Here we are, well into our sixth year of operating after five years of continuous growth.
We’ve made a lot of friends along the way, and LifeSIGNS has benefited from scores of people’s time, energy and expertise. I’m just unable to thank all the people who have been involved, all the volunteers, all the colleagues, doctors, psychiatrists, advisers, and friends who’ve supported us, or helped us directly, over the years.
It’s been quite a personal journey for me as well. I was recently asked by a BBC journalist if I ever imagined that LifeSIGNS would become as well known and respected as it is now – Sarah looked at me with a slight smile and I answered ‘Yes, from the start I meant for LifeSIGNS to change the world – I’ve always had delusions of grandeur,’ Sarah agreed!
Back in 2002, I knew I had to do more than just write about my own confusion and fears surrounding self-injury and emotional / mental well-being. I could see the UK was lacking in decent information, and while I respected one, or maybe two, US websites, I knew the UK needed fresh ideas and a some solid information written for people who self-injure, by people who self-injure.
No, I didn’t find anything online in the UK back then that I could relate to or respect – yes, I’ve seen websites grow and develop since, and some of them have great ideals and integrity, but do they actually perform a service for their visitors? Do they offer anything real, anything of value? Frankly, too many websites are started with good intentions, but fail to live up to their own expectations; in short, they fail to provide fresh content, and they fail to take care of their website or their visitors.
One day, I may look back and consider LifeSIGNS to be my life’s work, but at present I don’t have time to enjoy any self-congratulatory reflection; nope, there’s still so much to do. I’m surrounded by fantastic people who work hard behind the scenes of LifeSIGNS to ensure we provide some real services to visitors, members, and professional healthcare workers. Right now, we’re thinking about recruiting more Directors to run our organisation, and more Trustees to oversee and maintain our five-year strategic goals. Throughout the years we’ve had the privilege of welcoming new people to our management committee, and the sweet sorrow of saying good-bye to those who have moved on. I don’t think it’s any secret that working for LifeSIGNS enhances one’s CV, and I’m pleased to say I’ve written 3 or 4 ‘references’ for people who’ve moved on in the world.
I’ve been careful to ensure that LifeSIGNS is seen as a ‘whole organisation’ – I don’t want it to be confused with ‘websites’ that are just run by someone in their bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, LifeSIGNS is run from our lounges and bedrooms too! But we’re a real organisation, an association of like-minded people who get together to help LifeSIGNS be everything that it is.
LifeSIGNS is user-lead (or rather ‘member-lead‘), most of our Directors and Trustees have personal and direct experience of self-injury, and although we need professionals and experts to work with us, I intend to ensure that LifeSIGNS always recruits from our own member-base, so that the majority of Directors have personal and direct experience of self-injury. There are other great organisations, (often within the NHS) which work on the clinical side of self-injury – we work on the ‘user’ side.
Could we really imagine back in 2002 that LifeSIGNS would become the most active, most vibrant and most well known user-lead self-injury awareness charity? Yes, we could imagine, but it hasn’t been imagination that’s brought us to this point, nor will imagination sustain us as a charity over the next year.
Hard work, personal sacrifice, grief, anger, pain, tears, arguments, travel, exhaustion, late night deadlines, upset, failures, betrayal, ungratefulness, lassitude, despair, madness, self-injury, depression, stress, distress, incredulity, strength, vision, tenacity, forgiveness, latitude, leeway, respect, love, thanks, luck, fate, dedication, and hard work on a daily basis have brought LifeSIGNS to this point.
Now I realise that technically speaking I’ve mentioned ‘hard work’ twice, but I thought that it was such a big deal that it was worth mentioning again.**
Scores of Directors have given their time freely over the years, many of whom have gone beyond the bounds of duty and given hundreds, even thousands of hours to LifeSIGNS. Our Message Board Moderators and online Volunteers offer similar dedication.
Let no-one think that it’s been easy. It’s not even been that much fun. We have to make decisions for the organisation, and yet, because we’re such an open organisation, we are open to direct and immediate criticism, sometimes abuse. Philosophically, we welcome criticism, we really appreciate and value the wisdom and experiences our members share with us; we get to amend our plans, services and information directly based on the feedback from members. Sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything right, but actually, we need people to tell us how we’re doing to help us improve. LifeSIGNS’ popularity is growing every year, every month, so we must be on the right track. Directors and Trustees are ultimately responsible for how LifeSIGNS works, we have to take an overall view of things, and look at the big picture alongside any specific matter; it’s all well and good saying that ‘you wouldn’t have done’ something, but the buck stops with us, we have to decide and act as we believe is best for the long-term continuation of LifeSIGNS, and the best for our audience, which is made up of people from a huge variety of backgrounds with differing needs and wants.
One thing that bothers me is that some people think that LifeSIGNS has an office in London somewhere, and 25 staff running around to make LifeSIGNS what it is. Some people therefore have no patience when we take three days to reply to an email. It’s flattering of them to think of us as such a well-oiled organisation, but the truth is that we’re run as a ‘virtual’ charity, with no offices, and no ‘staff’ – we all volunteer and give our time to LifeSIGNS, while continuing to run our home, and hold down a job and work on our studies.
It is fulfilling, to know that we’re making a national, maybe global, difference, but let no one for a second underestimate the dedication of our management and volunteers.
** to paraphrase Kryton from Red Dwarf.