In 2008, there was a movement on social media to spend a day with the word ‘love’ written on your arm. I participated. It was to raise awareness of a charity started in USA called To Write Love On Her Arms.
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.
I can’t actually remember when I first discovered TWLOHA. They began the year I graduated university, and those five years of undergraduate study were not all about getting a degree. It was a rollercoaster that included radically changing my religious beliefs and being baptised. It included a change in career path. Being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and (sort of) endometriosis. But also myself and several of my friends going through the most horrific battles with a variety of eating disorders and mental illnesses.
There was a defining night that came 40 days after I was baptised. A friend called me after work to ask if she would come to my flat. I had other friends on their way round who were coming for dinner at my house, but I said yes. She sat at my kitchen table with a cup of tea, and began to talk about how much she was struggling. To this day I don’t know what made me say it but I remember saying “Look, the only way nobody can help you is if you are dead“. It turned out that just before she had come to my flat she had swallowed 64 painkillers. Needless to say, my friends didn’t come round for dinner as instead, an ambulance came and I spent an evening in A&E. It would, as it turned out, be the first of many nights I spent in that A&E waiting room with various friends over the years to come.
Jamie’s friend Renee had ‘F*** Up’ etched on her arm with razor blades. I don’t know what implement one of my friends used, but she had ‘B**CH’ written on her arm one night when I came to the locked down ward of the hospital to bring her some of my clothes so she had something to change into. The words ‘To Write Love On Her Arms’ mean a lot because of that memory and emotion when I noticed what my friend had written on her own arm. That’s exactly what I wanted in that moment – for my friend to know how much she was loved and worth.
The truth is for five years of my own life, my body was often covered in wounds on my arms and stomach from my own long fingernails, from screwdrivers and knives. It was the only way I knew to cope with the hate and anger and confusion. And it’s a habit that’s addictive. It’s been 12 years but I haven’t forgotten. And I still have my battles with depression. It runs in my family. Winter has always been a given, but since being made redundant two years ago, it’s been an all the time thing. There are days when I can’t get out of bed, my brain just doesn’t function and I wish that my life on earth would just end so I didn’t have to exist, battle and cope anymore.
But I remember what it was like to have people you love try to kill themselves, to scrape hate on their limbs, to starve themselves, to purge themselves, to panic, to seem like they were just empty shells incapable of living, to believe they were aliens or that nurses were secret agents trying to kidnap or kill them, to find your friend on a bench in the street telling you the voices were telling her she needed to walk out in front of a car.
Truth is, the last two years have been increasingly lonely, felt increasingly hopeless and it is easier to believe that you are hated and disliked rather than loved. It is easier to believe that the world would be better without you, than you have anything of value to add to it.
So when I came home from my friend’s wedding, I switched on the live stream of the 10th anniversary celebration in Orlando after I’d taken off my make up and exchanged a dress and heels for pyjamas and blankets. Some of my friends were there in person and I’m trying (and failing) not to be jealous about that! 🙂
We will be the hopeful. We will remind people they are loved. We will use art to tell the stories that inspire and encourage. And we will fight for more help to be available.
Thank you Jamie and co. for starting the movement. How I wish it wasn’t needed.
But it is.