Victoria Pendleton reveals how pressure forced her into self harming

Slashed herself with blades when it all got too much

by Sarah Barth   September 2, 2012  

Victoria Pendleton at Pedal it Pink

Victora Pendleton has revealed how the pressure of cycling at a world class level sometimes drove her to self-harm, cutting herself with blades in order to 'feel something else'.

The 31 year old cyclist, who announced her retirement from the sport having won two medals at the London 2012 Olympics, said she even cut herself the night she won her first Olympic gold at the Beijing Games.

In her memoir, serialised in the Sunday Times, Pendleton says: "My psychological make-up was unsuited to the brutal world of elite sport."

Pendleton wrote of the first time she harmed herself, in 2003 in a hotel in Aigle, Switzerland, at a training academy for sprinters run by a French coach called Frédéric Magné.

"The first time, I used the knife almost thoughtlessly. I did not sit down and decide, consciously, to cut myself. It was almost as if, instead, I slipped into a trance. I held the Swiss Army knife in my right hand, feeling the solid weight, as if it promised something beyond the empty ache inside me.

"A shiny blade traced a faint line on the pale skin of my left arm. It didn’t hurt, as I had yet to add any pressure. The slight indentation was at least three inches above my wrist. I had no wish to cause myself lasting damage; and there was no thought of me using the knife to open up the blue veins in my wrists.

"I did not want to kill myself. I just wanted to feel something different. Pressing down harder, I had a sudden urge to make myself bleed."

The quotes in this story are extracted from Between the Lines by Victoria Pendleton with Donald McRae, published by HarperSport on September 13 at £20.

17 user comments

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After watching the documentary about her that was on TV just before the Olympics I am sadly not at all surprised she resorted to self-harm. The pressure she felt to perform and to live up to others' expectations was immense.

Contrary to what many might think, self-harm methods like this are used by a surprising number of people to help them cope with extreme anxiety and stressful situations.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1910 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 11:45

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I watched that documentary and I got the impression that she absolutely hated what she did for a living. It seemed to me that she was just waiting to get it all over and done with. Which is fair enough, but imagine what an athlete she could've been if she coped better with the pressure.

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

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posted by Cooks [481 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 12:20

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I have to echo Simon E's comments above. The documentary was brilliant, a real warts and all look at this amazing woman. I was gob smacked to find out how insecure she is.

Lets hope that her retirement from competition gives her some well deserved peace of mind.

posted by 1961BikiE [80 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 12:56

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The self doubt was extraordinary. I suppose they all have it but most hide it well. I got the impression that Pendleton's insecurity was difficult to handle by senior staff. It's seen as 'demanding' behaviour in men and just 'needy' in women. It's a pity there isn't more female influence at high level in Team GB. They need to address that as the whole sulking session over Pendleton sleeping with her coach was bizarre. It wasn't just professional concern - there a whole sexual psychology can of worms in there. Steve Peters or not - sports bodies aren't very good at dealing with complex emotions outside of anger and doubt and I was surprised at how old fashioned the attitudes seemed.

As did Vicky P? You've won gold at 2 Olympics. Great result. Now move on.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1031 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 13:44

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What/who you allow to define you can hurt you.

Having like other watched the documentary I was not surprised by this revelation but was impressed with her and developed some respect for her, when she dug her heals in to have a life of her own.

Cycling is a great thing, a pleasure to many but as Bradley Wiggins says "it is just sport" life goes on behind and beyond it.

At the risk of sounding all existential the winning only ever gives transitory meaning to life/existence and I hope Pendleton is now able to finding some lasting meaning to her's.

THE ONLY WAY IS BIKE

posted by lushmiester [156 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 13:50

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I have recently been diagnosed with depression, probably brought on by bullying at work, and waiting to find out if i'm going on happy pills or to go to one on one chats.

I have never reached the stage of self harm, probably cos i'm a coward in that respect, but i know what she must have been going through with pressure to being constantly successful.

Now that she has quit the sport i hope she goes from strength to strength in whatever career she decides.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2674 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 14:30

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Those who've seen mental health issues on here before know I get involved with the comments because I struggle every day with my own mental health.

Having suffered from depression and anxiety for more than half my life. I know exactly how Pendleton would have felt. I first started self harming around 19 when I was making my way up the ranks of chefs in a high pressure kitchen. Having easy access to my own knives. I never wanted to take my own life or anything like that. But just wanted a release from the stress I was under at work.

Funnily enough. I hadn't cycled for a few years at that time. I used to do alot before I started working life at 15. After seeking some help. I found my love for cycling again. Got myself a new bike and started to punish my body on that rather than cut myself. The urge is still there sometimes. But i've worked my way up the ranks of chefs and now just do agency work. So I can pick and choose jobs and manage to live without over working myself.

Hopefully with the pressure now off Pendleton on the track, she can relax a bit and have a happy life.

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posted by Gkam84 [8696 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 14:44

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Cooks wrote:
I watched that documentary and I got the impression that she absolutely hated what she did for a living. It seemed to me that she was just waiting to get it all over and done with. Which is fair enough, but imagine what an athlete she could've been if she coped better with the pressure.

Most successful female track athlete of all time not good enough for you? The fact that she FELT this intense pressure to perform made her train harder and longer at a gruelling sport, which granted her the success she achieved. If she'd have been more 'happy go lucky', then she might have been happier, but not achieved the greatness she did.

Cheers M
_______________________________________________________
“Racing Is Life. Anything That Happens Before or After is Just Waiting.”

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posted by Morpheus00 [41 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 14:57

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Gkam84 wrote:
I first started self harming around 19 when I was making my way up the ranks of chefs in a high pressure kitchen. Having easy access to my own knives. I never wanted to take my own life or anything like that. But just wanted a release from the stress I was under at work.

I'm glad you feel you can write this. Things are better than they were but there's a long way to go regarding the stigma of mental health issues. As you say, self-harm is not attempted suicide but a kind of release. I suspect that the most difficult element is finding support and assistance.

Vicky seemed to be driven to a great extent by the expectations of others, particularly her father, who it appeared to be making up for his own disappointment by pushing his daughter. But gold medals and rainbow jerseys, just like the material wealth that success can bring, will never be a replacement for being genuinely happy. Those promoting sport try to sell winning as the bringer of happiness just like the ad campaigns tell us we'll be happier with that shiny new car/big house/latest gadget but it's often far from the case. I see lots of people trying to 'buy' happiness. It doesn't work but they're stuck on the treadmill to oblivion.

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posted by Simon E [1910 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 15:12

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stumps wrote:
I have never reached the stage of self harm, probably cos i'm a coward in that respect, but i know what she must have been going through with pressure to being constantly successful.

No, please don't feel you're a coward, there are no cred points for bravery or one-upmanship in the self-harming 'scar wars'. If you can get some help so that you can work out to how to resolve issues around success, failure, social acceptance etc you can find a path that suits you.

I feel very fortunate in that I never felt any pressure to succeed at anything - school, college, work etc. My parents wanted me to apply myself and I have a very strong sense of my own sense of self, a conscience and right & wrong / morals / ethics. These have helped guide me through the maze. I know many others don't find it so straightforward, but I think one part of the answer is finding company that you are comfortable with, knowing people that accept you for who you are not what you are trying to be. There's lots more to it than that, of course, but ultimately you have to stop and ask yourself what really matters in life and what key things can you change to make a difference.

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posted by Simon E [1910 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 15:28

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stumps wrote:
I have never reached the stage of self harm, probably cos i'm a coward in that respect, but i know what she must have been going through with pressure to being constantly successful.

As Simon said, you are not a coward. Its not often I tell anyone about my self harm. So as said. There is no one-upmanship on it. Everyone finds their own way of coping.

The first step is admitting you need help and finding something that works for you. Unfortunately in this country. Things/people to REALLY help seem few and far between, Things are changing, but very slowly. For example, If you have cancer, new cures are being found all the time. So much money is being pumped into research and development of cures. But the mental health budget never seems to get a fresh look and be increased. While the stigma of mental health is still around. Many people hide away and don't seek out the help they really need. If there was more input from the health service and government to get rid of the stigma. This country could move on and help those with issues.

I wouldn't go upto someone with a clear impairment and call them anything, where as maybe 100 years ago, these people were frowned upon.

Just because I have a disability that you cannot see, doesn't make it "easy to fix". I've been on benefits before, thats a nightmare to get with a mental health problem because its not a visible illness. So many people don't bother and just struggle through the work place that is the cause or having an effect on their recovery to a stable life.

If you ever wanna yap. Just hit the contact bit on my profile. I'm on "happy pills" and have been on for many years, different ones. So got quiet an experience of them. Different things work for different people though.

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posted by Gkam84 [8696 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 17:30

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So refreshing to read compassionate and humane comments and thoughts in a forum -
another reason to make me I'm glad I'm into cycling.

Sudor

posted by Sudor [179 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 18:31

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Really sad to learn about VP's self-harm issues. It's so often the case thought that the people we think 'have it all' are really troubled. My best mate at school who I envied took his own life at 19 because he couldn't deal with the pressure.

Mental illness is a huge challenge because it's misunderstood and so many people feel they can't admit they are suffering or ask for help. I'm not sure how effective the help is anyway. Massively impressed with the honesty of some posts here.

posted by Campag_10 [153 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 21:01

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I thought her father was a big part of the problem from what i saw on the tv. He appeared envious of his own daughters success.

posted by festival [101 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 21:15

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Ah yes... speaking from experience if you're suffering then it doesn't really matter what the day job is, it's just a miserable existence. Amazing talent and a HUGE mental strength to feel so bad and push anyway - that's the irony, people think depression and anxiety are weaknesses when in fact you are usually being immensely strong in not doing yourself more damage.

In my own small way I completely relate to this - cycle racing was a way to get out of my (disastrous) family life when I was 14 and I realise looking back that it was a kind of self-punishment for how things were at home, I got to control the pain and dish it out on others. I got to wanting to finish everything myself in my early and then late 20s (long time ago now) but cutting provides a way to NOT hurt yourself more. It's a weird mind space and very unpleasant but at the time it makes perfect sense.

Amazing she was able to achieve at that level feeling that way, and I hope she can get her life back now.

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posted by alotronic [247 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 21:23

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having done competitive swimming things went south for me around age of 15-16 and i kept on swimming till i was 18. i had almost incapacitating anxiety in the last couple of years. having stopped swimming i felt free in my head again and maybe vp may have a similar feeling, i really hope. i trained about 20 hours a week and having anxiety on top of the physical exertions... it was mad.

now i work and about to leave soon - a lot to do with a relapse in anxiety around people. what makes it even harder for me there, is that there is guy in who i see so much of what i had and have. this story and the comments are just truly mind opening as to how wide spread mental illness is, really touched me.

i wonder how much of it is to do with "the modern way" of living because really we only climbed down from tress a few days ago.

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posted by koko56 [313 posts]
2nd September 2012 - 22:43

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stumps wrote:
I have recently been diagnosed with depression, probably brought on by bullying at work, and waiting to find out if i'm going on happy pills or to go to one on one chats.

I have never reached the stage of self harm, probably cos i'm a coward in that respect, but i know what she must have been going through with pressure to being constantly successful.

Stumps, I suffered from work bullying recently, then he left and i went back to my old confident self like nothing had happened. Don't think it's you and please don't get put on pills! Believe in yourself and if possible make a change, report the person or move on. I promise they will bully others before and after you.

Also don't put yourself down, you're not a wimp, and for admitting you're being bullied you're obviously a genuine and honest person...perhaps like Ms Pendleton herself Smile

emily.b

posted by emily.b [15 posts]
12th September 2012 - 21:30

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