The Effect of Violent Crime on Mental Illness - The Stephen Lawrence Murder

by Sarah Myles

I am from Eltham in South East London. You may have heard of it - it's been in the news lately.

I feel the urge to write about it, because it has prompted reflection on my first awareness of my OCD and Emotional Dysregulation, at age 14. 17 years before my BPD diagnosis.

As a child living there, I was constantly bullied at school, and developed lots of obsessive compulsive behaviours to cope with the anxiety that caused. Repeating myself under my breath, excessive hand-washing, possessions placed in a certain way, specific daily routines, skin-picking - the list felt endless. I am a particularly clumsy person, and as a child, if I knocked myself on one side, I had to knock myself on the other side to 'even things up', or I would be unable to function properly for the rest of the day. This led to a lot of bruises.

Some of these behaviours are still present, some are not. As an adult, I have developed a number of new ones to cope with new anxieties. As a child, however, these behaviours resulted in an increased sense of being 'different', which did not help the bullying situation, of course.

My main strategy, however, was to simply not acknowledge the bad things. I was vaguely aware that we weren't allowed to the park on our own anymore because something bad had happened there, but I didn't really think about it. I heard about a teenager being stabbed a few streets away, but didn't want to know what happened. Someone followed my sister home from school once, but I didn't give it much thought really. I was totally fine and in control in a little bubble of my own creation - completely removed from reality.

But then, I woke up on 23rd April 1993, and things were different. Something very, very bad had happened. The night before, a group of teenagers had stabbed a young man named Stephen Lawrence to death - 250 metres from our front door. 

The bubble burst, and there was all the badness and chaos - right outside my home. And I felt fear. I completely lost all sense of safety. The attack on Stephen Lawrence seemed to be so random and opportunistic. How scary, that this group of armed, murderous thugs happened to come around the corner just as Stephen and his friend were looking for their bus? That they spotted him across the road, knocked him to the ground and killed him, just because they didn't like his appearance? That they did all this just minutes from where my family and I were tucked up in bed?

They were only a couple of years older than me. I could have queued up behind these guys in a shop, or sat next to them in the cinema (I vaguely recognised them when they first appeared in the news). What if they'd taken an instant dislike to me because I was a girl, or was wearing the wrong jacket, or was repeating myself under my breath?

This was my first real memory of overwhelming emotions. Sympathy and compassion for the Lawrence family, who just seemed like nice, loving people that were proud of their kids. Anger and frustration that these hateful, violent, nightmares of people would commit a crime that would forever tarnish the reputation of my town, and that the wider community would be so scared of them that they would effectively 'close ranks' against the police. Shame and sadness that people in our community could do such a thing. Fear and terror at the realisation that very bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere, any time.  

That was 18 years ago. Today, I watched the news as two of those murderers were finally found guilty, and felt the tidal wave of emotion swell up again. I had a physical reaction - almost 'fright or flight'. For some reason, the thing that particularly sticks with me is the Witness Appeal posters that were plastered around the town back then, with a picture of Stephen Lawrence, kind of half-smiling and looking downwards. The sight of those is like being punched in the stomach.

As was to be expected, Twitter was filled with comments when the guilty verdicts were announced this afternoon. The vast majority expressed relief at "justice finally being done".

Well, not really. It seems they'll be sentenced as juveniles, having been (just) under 18 at the time of the murder.

These two people have had 18 years of freedom they did not deserve. It's not just about the way they brutally murdered an innocent young man who had his whole life ahead of him, full of promise. They also hurt a family, and ruined an entire community. And let's not forget, their fellow murderers (at least 3 of them) are still very much at large. Free to walk the streets, wherever they like, doing as they please, feeding the chaos.

That's why - even having moved to the other end of the country - I check and re-check my locks 6 times every night.

Sarah Myles

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