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Claire, a blogger and contributor to Penguin’s Dear Stranger book, writes about why she’s started speaking out and writing about her mental illness over the past year.
I used to be silenced by my illness. I rarely spoke to anyone about anything but I especially did not talk to anyone about my mental illness. It was my biggest and most painful secret and I would hold my hand in front of my mouth through fear of letting anything slip out of my mouth. Baggy clothes, long sleeves and a painted on smile hid what was truly going on from the world around me.
I’ve had a very long battle with mental illness, with anorexia beginning at the age of five and depression taking over before I’d even hit puberty. My mental illness has been traumatising. I have never been as scared as when I tried to take my life. And the night I spent in a police cell last year due to a lack of hospital beds was utterly terrifying – the memories of that night will never leave me.
"I wanted to tell people what happened."
That night led me to start speaking out about my experiences – a police cell was the last place I needed to be and I wanted to tell people what happened. I signed up to be a Mind media volunteer and soon I was asked to speak about that night. I spoke on national news. I’ve now spoken many times on TV and radio about that night.
I’ve grasped many opportunities to speak out this year. I was on the panel at the Fixers Feel Happy Fix filmed at the ITV studios in London. I also received a very emotional standing ovation after doing a talk at Ignite Cardiff about my experience of anorexia.
I realised that I love speaking out about mental health. I love the comments I get from people telling me that I helped them and what I went through – the pain and the trauma, was almost worth it to make a positive difference to someone else’s life.
"I had an overwhelming urge to tell the world about mental health."
I have always loved writing. As a child I would write stories and dream of being an author when I was older. When I was very poorly, I didn’t speak. I wouldn’t even speak to my counsellor, nor would I leave the house to see her! I started emailing her what was wrong and then she would talk to me about what I had written. When she saw me she commented on how well I could write and told me that I should take writing further. For a while I didn’t know how to channel it but then around Halloween last year I had an overwhelming urge to tell the world about mental health, to educate people and reduce stigma and perhaps offer hope to others who are struggling, so I set up my blog. I also wrote my first guest blog post for Mind and I now blog regularly for the Huffington Post.
This week Penguin Books are releasing Dear Stranger, a book I was honoured to write for. Holding a hardback copy in my hand that contained my writing was beyond my wildest dreams and felt incredible. I really hope that the words I wrote for Dear Stranger give readers hope because life really can change in a moment.
I didn’t manage to get my A levels or a degree because I had to leave education due to my illness. I never thought I would have a career or achieve things. I didn’t see myself as having anything of worth because I had no qualifications, no income and hardly any work experience.
Speaking out in the media about mental health and writing about mental health has given me a sense of worth and achievement. I am no longer the housebound girl that nobody knew existed – I am a young woman on a mission to change the world.
Dear Stranger, on sale 2 July, is a collection of heartfelt letters from authors, bloggers and Mind ambassadors to an imagined stranger on the subject of happiness. Thanks to our lovely friends at Penguin Books, at least £3 from every copy goes to Mind!
Read about types of mental health problems
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Choose one of the options below to find out more.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.