Most of you reading this blog will already be aware that I am passionate about the #HeyareyouOK campaign, but you probably don’t know why it so important to me. The best way to explain this is to share something personal with you. To tell you a bit about myself that helped inspire me to start the campaign.
Picture the scene: A small café in Hoole, Chester, February 2013
“Gill – It’s so good to see you my dear friend. You haven’t changed a bit!”
The warmth and love I felt from my old friend at that moment was overwhelming. It was as if we had remained friends all this time, and yet it was over 30 years since I last saw Catherine. Our meeting after such a long absence from each other’s lives was one of the most poignant occasions I will always remember. It was also one of those defining moments when you sit back and take stock of your journey through life so far.
‘Why did we ever let ourselves lose touch, dear friend. We should never allow that to happen again…”
We’d become friends at school; we just sort of clicked. But the friendship was only brief. The reason why we lost touch was because of me.
“…why did you leave so suddenly?”
I thought it a strange question at first, and then I remembered. It was something I’d tried to forget.
“Because I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me I couldn’t be gay”. I said
It was after Michael, a classmate, had come out of the proverbial closet that I found the strength and the courage to be the person I really am. It was tough. We both endured the worst that kids could do to you. I lost friends almost overnight, but I didn’t lose Catherine.
Catherine never thought that me being gay was an issue, but I still found myself drifting away from her friendship. I had found new friends, gay friends who understood. It was only as I was telling the story about why I needed to leave home at sixteen that I realised it was she who actually understood the most. If only I had confided in her back then…
It was the first term of sixth form that I left without saying goodbye. During the summer break I had met my first girlfriend. It was now time to tell my family. I thought my mum would be the more supportive and the one whom I confided in. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan. The next thing I knew my life was spiralling out of control. As if dealing with the kids at school wasn’t enough, my family threatened me with legal action, sent me to see the Doctor and brought in the social workers. It was too much, and I left.
Contrary to what this story suggests, my family are, in fact, very supportive. Things were different back then. What I came to realise is that they were frightened ‘for’ me, and not ‘of’ me. They were trying to protect me from the prejudice and hate that they knew I would face. Thankfully times have changed, and we now live in a more tolerant and equal society.
“I wish I could have helped you, Gill. It hurts me to think that you went through so much”
Hearing her say that brought tears to my eyes. I wished I hadn’t drifted away. I wished that I’d kept in touch with my old friend. She was someone I could have turned to for support, especially during the dark times in my life when it would have been easier to die. Thankfully, I found the strength to stay alive to hear those words.
“Well, let’s make sure that we are here for each other from now on”. I said.
#HeyareyouOK? – Helping those in distress before suicide becomes an option
Who is my friend Catherine Harrison, AKA Charlotte Pickering?