Everything was looking good for the teenage Eleanor Segall. She enjoyed a good social life, was growing in confidence, enjoyed taking part in drama classes at school, had had a great time camping with her youth group and had even met a boy.
“Life seemed exciting and I was more carefree,” she says.
But then everything changed. She began feeling unwell, depressed and anxious, and although she managed to still achieve excellent GCSE results, her mental health worsened.
While away that summer on an Israel tour, she experienced an episode of hypomania, causing her to act erratically and out of character.
A short while later, Segall’s thoughts became muddled, she suffered extreme panic attacks and experienced delusions that men were abusing her and her father.
Aged just 16, she received a diagnosis – bipolar affective disorder type 1, a mental health condition that mainly affects a person’s mood.
Her father had been diagnosed with the same condition four years previously, having lived with it for around 10 years.
Struggling to accept the news, the Immanuel College student says she felt like a “freak” and reveals she was bullied over having a mental illness.
Experiencing years of “shame” over her condition, today Segall is a successful blogger, journalist and mental health campaigner and has just published Bring Me To Light: Embracing My Bipolar and Social Anxiety, which details her journey and aims to help others in a similar situation.
“This book is for the 16-year-old me inside, reaching out to teenagers and adults who may be feeling shocked by a diagnosis, newly out of hospital or with nowhere to turn,” she affirms.
“I want my story to provide a form of hope – that even if you are sectioned or have psychosis (losing touch with reality), you can get better and achieve again.
“When I left hospital in 2014, I knew I wanted to use my experiences to help people. I have always written, so writing my story felt like a natural progression.”
At the age of 25, Segall was sectioned for four months, having experienced a terrible depressive episode, during which she had suicidal thoughts.
She would cry constantly and believed family members were trying to harm her.
Affected by her medication, Segall has since stabilised her condition with Lithium carbonate, anti-psychotic medication and antidepressants.
She has not had a serious bipolar episode, although she does still live with anxiety disorder and panic attacks.
In spite of her daily experiences, Segall was adamant she would continue to achieve. The former Immanuel College student worked hard, fitting in school work even while recovering from illness in The Priory, and gained a degree in English literature and drama, as well as a master’s in drama education.
“I am quite a driven person and always wanted to achieve despite being unwell,” she explains. “Getting to university after being ill as a teenager was a big dream.
“As I was diagnosed so young, it gave me that fire to prove people wrong; to prove that I could achieve things despite it and, now, reach goals by talking about it and hopefully help people who also have bipolar or mental illness.”
She credits her family and friends for their help too: “My positivity partly comes from the amazing support from my friends and family who see Ellie behind the illness and encourage me to reach my dreams.”
Aside from taking medication and attending regular therapy sessions, Segall makes sure she gets enough sleep, avoids alcohol and schedules in breaks.
“If I get tired, my mental health can get worse. I also try to eat nutritious food and go for walks when I am able, but sometimes this is hard with the anxiety. I am still very much a work in progress,” she says.
Segall, who got married earlier this year, feels there is a long way to go to break through the stigma of mental health in the wider community, never mind the Jewish one.
The Edgware United Synagogue member, who says she finds comfort in religion, explains: “In the Jewish community, we sadly have even longer to go due to some very insular communities not accepting mental health issues.
“For example, marriage prospects can be harmed in the more Charedi communities if they know you or a sibling has mental health issues, but there is stigma in all parts of our community.”
But she adds that the efforts of charities such as Jami and the Mental Health Shabbat, with which she has volunteered, are helping to change things.
Segall says she felt “shame” over her illness in the past, but is far more accepting of her condition today.
She explains: “As I have grown older, I have realised my illness is just that – an illness.
I shouldn’t be ashamed – it’s just like having a broken bone, only we see it more because it affects personality and behaviour.”
It hasn’t always been easy to share her experiences, but she believes speaking frankly about her condition is the only way to break the stigma of mental illness.
“It is painful and personal,” she admits. “But through talking openly about my bipolar and being accepted, the shame has lessened, and I hope it will do the same for others too.”
- Bring Me To Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety by Eleanor Segall is published by Trigger, priced at £9.99. Eleanor blogs at www.beurownlight.com