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I used a kitchen knife to carve my armm; BECKY'S LIFELINE TO KIDSFELINE TO KIDS Troubled teen survives three suicide bids she counsels desperate children.


BULLIED Laura Rhodes, 13, left a heartbreaking account of her despair at having no one to turn to before ending her life. Her parents made her note public last week as ChildLine launch a drive to recruit 300 volunteers to help kids like Laura. Becky Dunn, 21, tells her moving story of how she went from victim to Good Samaritan.

AS she reaches for the phone, the scars on Becky Dunn's arms show.

They've healed well since she stopped carving into her skin with a kitchen knife.

The mental scars have healed, too, better than anyone might have expected after she made several attempts to end her teenage life.

And her body is no longer the pale skeleton it was when, as a troubled schoolgirl, she deliberately ate nothing at all for as long as two weeks at a time.

Now she's a happy 21-year-old, cruising through her course at Edinburgh University, where she studies English and social work, and enjoying every minute.

But she hasn't forgotten how it feels to be a child crying out for help.

So when she's manning the phones as a volunteer at ChildLine, listening patiently while distressed kids talk through their pain, Becky really understands their agony.

'One psychologist told me to pull my socks up and go off and enjoy myself,' she says. 'I had more than my fair share of so-called experts who did nothing at all to help me.

'I'm never going to fall into that trap when a child is on my line.'

Becky's story could so easily have ended in tragedy.

Four years ago, as a desperate teenager, she rang ChildLine but the lines were constantly engaged.

She'd reached her lowest ebb, was desperate to talk and couldn't think of anywhere else to turn.

But the continual bleeping of the engaged tone left her feeling even more abandoned and alone.

That's why she has decided to help make sure other kids can get help when they need it.

Becky's spearheading the charity's drive to recruit 300 new Scottish volunteers to keep the service running.

'When ChildLine didn't answer my call I felt resigned to the fact there was no one left to speak to,' she says.

'It was big thing for me to ring. I wanted to talk about my eating disorder, the self-harming and how scared I felt.

'But by that stage but I was so upset I didn't really expect anyone to help.

'So when ChildLine was constantly engaged, I wasn't that surprised. I was so low that I just gave up.'

Becky had already attempted suicide twice - taking a cocktail of over the-counter painkillers.

And two months after her failed call to ChildLine, she tried again. She swallowed handfuls of tablets before being crippled by stomach pains and losing consciousness. Even as she came round from her drug-induced stupor, she was determined to hide her problems.

'I was disappointed when I regained consciousness because it hadn't worked,' she says.

'I actually got myself to hospital because I didn't want my mum to find out what I had done.

'I was kept in for three nights but mum thought I was staying with a friend.'

Becky's nightmare began when she was 13, shortly after her mum and dad split up. Her mother moved out while Becky and her younger sister stayed with their dad.

Becky doesn't blame the marriage breakdown for her trauma. She prefers not to name her parents in public for fear of upsetting them any further.

But their split coincided with her arrival at an all-girls secondary school, where she felt under pressure to excel academically and look like a pin-up.

'It was a really competitive school and the competition extended to the way that you looked,' she says.

'I was a total perfectionist. I put myself under pressure to be the best at everything. My dad was on a diet at the time and he had a diet plan which said if you cut down to 900 calories a day you'll lose weight.

'I thought, 'Well, if I cut down to 100 calories a day I'll lose a lot more'. That thought quickly became 'I wonder how long I could go without any food or water?'.'

It was the start of a terrible spiral into anorexia which left Becky a pale, weak shadow of her former self, without the energy to take part in normal teenage fun.

Testing her body to the limits, Becky experimented with starvation. Though she deliberately never weighed herself, at 5ft 2ins, her size eight clothes hung from her frame. 'Eventually I went for two weeks on nothing but Diet Coke,' she says.'I scared myself. People commented that I had lost so much weight but I made loads of excuses and covered up as best I could with baggy clothes.'

By the time she was 14, Becky had begun cutting her arms with a kitchen knife in a bid to relieve the stress she felt. 'I was such a perfectionist that I was determined to keep everything hidden,' she says.

'Self-harming was my way of getting rid of the pressure.

'I eventually told a teacher what I was doing and she called my parents, even though I didn't want them to know. My mum got very upset and cried a lot, then she got angry.' The next three of Becky's teenage years were spent in the tight grip of an eating disorder that she knew was ruining her life.

But through it all, she somehow managed to get A passes in every one of her exams. She wouldn't have been content with anything less than top grades.

It was probably that intellect that pulled her through in the end.

'Eventually, it dawned on me that I was tired of living like this,' she says. 'I was 17 going on 18 and I'd lost so much of my life. I didn't want to lose any more.

'From somewhere, my willpower kicked in and I started to take control of my life again. By the time I had won my place at university, I knew I didn't want the pain any more. I wanted to move on.'

An advert for ChildLine a couple of years later brought her experiences back to mind.

She decided to volunteer and, after a thorough training process, she now spends one evening a week at their Glasgow call centre.

'I thought my experiences might have hindered my application,' she says.

'And it's obviously not necessary to have gone through what I did to be a good volunteer. But I've resolved all my issues now and I'm a different person. I'm still a perfectionist but I'm able to keep it in perspective and channel it in more positive ways.

'I don't know what I've done to my body by not eating for all that time.

'But I'm very glad of the chance to be able to help others.

'I forget everything that has happened to me and concentrate on whoever I'm listening to.

'Who knows what would have happened if I had got through to ChildLine when I was younger.

'But it's a wonderful feeling to be there now, knowing you may have helped someone like me.'


Success story: ChildLine; volunteer Becky still bears the scars of her troubled teenage years but she is determined to be there for other desperate kids; Self-harm: Scars a reminder of Becky's despair; Anguish: Bullying victim Laura
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 26, 2004
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