I founded LifeSIGNS ten years ago. I’m a volunteer.
I started looking for self-injury information long before I ‘came out‘ and told any of my friends that I was hurting myself to cope. I read everything I could; I found a lot of helpful information, and more to the point, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. The web proved that I wasn’t the only person doing this. But the websites I found were mostly American, and the best one was out of date and no longer maintained (but it did hold a lot of psychological and fact-based info – perhaps you know the one I mean?).
So I started my own self-injury website. I was learning HTML and web design while I was at uni, and writing helped me express things I’d never spoken about. I told my friends. Shockingly, some of my friends said they knew exactly what I meant. Some of my friends had hurt themselves, or were struggling with self-injury. And these were friends I’d randomly made by just sitting in lecture halls or going out with housemates, they we’re not ‘like me’ in style or background, they were randoms who became dear friends.
My personal website started getting hits, and not just from friends! People from around the UK and world were emailing me. I heard a great many terrible stories.
I knew I had to do more than just talk about me and my understanding of SI – something bigger than me was needed. I couldn’t stand the thought of people being alone with their self-injury, as I assumed I was in years past.
I wrote an email to ten of my friends (some who had experience of SI, some who did not) to ask them to join me in managing a voluntary organisation that would publish self-help information and engage people from across the country. They all said ‘yes’.
Then I was invited to be in the audience of the Wright Stuff with Matthew Wright on Channel 5, and so two of us went down to the MTV studios in London, and we met two other people who wanted to speak about their SI. As the only guy talking about self-injury, Matthew seemed to focus on me, and I might’ve talked for over twenty minutes in all. The panel (y’know, Matthew always has guests) we’re very kind and said how it was hard to understand how ‘normal’, functioning people could be in so much distress. As we realise now, mental ill health and self-injury are often invisible afflictions.
Launching LifeSIGNS, coming up with the name, the logo, the website, our mission and all the content needed for a website was really interesting. Over the years, more people with personal experience of self-injury joined us, and many of the original committee members left. We published a book, launched a Message Board and got to know a great many people who raised awareness about mental health and self-injury. We started training welfare officers at universities around the country, and later, NGS professionals.
Everyone knew we were amateurs! Everyone who emailed us knew they were talking to a person who also struggled with SI. Everyone knew were were doing our best. We survived on a budget of a few hundred pounds each year – based on what was donated by people who wanted our training.
We redeveloped the website to be purple and orange (instead of white and pinky-purple) and worked hard to improve our content and publish topics that people needed. We began to get a little bogged down in policies, procedures and processes, because there were so many of us volunteering and running the organisation.
Over the years, the hardest thing has been to keep going every day. We understand that we still have a real affect upon people, that there are still people who struggle alone with what they do – people who don’t know what it’s called and don’t think anyone else does it. People find us, or get referred to our website and things start changing (a little) for them, now that they know they’re not alone.
See, some people think we’re a big charity, that we have offices in every city, that we have a ‘budget’, that we *have* to answer emails within three hours because ‘that’s what the Samaritans did for them’.
Y’see, we’re still all volunteers; we all work, study, live, and then make time to run our organisation and create everything you see us do. When we tweet, blog and reply to emails, it’s a volunteer who’s chosen to do that instead of watch TV, go out with friends, spend time with family or do the washing up (yay!). That’s the amazing thing about LifeSIGNS; that’s the amazing thing about volunteering.
We’re just like you – we struggle with live, love, the Universe and self-injury, and we volunteer to make things just a little bit better for people. We do this because we know self-injury from the inside. We do this for you.
We’re recruiting for more volunteers right now, and we’d love to hear from you.