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!