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.
Some people like this lead up to Christmas, some (like me and my family!), really don’t!
The Christmas decorations look pretty and the shops get busier and the Christmas feeling is in the air – but it doesn’t make me get the warm Christmas glow; in fact it begins to make me stressed right from the moment it starts…
The pressure for the perfect film like Christmas family gathering is unachievable – the perfect family game time; the perfect present wrapping, the perfect friends to go out with, the perfect family to share it will – perfection doesn’t exist, in any place at any time.
The media Christmas portrayal adds to our sense of dread – the pressure to smile, laugh, not row, not feel sad – can make us feel very detached from Christmas: so this year, in the lead up here are some tips:
1. Ignore TV films and adverts! We aren’t going to reach a Hollywood Christmas ideal – so let’s not bother. Watch Elf and comedies – they keep a good perspective on it!
2. Try to imagine Christmas day now – what works for you? Do you need to communicate any of that to your family – who don’t you want to see over Christmas? How long do you have to visit relatives for? Begin to start the conversations now so they don’t come as a shock to your family – take control and be prepared to compromise.
3. Make stuff – loads and loads of stuff! Don’t buy it, make it. Keep your hands and mind busy, the personal stuff doesn’t need to cost much nor does it have to be perfect – enjoy the process and the result.
4. Don’t give yourself sky high expectations of yourself over Christmas. If you need to take regular breaks from family, do it. Look after yourself now so that you have the energy for it as it gets closer; plan out the Christmas holidays so that you get a good balance of rest and play.
The SelfharmUK Team
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
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.
“ 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’.
Or sign up to our online support at firstname.lastname@example.org
You are not alone.
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.
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.
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:
May you know Hope this Christmas.
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
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" 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?
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
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.
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
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)
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:
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.
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