It was like a grey cloud that grew as it passed over the last sunny days of my childhood. The anxiety that began to gnaw away at my insides, my tummy aching with the pain of it. The changes of puberty, the bullying that began once looks became more important than test results, fitting in more important than standing out.
But I wanted it all. I craved success, and I needed to be accepted too. Where once I was embarrassingly self confident, I now made endless lists of everything that was wrong with me. And struggled in those pre-internet days to work out solutions. For a year or so, I had no real friends. Gradually that changed and we whispered and chatted and tried to laugh about all the strange things that happen in teen land. To our bodies, to our interests, to our school life. But some things I didn't tell. I don't know why. All I knew was that sometimes I had to do something to stop the overwhelming feelings of panic and sadness, about a social mistake, another bodily change to be tamed somehow, or worst of all, another exam. I would lie awake at night until everyone was asleep, my heart pounding. Then creep downstairs and open the drawer in the kitchen, to do the one thing that I thought would deaden my feelings.
Today it would be called self-harm. Back then I did not know what I was doing. Or what I was feeling. I don't remember mental health being discussed in school or at home or in Jackie Magazine, the teenage Bible of the 70s. I don't remember telling anyone: the nearest I came to revealing it was comparing wrists with a fellow classmate one English lesson. But nothing ever came of that.
The wonder and excitement of College life seemed to cure me of the habit, and maybe no real harm was done.
But it could have been different.
The outcome could have been much, much worse.
Or better, if there had been someone to speak to, someone to listen, someone to help.
And that's the big difference now.
Now we talk about mental health, we talk about prevention, and most of all, we talk about talking.
Stop the silence, it's time to talk.
Written in support of National Time to Talk Day on Friday May 15th and the Green Ribbon Campaign.
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