Updated: Apr 2, 2021
This week's courageous interview comes from Charlotte. Charl and I went to school together, we were in different year groups and didn't have much to say to one another back then. These days, Charl is a dear friend, yet I had no idea of the struggles she's been facing over the years I've known her. Here, she opens up about her life with depression, anxiety and binge alcoholism.
In her own words:
Hi, I’m Charl.
27 years old, slight tattoo obsession, and just about to start up into property development.
I've decided to tell my story as part of my own recovery, and to hopefully help others understand mental health a little from a different perspective.
So here goes... (the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done - but also so, so liberating.)
1. Hey Charl, how are you?
Hi Jemima. I’m pretty good thank you.
2. How are you really?
Being honest, there are demons for sure. And you know, I’m having a good day today so they’re having a day off. But who knows if they’ll get their 50p put in them and surface again in the next 10 minutes, hours or days.
3. What made you reach out to share your experiences through this interview?
I reached out to tell my story. In a way, I'm hoping finally getting this out there is going to help me in some way and in the process may help others. I have suffered for a very long time without successfully understanding what is going on and I believe I’m on a journey of discovery now.
4. How young were you when you first experienced mental health issues?
I was first diagnosed at 18, but I have now realised that it all started much younger than that. I was in a rebellion phase from 13 after being diagnosed and treated for a cancerous tumour on my pancreas. I guess I was angry, confused and didn’t really know how to deal with the situation at the time. I turned to alcohol at 13, leading me to “binge alcoholism” from this age which has continued through my life alongside the depression.
5. What are your mental health diagnoses?
I was initially diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety at 18, but received no help at this point, and I guess I was in denial. I wanted to be the strong person people saw on the outside and overcome it myself. I was then diagnosed again with a severe depressive disorder at 26, and categorised as a binge alcoholic.
6. For anyone who has never experienced a severe depressive disorder, how would you describe it?
If you asked me this question a couple of months ago, I would not have been able to answer this. When you’re in the throws of it, it is so difficult to categorise what is happening – it’s just hell. It has only been since august this year that I have been able to really answer this question. Basically, you become the best poker player in the world with your feelings. Your cards are kept close to your chest and no one can see into the blackness inside, but it is not usually a conscious decision. I wanted so desperately to be fine – fine does not mean fine – it means “fucked up, insecure, neurotic, emotionally unstable”! So I guess I actually WAS fine! It engulfs every part of your being and your life. No matter what you do you just keep getting dragged further into the deepest darkest tunnel, and when you’re alone there in your bubble, when you’re not pretending, hiding or putting on your poker face, the depression hugs you and tells you that this is where you belong. It is the loneliest feeling in the world, as depression seems to push every single person away from you when you need them the most. Nothing seems worth living for. No one is around to miss you anymore, so why would you want to still be here, existing.
7. With them starting at around the same time, would you say the binge alcoholism links to the depressive disorder in some way?
YES 100%! I used alcohol to escape, chasing that feeling of normal, happiness and having fun. I do not “need” a drink like what you would initially think of an alcoholic being, but when I want to escape I immediately pick up that bottle and binge.
8. Have you found any ways of managing binge alcoholism over the years?
To be absolutely honest, no. I am still working on this. Little steps. I have got myself involved in AA, reading books and talking to people with similar experiences. The little achievements of having a glass of wine when I go out for dinner and not two bottles, one or two pints at the pub on a Sunday afternoon instead of having to crawl out at closing time, or just saying no are what’s keeping me going right now. And although binging happens still at the moment, albeit much less regularly, it’s a long winding road I have got myself on, and I am determined to overcome it.
9. If you're experiencing a period of depression, what can someone else do to help you through that time?
Over the years people have tried to help me, talk to me about it, and try to tell me what I need to do. For me this has not been helpful and has actually made it worse. The best support for me when I’m suffering is to be reassured that someone is there when I’m ready, but not try to give me advice or help unless I ask for it, and don’t treat me like a diseased person, constantly asking if I’m ok or how I am feeling. Just knowing I have someone I can talk to if I ever need to or want to is enough for me. And this can sometimes spur me on to pull myself together and get out of the darkness.
10. Do you have any coping mechanisms you use to help yourself through a period of depression?
I am working on coping mechanisms. The best I have found so far, which has helped me through the last few months, is starting to write myself a book. I’ve always struggled with what caused how I feel and how I’ve ended up where I am right now, and the book has helped me put it into context a little. It's not finished but it’s a start, and I won’t push myself to write if I’m not feeling it. Also, the little things daily. Even if I have no where to be or go, I get up, make my bed, brush my teeth and maybe even just change into another set of pjs. Each of those is an achievement when I’m in a period of deep depression, and slowly but surely starts to improve my mood.
11. Do you think it's important that people try to understand mental health issues even if they've never struggled with them themselves?
I think it is the most important thing. Everyone is affected by mental health issues whether it is personal or someone close. Everyone can make a difference just by having the smallest understanding of what they can do to support.
12. How does anxiety impact your life?
My anxiety goes hand in hand with my depression and tends to make the fall into darkness more rapid and self-destructive. I struggle to sleep, over think everything, even to the smallest thing of not brushing my teeth and I'll go over and over it in my head of how worthless I am. I need to do it but “ahh fuck it can’t be arsed, what’s the point?”
13. What is the best thing someone else can do for you if you're struggling with anxiety?
For me, it would be similar to my depression. Do not tell me I shouldn’t be worrying. Do not tell me that my worries are unrealistic and stupid. They’re very real to me. Just be there to support me when I need it. I am a very spontaneous person now. I have managed to deal with anxiety much more than the depression, so if I want to up and go somewhere by myself, not talk to anyone in person or reply to any messages or answer phone calls, then let me be. I am doing it for myself. I create a productive bubble around myself and have a day to day plan of what I want to do. It does not include anyone else so I will shut off, and when I’m ready I’ll be back out of it and into the normal world. The best thing anyone can do for me is wait for me to come out of that myself, and in the end it will make me stronger mentally knowing each time I have achieved it myself even if it is the littlest of achievements. It is still one step forward.
14. Have you learnt anything about yourself through your diagnoses?
The biggest thing I have learnt is that no matter what strength people see on the outside, only you will know and truly understand your weaknesses. You need to know yourself, accept yourself, and love yourself to really be happy in the world. You feel a million times lonelier in the company of people who do not accept you, but for someone else to accept you for who you really are, you have to understand every fibre of your own being first. And ultimately, you are not failing when you are struggling. You may just be more in tune with your inner being than some people, and that is a strong thing for you to allow your brain to do. It will make you so much stronger and resilient in the long run.
15. What is your biggest personal goal for your mental health?
Find peace and happiness with myself. I can only imagine it is the most liberating feeling in the world.
16. If someone is reading this today and can relate to something you've experienced but has not yet reached out for help, what would you like to say to them?
Reach out when you are ready, do not force anything if it is not the right time as for me this did not help. Be as decisive as you can and tell people you need them to listen without judgement. Have a plan, no matter how crazy and unrealistic it may seem at that time. If you have a plan and tell someone, it is a goal and no matter how much progress you make daily (it took me two months to see any traction) when you eventually get there, you’ll look back and realise it was the biggest achievement of your life. Most importantly – there is no right or wrong, no definitive time scale! You do you!
17. Can you tell me how it feels for you to struggle with binge alcoholism?
I feel ashamed. I hate the fact that I have that label but I have to accept it and move forward. It really shocked me to be diagnosed with that, but certainly has put into perspective where my life could have been heading if I wasn’t aware of it and has kicked me into doing something about it. Ultimately it is a continuous battle, consciously having to think about not having that next drink because it will just spiral out of control. I wish I could be like other people. I envy people who can, without even thinking, say no to a drink. I have to consciously remind myself of what I am and that it is for the greater good.
18. Is there anything anyone else can do to make the binge alcoholism easier for you to control?
Over the last few months the hardest part was being asked if I’m going to be drinking or making it a big deal for me if I was going to have one or not. The judgemental stares/comments burnt holes in my body. Just be normal around me. I will become stronger having the fight in my own head and achieving gold.
19. What do you hope people take away from reading your story?
A little understanding from a different perspective. If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it is that everyone’s experience, coping mechanisms and way of getting to where they need to be is very different. No two people suffering with mental health are the same, and the stories behind it are all vastly different. Just be there, lend your ear without judgement or thinking you understand because 99% of the time you probably don’t fully, but you can start to understand how best you can help someone achieve their goal just by standing behind them, being the support pillar for them to fall back on if they need it.
20. How are you feeling after answering these questions today?
I feel good. Relieved. It feels like a weight off my shoulders. Every time I talk about it, it's like a little more weight lifts and I hope this helps others, even if it's just one person it will be worth it. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this.
Thank you so much Charl for answering these questions so openly and informatively today. I have no doubt that this will help people to understand because reading your story has educated me on something I had very little knowledge about. You're wonderful, and I'm so grateful to you for being a part of this project.
If you're struggling with any of the issues spoken about in this interview today, please REACH OUT for help. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or head to the 'SUPPORT' page on this website for useful contacts. You are important.
To share your own story in a future blog, please get in touch via my social media @jemima_unspoken, or send me a message through the 'contact' page on this site.