I live in Sutton, but not the ‘nice part’ of Sutton. For me, life hasn’t always been easy and growing up on my estate comes with its own set of problems. There is a certain way you have to act and certain things you have to do to live here. And if you don’t conform to the way of life, things get even harder. I started smoking cannabis at 13, because everyone else did and it was normal.
My dad passed away when I was 13 years old, he and my mom had separated before this, but he was still a big part of my life. After he died, I spent two weeks in my room, I didn’t want to come out. I didn’t talk to anyone and spent most of my time on my own, eating to try and make myself feel better. I gained weight and started smoking more cannabis, because it meant that I would eat less and lose weight.
Two years later, my mum got ill. We’ve never had the best relationship, but I did what I needed to do to help her. I would pick my siblings up from school everyday, do jobs around the house and it meant I couldn’t spend a lot of time out with my friends. My school work suffered too, I failed all of my GCSE’s and most of my time in school before then was spent in isolation. The teachers had a bad view me from my first day there, since one of my older brothers was the ‘bad kid’ and they expected me to be the same way so hated me from day one. But all the time i spent in school, no one ever knew about what was going on at home and no one ever asked. So I got myself kicked out a few times, because I didn’t see the point in being there anymore.
Then I joined YMCA. I started coming to youth club and after a year they asked me to be a part of their steering group for Virtually Minded. They took me away for a weekend residential where they taught me about male mental health. I learnt so many things and realised that I had probably suffered from poor mental health in the past. I never thought I would be sat in a room with other boys my age talking about mental health. If you had asked me to do this two years ago, I would have told you to go away, but probably not as nicely as that. but this was really interesting and I could use this to help my family and myself. YMCA have built my confidence, allowed me to find my own voice and given me opportunities that I would have never have access to otherwise. Now, I think before I speak and I have even volunteered with YMCA’s other projects. I’ve been able to use the art workshops to find my own creativity and design something to pay tribute to my dad.
Now, I’m hopeful that when I’m old enough, I can move out and have my own space. I want to go to college and redo my GCSE’s and look at doing a bricklaying course. None of this would have been possible without the YMCA and the Virtually Minded Project, I understand the importance of looking after my brain as well as my body now.
I just wish this project had been around when I was 10 years old, because my life would probably look a lot different now.

For more information about Virtually Minded, contact Hannah on 07879 794319 or hannahcleveley@ymcasc.org.uk.