Healthy lives for young people
Wellbeing

Experiencing mental illness: Chanel’s story

Chanel shares her experience of mental illness, which includes depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, and reminds us that it’s ok not to be ok.

I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety all my life, ever since I can remember.

When I was younger, I didn’t really understand what I was going through. I thought everyone else felt the same up until secondary school.

I was very overweight growing up and I think this is where my anxiety stemmed from. In primary school I never thought about my weight and I played football with the boys. It was only when I moved to an all girls secondary school that I realised I was different and the ‘fat kid’. I didn’t like being in social situations, I didn’t like to be anywhere where loads of other people were, I didn’t like any attention as it was usually bad. People would notice me because of my weight and I became extremely depressed which affected everything I did.

I began to isolate myself a lot. In school people didn’t really realise it because I always would mask how I was feeling by being the class clown. I used to get myself in a lot of trouble and I just thought it was funny, maybe if people found me funny, they wouldn’t notice what I was going through and how I felt about myself inside. I genuinely hated myself, I thought I was disgusting.

When I look back at it, it’s really sad actually. I was harsh on myself, really harsh on myself.

I thought I was gross, and I thought everyone else saw me as gross. I found it difficult to speak to anyone, I was embarrassed about it, it just wasn’t something I was comfortable speaking about with my friends or family. It had become a vicious cycle; I would get really down about my weight and then I’d eat more and more because I was sad and then I would just put on more weight and yeah it did make me extremely depressed.

I was also struggling to come to terms with my sexuality and I started to look at girls in a romantic way. I found this hard because I was scared what other people would think. That was my problem. I’ve always been scared of what people think of me, I’ve always been scared of being judged and that also affected me a lot.

I was struggling with my weight, and I was struggling with my sexuality, and it was very hard. There were moments I thought I wasn’t going to make it. There were moments where I genuinely didn’t want to be here anymore because I thought ‘I’m not going to be able to get through this’. But I did. I did get through it and I think it was more just realising I’m not the only person who feels this way.

I’m not the only one that has these thoughts. It’s ok to be like this. It’s ok to feel this way.

When I left school, I came out of my shell a little bit. I went to college and I met people that were a bit more like me. I was with the boys again; I was more myself.

At seventeen, I then decided to lose weight and that was the happiest I’d ever been. I became very healthy, I got so many compliments from people and started getting attention. People were fancying me and were interested in me. I was like ‘wow this is great, this is because I’m losing weight’, ‘I need to lose more’.

Before I knew it, I was not eating, I was constantly weighing myself, I was constantly looking at myself in the mirror, I was over exercising. I joined the gym. I’d go to the gym every day, bearing in mind I hadn’t eaten anything really. I’d go on the running machine for an hour to an hour and a half every single day to the point where I’d actually become so dizzy and basically collapse on the treadmill.

My mum decided that I should go to my GP and they diagnosed me with an eating disorder, and I was referred and received counselling. This made me realise that I always had a bad relationship with food. It made me realise that my relationship with food was bad and needed to change because the stigma I had around food was wrong. What I thought about food was wrong.

So, I got through it, and I’m better now. I allow myself to eat things that I wouldn’t have eaten before.

I wouldn’t say I’m 100%. I still have eating habits: I still won’t allow myself to eat certain things. But I am eating and I’m not starving myself.*

Going back to my anxiety, it has got very bad with being in public and being around other people. Being in social situations, clubs, concerts, tube stations, train stations, shopping malls. Anywhere where there’s a lot of people and there’s an enclosed space. 

I was on a train one time with my friends. Loads of people got on and it was very busy in rush hour, and I just began to panic, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I experienced my first ever panic attack in public. That started a whole new anxiety surrounding being trapped and being suffocated.

My anxiety stops me from doing a lot of social things with my friends in case I have a panic attack at the event or on the train. Until this day I am still struggling with this although, I have coping mechanisms.

For example; I do get on trains now if there’s a short amount of time between each stop, there was a point where I completely stopped doing that. I always make sure I have a bottle of water with me, I link having a panic attack to needing water. I carry headphones with me because I just listen to music and it blocks out the sound of everyone else around me. I do things to take my mind off it, like I wear a lot of rings so I can twiddle with them I am getting better with it, I have good days and I have bad days, just like anyone else.

I think any advice I’d have for anyone going through something like this, is that you are not alone and there are ways of getting help. You just need to want to help yourself. If you don’t want to help yourself then no one can help you.

I never thought I needed help. I knew deep down that I did, but I was always scared of getting the help or it wouldn’t work. But, for example, with my eating disorder, it really did help. I’m so glad I accepted it because I could’ve gone down a dark path.

With my social anxiety and the anxiety of being trapped and in small spaces, I am on a waiting list for therapy, so I am looking to get help with it. It is an ongoing issue, but I hope that one day I learn to live with it.

If you are going through this, remember: you aren’t alone. There are people to give you advice on this and there are other people in the world who will understand and will want to help if you speak to someone. As I’ve got older, I’ve began to speak to people more, I speak to my friends. Whenever I’m feeling a certain way, I’ll speak to my friends now and I’ll tell them this is what I’m feeling, and I don’t want to do this because of this and it really does help.

Bottling things up is not the way and will essentially do more harm than good. Bottling things up inside will do you more harm because then you’re going to just be dealing with it alone. So please just speak to someone and accept the help they want to give you. One day you’ll get there and things will be better.

It’s OK not to be OK

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (NHS England, 2020).

If you are worried about your mental health, or about someone else’s, there are lots of places that can offer you help and support. You don’t have to be diagnosed, you don’t even have to know exactly what’s wrong. Whenever you are ready to talk to someone, you can.

*People recover or move on from mental illness at different paces, and recovery can mean different things to different people. For some, recovery means feeling they have been “clear” of the illness for a certain amount of time or that they are able to do certain things that the illness prevented them from doing. For others, it’s finding techniques or mechanisms that allow them to manage or control the illness to stop it impacting on their day-to-day life or even turn it towards positive and productive activities. Everyone is different.

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