Health Stories and Interviews

Your Stories: How living with chronic illness has impacted my mental health

Seren Kiremitcioglu guest blogs for Joel vs Arthritis to share her story of how living with chronic illness has impacted her mental health

Guest post written by: Seren Kiremitcioglu


My experience with mental health came long before my chronic illness diagnosis.

Early beginnings

At the age of nine, I developed severe clinical depression and anxiety. Rather than monsters under the bed, my head was battling with entirely different demons. My teenage years were wrought with habitual self-harm that I hid beneath my sleeves, and a constant presence of suicidal ideation.

When my chronic illness waded in, triggering a wide range of lifelong conditions, I should have been prepared for the mental onslaught. But it hit me like a brick in the face.

The day I was diagnosed with EGPA Vasculitis, I was elated. For so long I had lived confused and undiagnosed with so many random and episodical symptoms. I joked with my then-boyfriend, Charlie, about the long name, Eosinophilic Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, and laughed at how the prescription would have me rattling like a pill bottle. It was only a few hours later that I crashed.

The crash

As I looked at the long stretch of recovery and the permanency of disability ahead of me, clinging onto hope felt futile. I knew that day that any hope for getting better was now quashed, like breath to a flame. My life had changed irrevocably – for what I thought to be the worst – and the feeling of devastation drowned out any joy I felt at finally having the answer to what was causing my severe illness.

The medicine quickly overwhelmed me. My weight ballooned with the steroids I took to recover, but because I was still so unwell while taking them, my muscle tone completely disappeared. This made walking an agonising experience, and I remember having to crawl up my staircase on one occasion.

With lung involvement being the epicentre of my illness, stabbing pains across my chest were a regular feature, like an internal firework show. Everything I could once do with the kind of ease only a teenager knows, I could no longer do at all. My love for sailing was compartmentalised, collecting dust with the wetsuit I haven’t fit in since being treated with steroids. My energy and lust for life evaporated.

Who am I?

But out of everything, the hardest part was that I didn’t even recognise who I was or who I’d become.

I resented this new version of myself; all I could think of is how much I’d changed for the worst. My fat body repulsed me, and I tortured myself over my inability to carry out daily tasks. As the old Seren floated far into the distance, I sank deep into depression and anxiety.

I didn’t like myself – I couldn’t face who I’d become. My anxiety took over when I left the house as I was so anxious about what people would think of my sudden weight gain. Each time I struggled with a daily task, I would ruminate over how futile everything felt, which only gave my depression more power. I berated myself for being a university student that couldn’t drink alcohol and couldn’t stay awake past 10pm – unless I had bouts of insomnia – in which case I would lie awake, tears of hopelessness streaming down my face. I couldn’t walk up the stairs, couldn’t breathe right. Couldn’t look in the mirror, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s when I realised what I was doing – defining myself by what I couldn’t do, rather than focussing on what I could.

Time to change

Your Stories: How living with chronic illness has impacted my mental health - Joel vs Arthritis

My illness had cast a cloud over my life, but it was up to me to change the narrative. Okay, I couldn’t do a lot of the things I used to do without a second thought. But I could still love with a huge heart, still complete my degree (despite the hospitalisations, operations and procedures), still enjoy various things I love such as reading and writing.

As I poured my energy into reading and writing, it clicked just how powerful words could be in day to day life. Instead of feeling embarrassed that I “couldn’t” drink, I decided to feel empowered that I “could” make the informed decision to be teetotal.

This made me start thinking of the things I could do post-illness that I’d never been able to before.

Before Vasculitis, I found it impossible to put my mental health above the demands of those who took so much from me mentally. Now that my health is the priority, I feel the power to establish boundaries and put myself first – something which I’d found impossible until the age of 22. What my mental illness had initially taken from me in terms of self-esteem and self-care, my chronic illness gave back. I never thought I’d have that power, so for my illnesses, I am grateful.


Seren Kiremitcioglu

Seren is a freelance writer passionate about mental health and disability advocacy. In her spare time, she is a Shout Volunteer, Time to Change Champion, and MA Creative Writing student. You can read more from Seren, here: www.serenkiremitcioglu.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter @serenkwriter.

1 comment

  1. thank you for sharing your story Seren. So powerful to be able to reframe the situation into what you COULD do – something I could learn from on my difficult days for sure. x

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