My name is Charlotte. I am 28 years old and I have an eating disorder.
I have struggled with an eating disorder for half of my life, and it is something that I always try to hide from others. Why? That’s a good question. Fear of judgement? To avoid difficult questions? The assumption that people won’t understand?
All of the above.
Past experience taught me that lived experience of mental illness was generally seen as a bad thing by people, including by employers. But luckily this stigma doesn’t lie with everyone.
Hannah and the Cherished team have encouraged and empowered me to start telling my story and putting my lived experience to good use. As a result, I now deliver eating disorder training to Cherished volunteers. I also delivered it as part of the recent Girl Alert programme that ran throughout the Summer – providing professionals, anxious parents and concerned teachers with information and support around the
most common issues currently facing young girls. I wrote the workshop myself and continue to adapt and develop it as new research is published, and I receive feedback from those who attend the workshops.
I have a 1st class honours degree in Child & Adolescent Mental Health, I have attended multiple mental health workshops, and I currently work as a counsellor for Childline, but it is my personal experience of living with an eating disorder that provides me with the invaluable knowledge and skills that means I can bring something different to Cherished.
There are times when my eating disorder takes me to some very dark places, but now at least I can hold onto the fact that the difficult experiences I have in life, I can use to bring benefits to others in the future. I still find it tough to say the words ‘I have an eating disorder’ without feeling the urge to retreat into myself. An eating disorder is a deadly beast of an illness, however being a part of Cherished is helping me to slowly but surely begin to put words to my experiences, to make an effort to take control of my story and to use it constructively.
More organisations need to follow Cherished’s lead. People can either see lived experiences as liabilities, or as someone’s greatest asset. And if more organisations adopt the latter approach, both the individual, as well as the whole organisation, will feel the benefits.
Cherished saw something in me that I didn’t; they recognised my strengths and the potential I had. Hannah and the team are helping me begin to realise the value of what I have to offer and build my self-esteem.
I hope that what I feel used to be my biggest shame will one day be my greatest asset. I want to use my lived experience to increase understanding around mental health, break stereotypes and take the taboo out of something that – like physical health – affects us all. I want to continue using my story to teach and to inspire others, and build a business around it – something that Cherished has allowed me to believe might be possible.
Cherished – thank you for your continued support, thank you for believing in me, and thank you for placing me in an ideal position to educate others about eating disorders, and contribute towards de-stigmatising the issue of mental health.
I am so proud to be a part of the team.