Life Stories

13th May

“Sun beds caused me to lose my ear.”

By Kim Perry

(photo source: the skin clinic)

sunbedFrom the age of 18, Katherine Simpson from birmingham had been using sun beds on a regular basis, often every week. But little did she know her need to have sun-kissed skin was causing severe and long term damage.

Now at the age of just 26, Katherine has been through four operations to remove moles that have turned cancerous from the use of sunbeds. One operation even involving the removal of her left ear.

“I always thought my pale skin made me look ill so I thought going on the sun beds gave me a healthy glow.”

“I would only go on for about 3 minutes at a time then build it up to six. It was never an excessive amount of time, but still enough to do damage.”

Two years after beginning her regular sun beds trips, Katherine noticed a mole on her chest had grown and become lighter. Although on holiday in Lanzarote at the time, she took a trip straight to the doctors to get it checked. It was then that she was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

“I was told the mole on my chest had turned cancerous, along with a mole on my ear which i hadn’t noticed.”

“The holiday was ruined. We had to come straight home so that the moles could be removed before the skin cancer spread.”

“When the doctors told me I would have to have the majority of my ear removed I was devastated and annoyed with myself for not taking the dangers serious enough.”

Describing the process as ‘the biggest scare of her life’, Katherine thought the nightmare was over after the removal of two moles but it was less than a year later that she found another mole on her thigh with an irregular shape.

“I remember crying because I knew exactly what was coming when I went to the doctors.”

Even though she had stopped using sun beds, the damage had already been done and the melanoma had spread.

Over two years Katherine had been through four cancer scares and numerous skin grafts, and to this day she still endures other cancer scares.

“I’m always worrying that it may have come back or spread somewhere more serious. One thing for definite, i would definitely advise anyone against them.”


  • If you notice any changes in your mole or freckle, contact your GP ASAP
  • Always be aware of the consequences of sun beds
  • Try a professional spray tan instead – they can look just as good without the risks!
  • ALWAYS use sun tan lotion in the sun to protect your skin.

“I Spent Thousands on an Addiction to Legal Highs”

13th May 2013

Clockwork Orange – a blend of ‘herbal incense

by Bridget Owen

* = Name has been changed for anonymity

In February this year, Emma* and her friends began to experiment with ‘legal highs‘. She had no idea how dangerous and addictive they were until she’d been using them everyday for a number of months, and found herself unable to stop.

“We’d heard about legal highs from a friend, and wanted to see what it was all about. I’ve always been weary of drugs and what I’m putting into my body, but what possible harm could a legal drugdo!?”

Legal highs come in a number of forms, and are sold cheaply across the country.

Emma* was using a herbal blend of ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ which is supposed to mimic the effects ofClass B drug – Cannabis, the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.

This blend, usually referred to as ‘herbal incense’ is legal only because it is not yet fully known what the drug consists of. It is advertised that the high gives you a ‘buzz’ for just under an hour.

Certain forms were banned from sale in February from ‘head shops’ but manufacturers changed the blends and re-manufactured the drug under a different name to re-distribute it. Some of those that were banned in February are called ‘Black Mamba’, and ‘Mexxy’.

The long term effects of ‘herbal incense ‘ have not yet been established, but there have been many cases of legal highs going wrong in recent news. Just two weeks ago three teenagers were rushed to hospital in Wales, after falling ill from taking a blend of herbal incense. They were reported to be vomiting blood.

The legal high is attractive to young people with it's packaging

The legal high is attractive to young people with it’s bright packaging

“I didn’t research the drug before I used it. I acquired it easily, and the man in the shop told me everything I thought I needed to know. He sold it like it was a cupcake or something, passing it off so gently. Little did I know this was the beginning of an awful experience.”

Emma* and her friends used the drug for an evening, but none of her friends were that interested by it and saw it as a waste- they didn’t like the drugs effects. They stopped using the drug, they had work to do, and full time jobs. However, Emma* had enjoyed the feeling the drug gave her.

As a first year University student, she didn’t really see that she had much to do, and carried on using, usually smoking it all day, everyday. She found that the more she smoked it, the more she got used to it, and needed to use more each time. She was soon spending £150 per week and going through more every day.

“My tolerance levels changed so quickly, I couldn’t get the feeling I wanted without using more. I used various blends of the drug when they became available. There were three head shops where I lived, all within a mile of each other. So there was a constant, easy supply.”

It wasn’t until she went home for a weekend in March that she really withdrew from the drug.

“I had one last hit the morning before I got on the train to go home. By 5pm I had the chills, I was sweating and no appetite, like I was getting ill. I passed it off to my parents as the flu, and when I returned to my student flat I continued to use the drug. I had no idea that my body had been suffering from withdrawal.”

As a couple more months passed, Emma* began to lose sight of everything. Her personal relationships began to fail, and she couldn’t get up and go anywhere without using the drug first. Her life completely revolved around this fix.

“I would wake up in the night, sweating, if I hadn’t used for a few hours. I was restless and angry if I wasn’t able to use. If I was halfway through my stash I would have already planned when I would go out to get more. I couldn’t think about anything else. When my boyfriend came home at night he would just find me in a barely concious state. I would fall asleep constantly, sometimes halfway through the day, and didn’t have any pride in my appearance any more- something I had previously found really important.”

Although Emma* knew she had changed, she still didn’t see her addiction as a real problem or didn’t want to. She continued to spend money on the high. The closest people to her knew, and had mentioned it, but she would always deny her addiction, and began to try and hide it.

“I knew deep down I had a problem. The turning point was when I found myself shaking, stood outside a ‘head shop’ waiting for it to open on a Sunday afternoon.

“I’d run out, was having a stressful day, and the shop owner was an hour late. I felt nervous thinking he wasn’t going to show up at all. I couldn’t manage without.

“There were other people waiting for it to open too. I found myself chatting to them about it opening, going onto talking about our habits. They also used this herbal high, but they were the kind of people I would never usually associate with.

“When the shop finally opened I was the first in, and buying the most. I casually handed over £50 and rushed home to smoke it. This would usually mean the end of worrying and panic for the day, but I just felt disgusted in myself. Hanging around outside a shop with other drug users waiting for it to open was the last straw. Especially as I was so jittery and panicky at the thought of not being able to get any more.”

Research into the drug also helped change Emma’s* mind about using.

“As soon as I looked for people in a similar situation, I found them, posting from across the world posting about their troubles with addiction to herbal blends. A little on-line community welcomed people to share their stories and I felt able to talk about my experience. I felt so much happier knowing I wasn’t alone. They also gave really good advice about how I should go about slow withdrawal from the drug to make it easier to stop. Some of those in the community stated that some of the blends had made them hallucinate and feel sick.”

After reading up about addiction, she began to plan how she would come off the drug which was all down to careful planning. Emma* decided she didn’t want to involve anyone else in her struggle.

“Even though people wanted to help, I felt ashamed of the person I’d become, and became determined to fight this addiction myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was dealing with the problem, I wanted to keep things as normal as possible to keep my mind off it.”

“I was advised to slow my intake of the drug down, instead of cutting it out completely. I wanted to go to a GP but I still felt unable to talk to someone about it. I began to cut my amounts down over three days. It wasn’t easy. I cracked and went to buy some as soon as I’d run out, making the withdrawal process begin all over again. It was so frustrating having to fight a constant battle with myself.”

“The first three days of my final withdrawal were the worst. The chills started immediately I couldn’t control my temperature. I’d be sat shivering one second and sweating the next. I had no appetite at all. I would try and force myself to eat but I would just feel sick. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did sleep I would wake up soaked in sweat.”

Emma* has now been drug free for three weeks, and is beginning to feel and look better in herself. Coming out of an anxious depression she is feeling much more positive about the future.

“I still have the most random uncontrollable mood swings, coming off and staying off has been the most difficult thing I’ve done so far. It’s about knowing you have a problem and wanting to stop, and I was my own worst enemy.

“Knowing I’ve beaten the addiction makes me really happy, it proves I can do anything I can put my mind to.

“It won’t change the fact that I’ve spent thousands of pounds on the drug, I’m in a heap of debt, and I have nothing but bad memories to show for it, but I have defeated this problem, I have learnt from it, and I have a healthy bright future ahead of me.

“People needs to be wary about ‘legal highs’. Just because it’s legal, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe.”

Although Emma* has chosen to keep her identity anonymous, she is happy to answer any questions you may have about legal highs and addiction. Please send any questions to

If you’re confused about drugs, or worried about someone else, you can also Talk to Frank. FRANK  has confidential drugs information and advice is available 24-hours-a-day.

Drugs information

  • To find out more about specific drugs, including mephedrone (meow meow), BZP, GBL and naphyrone, go to the A-Z of Drugs on the FRANK website.
  • For confidential advice about all aspects of drugs and drugs use, call the FRANK helpline on 0800 77 66 00.


Although these drugs are marketed as legal substances, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or approved for people to use. It just means that they’ve not been declared illegal to use and possess. They are still normally considered illegal to sell under medicines legislation.

Some drugs marketed as legal highs actually contain some ingredients that are illegal to possess.

The risks

Legal highs can carry serious health risks. The chemicals they contain have in most cases never been used in drugs for human consumption before, so haven’t been tested to show that they are safe. Users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be.

Other risks:

  • You increase the risk to yourself if you combine alcohol with any legal or illegal substance that causes a high, including the risk of death.
  • Reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, excited or paranoid states, coma, seizures and death.
  • Because legal highs are often new and, in many cases, the actual chemical ingredients in a branded product can be changed without you knowing, the risks are unpredictable.
  • It is likely that a drug sold as a ‘legal high’ may contain one or more substances that are actually illegal to possess.

When to seek medical help

Most problems with short-term use of legal highs will settle after you stop taking them. However, the negative effects of some legal highs can take a few days to wear off completely, just like the comedown from stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines.

If you think you are having a serious negative reaction soon after taking a legal high or you experience problems that do not settle with a little time out, fluids and fresh air, get medical help straight away by going to the accident and emergency department of your nearest hospital.

More from Bridget

10th May 2013

Rejection spurred stalker to give death threats

by Railah Iqbal

A month into starting university, Hanna Ryaz, 21, was bombarded by phone calls and text messages by an unfamiliar individual which turned threatening which the police had to put a stop to.

Initially ‘the stalker’ was being friendly and claimed he wanted to get to know Hanna but soon he began threatening her when she refused to speak to him.

Hanna reading texts

Hanna reading texts

Hanna explained: “At first they made it out that they were trying to be friendly and just a bit flirty but when I rejected the person, they started stalking me.”
. She added; “I came to Uni and not many people had my number and I began getting texts off an anonymous number.”
The stranger told Hanna that he was watching her every move. Hanna recalled; “They knew where I worked, they knew when I went to Uni, they would say ‘we know where you live’.”



At the time, Hanna began to question who she was speaking to and found it difficult to trust the new friends she made at university.
Hanna’s day-to-day activities were affected as she started missing work in a bid to avoid leaving her flat.

When the threats started, Hanna told the security team at her accommodation. “They would say they were going to kick my door down and kidnap me, even abusive things like rape were mentioned… I did not know what to do.”

Hanna's emergency contact numbers card (courtesy of Unite accommodation)

Hanna’s emergency contact numbers card (courtesy of Unite accommodation)

Because of the seriousness of the threats, the team advised Hanna to contact the police. The police came to see her the next day.

Hanna urged the police to track down the stalker and he was given a warning which has stopped him from contacting Hanna since.

Hanna advises to others in similar situations; “If you are living in a flat where there isn’t much security, you should be very careful with who you trust and not let information out as well.”

Further National Stalking Helpline; an advisory unit,  is available to victims of stalking in need of advice and counselling. NHS is most helpful for those who wish to remain anonymous.

NSH’s spokesperson commented; “For young people who may find themselves in a position of being subjected to stalking behaviour, our advice would be to make contact with their local police service to report the behaviour. In addition we would advise getting in contact with the National Stalking Helpline, which provides a lot of advice for victims. ”

The helpline added that other students in Hanna’s situation should get in touch with their university as soon as possible because “there are usually support mechanisms there to help.”

“My boyfriend hit me… but I won’t go to the police.”

By Kim Perry

At just 20 years old student Vanessa had already endured the horror of an abusive 2 year relationship. But after finally leaving her boyfriend, Vanessa says she won’t go the police because she doesn’t want him to have a criminal record.Vanessa Heaven

“I know it sounds stupid but going to the police wasn’t going to change anything and I felt sorry for him, stupidly.”

Vanessa, now 21, was with boyfriend Oliver (not his real name) for just over 2 and a half years. Describing the start of the relationship as “very happy” she says the pair of them got   along really well. Yet, it was just 6 months into the relationship that Oliver started to show signs of controlling and jealous behaviour.

“He started to check my texts and Facebook messages. If I ever spoke to a lad he would get really angry and start pushing and shoving. Even if I mentioned going out with friends he would get annoyed, thats how most of the arguments started.”

But his ‘minor’ controlling ways soon got worse. Vanessa was no longer allowed to talk to male friends, and any that she did had to have his approval.

Recalling an event that had happened around 8 months into the relationship, Vanessa says that an argument broke out because a friend asked her to go out. Oliver had seen the message and started to get angry at the thought of her going out without him. He pushed her off the sofa saying she couldn’t go. When she told him to leave, his anger grew and he shoved her against a wall shouting in her face.

“It seemed out of nowhere, it was the first time he had really got aggressive with me. I remember being so shocked and upset. When he calmed down he cried and wouldn’t stop apologising and thats why I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want anybody to hate him.”

Vanessa says after that incident things seemed to go back to normal for a couple of months. But it wasn’t too long before Oliver showed his true colours and was back to his possessive and aggressive self.

The couple were back to bickering and arguing regularly and Vanessa suffered months of abuse in silence.

“So many things happened. He lost his temper and kicked me in a club to the ground, he sprained my wrist after grabbing me so forcefully, he hit me round the face with a shopping bag, he left bruises on my arm in the shape of his hands and he head butted me because he thought I was drinking too much. All of this would be over nothing, just because he would lose his temper.”

But Vanessa chose to stay with him, saying he was always apologetic and nice to her after  he hit her.

Vanessa It was only after an incident at a friends 21st birthday that Vanessa realised things had already gone too far.

“We were in the club and I stepped outside to cool down for a bit. I was gone for 5 minutes when Oliver found me and started accusing me of going missing for an hour. He was shouting and was so mad he threw his drink all over me.”

She walked away to dry herself off in the toilets and when she came out she saw Oliver had been waiting for her. He pinned her against the wall demanding her to tell him where she had been. After repeating she was just cooling down, Oliver headbutted her, causing Vanessa’s face to instantly swell.

“I was devastated, in pain and frightened. I felt humiliated that all my friends now knew what he was really like.”

Oliver was quickly chucked out of the club but not before shouting that this time he wasn’t sorry, that it was Vanessa’s own fault and that he didn’t regret it.

Even though she received numerous texts and calls off him, Vanessa finally ended the relationship and asked him to leave her alone for good.

“My friends and family practically begged me to leave him. My parents were furious, they wanted to get him back for what he did to me, but I asked them not to. I didn’t want things to backfire and for my family to get into trouble.”

Still to this day Vanessa says she gets texts and calls from Oliver. He has even turned up at her home, refusing to leave until she talked to him.

“The abuse wasn’t always just physical, a lot of it was mental too. My advice to anyone in the same situation is get out as soon as you can, take notice of the early warning signs. He is never going to change. If it happens once, it will happen again.”

Listen to Vanessa here…

Online dating profile helped me pull 25 women!

In today’s society, online dating seems to be increasing in popularity. More and more people everyday are signing up to various dating websites in the hope of finding their ‘true love’. But not Sheffield Hallam student ‘Charlie’, his motives are very different.img_1885

The 21 year old from Wakefield says he has no particular interest in finding a date, but actually uses the online dating world to arrange one night stands.
“I use it to try and pull desperate women. My profile says i’m desperate so I assume every girl I speak to on there must be too.”
The student, who would prefer to be known as ‘Charlie’, joined the dating site ‘Plenty of fish’ a year ago. Since then he proudly admits to ‘successfully’ sleeping with a high number of women.
“I basically read their profile, take something from it and use it for banter. I generally get a reply that way, then you have got to take it from there.”
But it isn’t always as easy as it seems.
“I do get ignored quite a lot. Some of the girls with no sense of humour just don’t reply. Out of every ten messages I send, one will reply, if that. So I have to message a lot of girls to make sure I get a response.”
Over the year of being active on the site, Charlie says he has learnt which girls to message and which to avoid, by just looking at their pictures.
“I wouldn’t message birds that I think are too out my league, some women are only on there to get a self esteem boost.”
“Pictures give a lot away, I don’t really bother with the ones that are too provocative, they’re probably the most insecure women on there. I tend to message the more approachable women, and then you can just use them.”
He freely admits that what he does could be seen as offensive and disrespectful, especially to women. But when asked if he ever feels bad about his behaviour he said:
“To some extent. I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings, but at the same time I’m only after one thing. I make sure they know what they’re getting into.”
“The thing is women are sly about it. Half of them aren’t actually in it for a relationship. If they were, they wouldn’t be on the website dressed like they are. They shouldn’t get offended if they’re putting it out there.”
But the burning question of all is how does he do it?
“Negging sometimes works. But I generally go for the funny approach, as my dad always said, make a girl laugh and your half way in her knickers.”
img_18521‘Negging’ is a technique used mainly by men, where they give a back handed compliment in the hope of impressing girls.
Charlie describes himself as a ‘pretty confident guy’ and says he is not the type that will only talk to women on the internet.
“I do approach women on nights out, but I am constantly rejected. Theres an ease to doing it online, I can sit at home in my pyjamas and chat some birds up. It’s just another arena I can use to pull.”
Although he hasn’t yet encountered any sexual health problems, self titled ‘health conscious’ Charlie admits that he doesn’t always use protection.
“I always have STI tests, you have to make sure you’re ok.”
He also address the other issue of not being safe. “If someone told me they were pregnant, I would be devastated. I would definitely be more careful… but it wouldn’t make me stop.”
People are often shocked to hear that the third year student uses online dating sites, especially for one night stands. But after his ‘success’, many of his friends who originally gave him some stick, have now joined the website with the same motives.
But is it really worth all the effort?
“To be honest, I dont know… but I’ll carry on as long as I’m single.”

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