In this post, I will be discussing self-harm. If you expect you will find this triggering, please do not continue reading. If you are struggling with this, there are people who can help you.
When I was 8 years old, my grandma died. It was a heart-breaking experience, and one I didn’t truly understand until I was much older. In fact, my counsellor thinks this event has been the root cause of several issues along the way – including, but not limited to, my intense fear of dying. That’s probably a blog post for some other time, though.
In the same month as her passing, a boyband emerged on the scene. Westlife. You may have heard of them. They had an incredible career for 14 years before splitting up in 2012. A few weeks ago, they announced they were reuniting and it’s one of the happiest moments I’ve had this year. So, to be upfront, this is partially an excuse for me to fangirl publicly about their reunion (ridiculously excited) but I do also have another point.
I had a huge gaping hole inside of me when I lost my grandma, but I was too young to make much sense of that. I didn’t know how to express it because I didn’t fully get it. In fact, I sometimes feel like I lived through losing her twice – once when I was a kid, and then several years later when the force of that loss hit me.
What I can make sense of is the fact Westlife seemed to crawl into that space and make me feel whole again. Sure, it helped that they were good looking and singing love songs that made me swoon, but rather than feeling a huge sense of loss, it was replaced with a sense of gain. They were to me what a comfort blanket is to a baby: something that brings peace.
Since then, I can’t tell you how many situations their music has helped me through. I listened to them when I was falling in love for the first time. Then, had them on loop when that same individual broke my heart in one fell swoop. I listened to them when my family were going through some tough times. When I felt lost and alone, I had their music to remind me that I wasn’t. Having moved around a lot when I was younger, I view them as the longest friend I’ve ever had. Their time in my life spanned over a decade. I don’t have a lot else I can say that about. They were – and still are – my safe place.
Something I haven’t disclosed previously is that I self-harmed when I was a teenager. There were events that happened, which left me feeling so raw with emotion, that I needed a release. These things triggered a spiral of self-blame and hurting myself seemed like an appropriate punishment. I needed to let that pressure out somehow, and that was the route I chose.
I did this on several occasions and went so deep that I still carry the scars to this day. Once was on my hand, and despite my attempts to hide it with my sleeves, people at school saw it, immediately knew what it was, and called me a freak. This didn’t help with the situation.
One night, I felt that temptation creeping in, and my head was very cloudy. I didn’t really want to be around anymore. Although, I want to make it clear that I never planned, nor attempted, ending my life, I felt the strong urge to disappear. So, I turned to that coping mechanism. I was about to do it when one of Westlife’s songs called Try Again came on. I’d listened to it a thousand times before, but this was a different experience. I heard and felt every word.
The opening lines are: “Hush now don’t you cry, there will be a better day, I promise you” and one of the later lines is “Smile now, let it go – hey, you will never be alone, I promise you.” So, you see why it helped? The song is actually about lost loves and relationships but that’s not the point.
It stopped me in my tracks, and I haven’t self-harmed since.
It’s not always like that. The relationship with self-harm is complex, but that was my light bulb moment. That’s what it took. I know, they’re not the coolest band to associate with recovery, but that’s how my story goes. I’m not going to rewrite it to impress people.
During school and college, I was bullied for being so obsessed with them. People scoffed, made jokes and had nothing pleasant to say. I never told those people WHY they were so important, because nobody cared to ask. But, what it meant was that nothing they say could have changed my mind. The value of this “stupid boyband” transcended whatever nonsense was being thrown my way by my peers.
These reactions only got worse as I grew older, because it was no longer just a case of “it’s not cool to like them” and became “aren’t you a little bit old to like them?” Considering I grew up listening to them almost every day, there was no way it was going to stop because I’d hit 18 and apparently ventured into adulthood.
The worst part of it all is that, at this stage, it worked. It was now other adults essentially telling me to get a grip, and I thought they had a point. For a while, I stopped mentioning the fact I liked them. When people asked about my favourite music, I’d give a vague answer, mention a few genres and hope they didn’t want to know specifics.
Thankfully, that phase was short-lived, because it didn’t feel right to me. There was no way I could keep it to myself forever, so why not be upfront about it? I love Westlife, for all that they are, and all that they represent. To hell with what anyone else has to say about that. It’s not really any of their business.
2018 has been one of the most challenging years of my life. It’s the year I became completely overwhelmed by my emotions, lost all sense of who I was and felt hopeless. I’ve made a lot of progress, but Westlife reuniting is symbolic to me.
Why? Because they are part of who I am, and just as I’m starting to rediscover EXACTLY who that is, they have reappeared. Realistically, I know that’s because it’s their 20th anniversary but there’s a little piece of me that feels it’s all happening for a reason. Just like they arrived exactly when I needed them 20 years ago.
We live in a culture where people try and shame you for liking certain things. Every single day, people make remarks about the things other people enjoy. I’m tired of it – maybe because I’ve lived with it my whole life for daring to own my boyband obsession, or maybe because I just don’t get it.
Life is hard, and whatever brings you joy is nothing to be ashamed of. So, you like watching Big Brother and becoming enthralled in all their drama? GOOD FOR YOU. You like to dance to One Direction when nobody’s home? AWESOME. You get your knickers from Marks and Spencer’s because they’re comfier than Ann Summers? EXCELLENT. Maybe you have a story like mine where something seemingly uncool has had a HUGE impact on your life. That’s wonderful.
Because the way I see it, life sucks sometimes and if there’s something, anything, that brings you a little bit of joy in amongst all of that, then you should be proud of it. Take those distractions and run with them. You shouldn’t allow anyone else to make you feel ashamed. Hold onto the things that make you feel happy, whether it’s what everyone else loves or not.
Next time someone has the cheek to question something you enjoy, just reaffirm yourself and respond with “well, I enjoy it.” That’s it. You don’t have to launch into defending yourself.
For the better part of my teenage years, I adamantly defended myself and Westlife, occasionally getting into very heated debates about them and it was a waste of my energy. I should have had the guts to say “well, I like them” and left it at that, but I felt the need to justify it. Although I never delved into those deep, personal stories, I’d reel off a list of reasons why I thought they were awesome, but I was never going to change those people’s minds any more than they were going to change mine.
Everyone has their right to an opinion. Part of what makes the world so interesting is that we are all different, and there’s a degree of value to that. But when these opinions slip into shaming, everything just becomes very unpleasant.
Love what you love, and screw what anyone else thinks. You probably have your reasons, and that’s all that matters. I could be delusional, but I’d like to think that the more we stand up to these people, the less they will do it. I can’t imagine it gives them half as much entertainment if they go to attack someone’s tastes and that person responds with “so what?”
These people usually feed off the frustration of others, when they try and stick up for things. Or, they go on a power trip because they’ve told someone something is stupid, and that person has been shamed into silence. So, don’t give that to them. And, I know, it’s hard when you’re in the situation, but take a second to think about what they’re getting from it and if you really want to give them that.
And – I can’t imagine any of my regular readers falling into this category but in case anyone else stumbles across this – if someone tells you they love something, if they’re in the middle of an enthusiastic speech about their favourite film, or song, or anything else, don’t cut them off with some judgemental remark. Let people bask in those moments, because they’re more important than any of us give them credit for.