for me. I put so much pressure on myself to do well, that when I didn’t succeed I was heartbroken.

But seriously… I’ve learnt that it’s okay to fail. 
Failing makes you realise you’re human, that mistakes are normal; it brings to light some of your greatest strengths of character when your pride wants to come out on top.

 

3. Don’t wish away the years

Undeniably, as I said above, being a teen can really suck! But if you could make the most of every opportunity and live in the present rather than dreaming on the future, things might be more exciting. You might learn to kick back, relax and enjoy the time you have now.

 

4. Be kind to yourself

You get up every morning, race to school/college to learn for 7 hours, come home and do your schoolwork, and then sleep again, ready to repeat this over the next day. When do you take the time to look out for yourself, to tell yourself it’s okay to stop there and carry on tomorrow?

Why not stop right now, go and watch your favourite film or TV show, or listen to your favourite music. You deserve a break!!

 

5. Stand up for the things you believe in

Sometimes people can make you feel like you’re incapable of making decisions for yourself, that you don’t need a belief system or your own unique spirituality.

I say there’s nothing better than loving and accepting who you are! So don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and be different. People will respect you far more for being strong and being yourself!

 

6. Your friendship group will not remain BFF’s for life

Sometimes the friendships we make at school aren’t always healthy, mutual and confidence building and although we promise to be best friends till we are old and wrinkly, this hardly ever happens. Arguably, some of my friends from school are still in my life but the majority of my close friends were made at university, in church, and at work. So don’t take fall-outs, gossip, and changing friendships too seriously. These are something that will pass with time, as you learn more about yourself and figure out who your true friends are.

 

7. Forgive

There are so many opportunities to build up resentment throughout your teens: relationship break-ups, bullying, gossip, parents letting you down; but you hold the key to being free from the weight of all the hurt and upset.
There’s a beautiful quote that says ‘Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die’. In other words, being bitter is going to hurt you more.

Try to forgive, even when it’s hard, because whilst the other person is walking around freely you are carrying a weight on your heart that won’t help anyone, least of all yourself.

 

8. Sometimes parents know best

Yes, sometimes parents get it wrong and aren’t on the right track to help you through your teens. Sometimes, though, they may actually be onto something.
After all they were teenagers too…once upon a time.

Take some time to listen to their advice and learn about some of their mistakes, you might feel better supported in issues you’re facing. If you feel your parents aren’t the best support, why not try and find someone you trust and get support from them. We all need a little care from someone we look up to.

 

9. You are stronger than you think

There may be many times when you will feel like you’re about to break and everyone will catch a glimpse of the weaker side of you.

Just by going through day-to-day life as a teen you are building resilience that will only help you when you reach adulthood, so having weaknesses is no biggie. It’s learning to deal with these and carry on forward that makes you strong. And yes, YOU ARE STRONG!!

 

10. It’s okay to ask for help

You are strong, you are brave, but you don’t have to have it all together. Which is why, asking for help is a great option.
Sometimes the idea of telling someone you have a need, feels like weakness but some of the strongest people I know are those who can admit they need help. Help overcoming an addiction, going to counselling to talk through anxiety, asking for money to help repay debt… I’ve seen some of my closest friends admit they need help and I’ve been inspired by them.

Who knows, one day you might be on the opposite side and you’ll know exactly what to do.

 

 

 Beki manages the local youth club for Youthscape in Luton and loves hanging out with people, playing pool and speaking about current mental health issues. Beki really enjoys sport and dance (basically anything active) and also enjoys catching up with friends and eating out.

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Making that Choice

Giving up self harm was one of the hardest parts of my recovery from my struggle with mental illness. I don't remember the exact moment I chose to stop, it was more of a gradual happening. For years I used self harm as a release from all the pressure of negative thoughts and feelings that built up inside my mind from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. I remember sitting waking in the night and wrestling with thoughts of self harm. I use the word wrestle because the Oxford dictionary defines it as to 'take part in a fight, either as sport or in earnest, that involves grappling with ones opponent and trying to throw or force them to the ground.'

That first night I resisted the urge to self harm was the hardest. It was like I was fighting someone/something harder than I had ever fought before in order to gain back power over my life. But once that first battle was over, they became easier and easier to win. Until 3 days went by, 3 weeks, 3 months... There are ways you can overcome those urges, but you have to make a choice to fight them when they come. I was told that urges usually last 3-5 minutes. Try to focus your mind on other things for 3-5 minutes and if the urge has passed - you did great! You may give in, and that's okay. Really it is! Not everyone can go cold turkey on smoking. In the same way, not everyone can resist urges to self-harm. If you give in to an urge, pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Give it another go because they'll be a time where you can do it- you will win.

Things I found helpful to distract me:

* Blowing bubbles- sounds silly but it can calm you down

* Draw- it doesn't need to be a masterpiece just scribble away

* Get some play dough or plasticine and roll it in your hands

* Create a box and fill it with things that make you smile- this may be photographs, it may be a blanket, bubbles, some music, phone numbers of your friends or family- maybe put the numbers of some helplines in there too.

* Sometimes it helps to write down how you're feeling- if someone has made you angry write them a 'no send' letter. These are letter which, like it says on the tin, means you don't send them. Perhaps if you could write a letter to your younger self- tell them how you've learnt to deal with different situations in a positive way.

* Speak to a friend or someone in your family if you can.

The aim of this is to keep something in your hands at all times, preferably something that is not sharp, to keep your hands busy and your mind busy. I'm aware how simple this may make giving up self-harm seem, but truly I understand just how difficult it is. Keep going, keep fighting back until you have the power back. You are stronger than the negative thoughts, than the urges, than the situations you find yourself in. Keep going.

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Don’t let your past affect your future.

For me, 2015 was the year I ran my first half marathon. I wasn’t certain I could do it, but sheer stubbornness and perseverance dragged me through. Even at the 11 mile mark, when my legs were growing numb and my mind was becoming less convinced that the finish line existed, I simply gritted my teeth and prayed for the strength to carry on.

    But then again, realistically, there was never much of a chance that I wouldn’t get to the end somehow. You see, I get a kick out of pushing my body and seeing the amazing things it can do! And when I set my mind on something you can usually guarantee I’ll find a way to do it.

    I’ve always been determined to reach my goal, but that wasn’t always healthy! In 2009 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa – an illness which eventually meant I was hospitalised for 9 months. For several years I also struggled with depression and anxiety, and self-harmed as the only way I could think of to vent my frustration at what I thought was my own failure to be thin enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, academic enough or good enough in any way. I over-exercised even when I didn’t have the energy, starved myself if the numbers on the scales weren’t dropping quickly enough and craved the pain of cutting my skin because for an instant it distracted me from the chaos of my own mind. I didn’t just push my body to challenge myself, I forced it far beyond its healthy capabilities until it almost reached breaking point. I persevered for too long in my deadly pursuit of perfection!

    But perseverance is part of who I am – the person I’m now determined to love and embrace every day! In my past I channelled it into self-destruction, but that doesn’t make it destructive in itself. I have a choice of how I use it, and I choose to use it for good! Now I use it to inspire the young people I work with, to fundraise for a cause I’m passionate about, to raise awareness of the illnesses I suffered from and to encourage people that recovery is possible. I firmly believe that even the worst things in my past have helped form who I am, and so instead of letting them get me down I make a conscious decision to use those experiences to do something positive.

    And so I continue to live a life of perseverance. But I no longer do it to prove myself. I no longer do it to punish myself for what I see as inadequacy. I no longer do it to become something I’m not. I do it to continue becoming the person I’m meant to be, and the best I can possibly be.

    I know the title says ‘don’t let your past affect your future’, but in fact I want you to let it do exactly that – just in a positive way rather than a negative way! There may be things you don’t like about your past – mistakes you’ve made, or painful memories – but they all played a part in making you who you are now, and they can all be turned into something good! You have the choice to wallow in regret or to be shaped for the better.

How will you let your past affect your present?

Esther works at Sion Community working with national schools. Interesting fact whilst she was at Uni in Oxford she rowed from Oxford to London to raise money for beat. She loves to bake and blog! 

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2016: "Be the person you were born to be"?

So it’s a new year and I find it crazy that we celebrated the millennium 16 years ago.  I don’t know whether you feel bored already of new years resolution or the ‘fresh start’ conversations?

Sometimes the idea of starting a new set of resolutions just feels a bit of a joke, as we think about all those that we have started and not completed. I have been trying to think about what’s important for me this year. Not what I want to achieve but what’s actually important.

I came across this quote last year, which I have found interesting to reflect on in light of 2016:

“Sail beyond the horizon; fly higher than you ever thought possible; magnify your existence by helping others; be kind to people and animals of all shapes and sizes; be true to what you value most; shine your light on the world; and be the person you were born to be.” Blake Beattie

The first part “Sail beyond the horizon; fly higher than you ever thought possible” I think its encourages us to think about going beyond where we have been before, to not allow the things that held us back in 2015 to constrain the things we hope for in 2016. To sail beyond the horizon, means to step into unknown areas. To be willing to take a risk and try something new and different that we haven’t experienced before. This could be something extreme like jumping out of a plane for charity, or it could be choosing to trust someone with how you are feeling or to be vulnerable with what’s really going on.

“Magnify your existence by helping others; be kind to people and animals of all shapes and sizes” I thought the word magnify was interesting... what does it mean to magnify ourselves? Magnification means to make something bigger, when I looked it up it also meant to make something greater. So perhaps to magnify our existence is to use our existence for great things. By this I don’t mean finding a cure for a disease, I think it’s where the second part about being kind fits it. That if we are kind to this world and all that’s in it, we magnify our existence because to be kind is to be great.

“Be true to what you value most” This involves us asking the question about what we value most? I’d love to hear what things we value most maybe its honesty, family, faith, compassion or freedom. All of us will have a different set of values that are most important to us. But I encourage you to think about what you value most and be true to it, even if it’s different from people around you!

“Shine your light on the world” At selfharmUK we believe 100% that no matter what we have been through we all have something to offer the world, and that starts with you letting the world share in your light, your journey, your experiences, allowing even the tough times to shine a light to help those around you.

“Be the person you were born to be” Maybe 2016 could be a year of discovering more about who you are and what you were born to be?

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Hachiko the faithful dog

Let me start with a question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m guessing that typical answers might be happy, or successful perhaps. Maybe you’d like to have a family, have a fulfilling career, travel the world or develop a particular skill or craft.

I imagine that no one said that when they grow up, they’d like to be loyal.

Loyalty doesn’t exactly register high on our list of top ten hopes and dreams for our lives. We might hope for loyalty in other people, particularly when it comes to the people close to us, but don’t exactly ponder on whether or not we are developing this particular trait in our lives.You can’t see loyalty, and it certainly isn’t immediately big and impressive. And yet there is something extraordinarily beautiful about a life lived loyally to another person, or group of people.

Let me tell you a true story of one such beautiful example of loyalty, involving a dog called Hachiko.

In the 1920s, in Tokyo, there was a professor called Hidesaburō Ueno. The professor had a golden brown dog called Hachiko. Every day the professor would walk to the train station with his dog Hachiko, and catch the train to the university. At the end of each day his dog Hachiko would greet him at the station, and they would walk home together. The pair continued their daily routine until the May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno's return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.

Hachiko became renowned in his area as the loyal dog at the train station each day, and is remembered across the world and to this day because of his faithfulness to his owner.

Now I know this is only a story about a dog, but I cant help but feel that we’ve got a thing or two to learn from Hachiko.

We may not value loyalty or faithfulness in our culture, or think much about it as a quality we want to develop or seek in others – but it stands the test of time; unlike our own happiness, success or wealth, loyalty and faithfulness are qualities and gifts that impact those around us, and resonate down the centuries.

I’ll end with a great verse form Proverbs, in the Bible:

‘Never let go of loyalty and faithfulness. Tie them around your neck; write them on your heart.’ Proverbs, The Bible

 Phoebe is the Head of Research at Youthscape, responsible for leading The Youthscape Centre for Research. Research is at the heart of the innovation process here at Youthscape, and on a local level this means responding to the needs of young people identified by Youthscape's youth work practitioners, and developing strategies to meet those needs.

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Nothing to do this summer?

Universities have broken up for summer, it’s not long until schools will be breaking up and then plenty of weeks of freedom are just calling our name. I love summer purely because it gives me the opportunity to try new things, take time out of the normal busy schedule of life and absorb the world around me. This can involve anything from a spontaneous day trip to somewhere I have never been before to trying a new recipe or talking to an old friend. Here are some things for summer you might enjoy:

1) Find a new recipe you would like to cook or bake. Summer can be a great opportunity to hang out with your friends and bake together. Lots of mess normally equals lots of fun and you will most definitely always have something yummy waiting for you at the end. My all time favourite thing to make for my friends is Nigella Lawson’s, rocky road crunch bars (you can find out how here http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rockyroadcrunchbars_87104). They are unhealthy but everyone loves them. Alternatively, why don’t you try out a healthy smoothie for a hot day? (Here’s one from Tanya Burr https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg2BarAROnc but feel free to experiment with fruit and veg to make your favourite healthy drink!).

2) Have a ‘summer soundtrack’. I LOVE it when I listen to an album loads at a certain time of my life and then in the future when listening to the same album I am instantly transported into the nostalgia of a different year. Put together your favourite songs from this year, play them in the car, play them in the gym, and play them in the bath. Music can instantly lift your mood and get you motivated for having a good time. At the moment I am loving Mumford and Sons newest album ‘Wilder Mind’. Give it a listen.

3) Go somewhere you have never been before. Go on, I dare you. Book a train ticket or a bus ride to somewhere you haven’t been and go and explore, take a friend, take a camera. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is. Got a friend who you don’t live close to? Look at a train map and find a station that’s the same travel distance for both of you and get the train to it. Me and my friend did this recently, we ended up in Chichester, we had a great day exploring the town and shops, around the cathedral gardens and getting ice cream as well as catching up before we both head off to different countries for the summer.

4) Release your inner creative. Write, draw, paint, dance, sing. Activities like these can be relaxing for your mind and give you something to focus on. Admittedly not everyone finds it easy to be creative and it can lead to you feeling like a failure if your attempt at creativity ends in failure. Remember, just do the activity for the chance to try it, don’t expect to be perfect at it and don’t compare yourself to others. I have been loving creative colouring, you can get many different books in shops such as Waterstones with intricate patterns on each page. You can just fill in the little shapes without thinking too much and it really helps to de-stress. The book I have got is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Therapy-Colouring-Book-Grown-Ups/dp/1782433007/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1436264871&sr=8-4&keywords=creative+colouring.

5) Read a book. Go to a bookshop and spend some time looking around at the different books. Find one you think you like the look of. Take it in your bag wherever you go, to a field, on a bus, on a beach and enjoy being involved in the story.

These are just five things I enjoy in Summer. Feel free to make a list of five things you want to enjoy this summer. Make this summer count, have fun, relax and most importantly, enjoy yourself.

 

 

Caitlin loves the seaside, loves community and is passionate about using her experiences of mental health to encourage and help others. She is currently living in lovely Brighton studying for a degree in International Development and Anthropology, however, spends most of her time eating cake, helping out at church and blogging. You can find her at caitlinfaithcollins.wordpress.com or touring the coffee shops of Brighton.

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No longer in silence

There’s always that one person who we really dislike and vice versa, but when it comes down to it, sometimes even that can get out of control. It can lead us to not wanting to go to school or college because of that one person. Sometimes that one person can be enough to stop us from leaving the house. Know that person? Don’t worry, I certainly do. Often it’s that certain someone who doesn’t touch you when there’s no one around… Maybe it’s just to prove a point to their friends. It all comes down to the idea of bullying; for me, there are not many positives that come to mind.

The idea of being bullied is a scary one for many I’m sure, including myself. What I’ve learnt, however, is that bullies often pick on those seen as inferior to them; and standing up to them is not always the best way forward. In saying this, I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand up for yourself; but talking to someone is always going to help you through it. I was never one to talk and just kept it bottled inside because to me, talking about my feelings and admitting there was something going on was showing weakness on my part and, being the stubborn teenager that I was, I was not going to show any weakness. However, I got bullied a lot during high school and, in the end, it all became too much and I was forced to talk after the school found out that I’d been hurting myself because of it. Looking back, I wonder why I never told anyone before; and I guess I’m somewhat glad I did in the end because it got sorted and I was much happier in myself than I had been.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones that did talk and get it sorted; I know a lot of young people are scared of being judged for telling someone and then the consequences that could follow. I encourage you though, talking to someone will help. I know of people who have taken their own lives because of a bully and I was close myself, but I didn’t because I found the strength, yes; I said strength, to talk.

Being bullied is one of the worst feelings ever because it makes you feel like you’re not worth anything. It makes you feel like the lowest of the low and if not shared, can result in the unimaginable happening. We must remember though, that anyone can be bullied, and most of the time, they have no say in it at all unless they speak up and get it stopped. Let me tell you this, I know it may be hard to speak to someone if you are being bullied, but please don’t feel like there is no one who will listen – there are so many who will and so many who will willingly help you however they possibly can.

Sometimes, all it takes is a courageous voice to speak up.           

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to become a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”

- Harvey S. Firestone

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My alumina experience

In October 2013 we launched the first free online course for young people between the ages of 14-19 to explore what self-harm means to them. Over the months we’ve had many groups take place with some incredible results but don’t take our word for it, here’s a story from a recent group member. Oh, and don’t forget that you can sign up to a group by clicking here

“Before Alumina I never used to really talk about my self harm and I never used to understand why and how it started. Alumina changed this - it helped me to realise how my self harm story started. Before Alumina I was too scared to speak up and ask for help after my past experiences. It did take a while but after Alumina I managed to speak up and get the help I need. I also suggested Alumina to some of my friends that struggle with self harm and I also informed my psychiatrist about it and how helpful Alumina was for me.

Whilst I was doing Alumina I felt very supported and I felt like people understood me. Alumina helped me realise that other people feel the same way as I do and its nothing to be ashamed of. Whilst doing Alumina I began to understand where my self harm stemmed from and what triggered my urges to self harm. My two leaders were very helpful and were always there if you needed someone to talk too, even after the session!! I for the first time in a long time felt listened to and accepted.

Alumina has made a HUGE positive impact on me. If it was not for Alumina I would not have asked for help. I have been using my Alumina book to help me with explaining how I feel to people without having to repeat myself all the time.

Alumina changed my life, it took me 6 weeks to realise how my story began and now I am not ashamed to tell people my story because Alumina gave me the confidence to do this.”

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Personal Story - Change by Becky May

I’d love to tell you that I’m an expert in coping with change; that I’m a finger-on-the-pulse kind of a girl who’s up to the minute with all the latest technologies, ideas and world issues. I’d love to be able to tell you that I challenge the status quo, that I’m a change-maker, a world changer; but I’m not. The truth is, no matter how much I want to be that kind of a person, at the age of 31, change still scares me.


They say that you experience the most life changes during your teen years; physical, emotional, sexual and social changes can make you feel like you’ve been caught in a hurricane, losing control over the various aspects of your life. Most of us move to ‘big school’ at least once, where we trade the comfort zone of familiar classrooms for bigger, longer corridors; free time and play time for more structured timetables and our position as top dog for that of the unknown new kid.


I moved to ‘big school’ at the age of 9 and it was possibly the single most life-transforming event of my childhood. Where I lived, at the age of 9 you left the comfort of lower school with a grand total of thirty-odd pupils for middle school, three miles and a bus ride away and home to nearly ten times as many kids, all bigger, bolder and much, much cooler than me. At my lower school, our closest neighbours were a herd of cows, our afternoons were spent making up plays to perform to the younger class and swimming in the school swimming pool.  Middle school was in the middle of one of the most deprived and ethnically diverse housing estates on the edge of town and it scared me. It scared me so much that I spent my final summer term of lower school worrying to such an extent that I stopped eating properly. My need to take control of something, anything, led me to take control over my diet with particularly negative effects. It took doctors, parents, teachers, prayers and a good holiday to get me through it.


But I did get through it and my fears proved to be ill-founded. Less than a term into Middle School and I found myself settled into a new lifestyle.  One where I could enjoy meeting people and making friends from a whole range of backgrounds, where I could see the world beyond my little village and where I could even enjoy lessons aside from ‘making up a play.’


Now you’d think that having survived that, I’d be more confident to face change throughout life, but no. At 31, I still get scared and I say that after a year of enormous change in my own life.  In the last 12 months I’ve got married, moved house twice, left my job after 8 years and most recently, given birth to my first baby. Every step of that journey has been scary; sharing life with someone means compromise, acceptance and the realisation that you’re not as perfect as you’d like to think; moving house means stress and boxes and yet more stress; giving up work means the loss of financial independence and a change of personal identity and having a baby means sleepless nights, endless washing and an almost overwhelming sense of responsibility.


I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve handled it all brilliantly but I haven’t. I haven’t fallen apart at the seams and I haven’t lost control of my eating habits this time, but there have been tears; lots of tears and some sleepless nights that can’t be blamed on baby Isaac. I have coped better this time. How? By recognising the need to get help, to share when I’m struggling and by accepting that sometimes you need to give up the need to be in total control of the situation. And, as I finish writing this to go and give baby Isaac his bath, there’s more than a little recognition that sometimes, change can be good.

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