TV presenter Christoulla Boodram thought her erratic behaviour would deny her a happy life. But when she embraced her faith, the whole world grew brighter
Where had this sinister voice in my mind come from? It would make me do strange things and tell me that if I didn’t “obey” its command, my loved ones would die. I would hear it while picking up other people’s rubbish in the street. If I walked past a billboard, it would order me to go back to the billboard and read every single word on it... or else! I was a puppet, doing things that didn’t make any sense, but I was terrified that if I didn’t do them I would cause the death of someone I loved. This was just one of the many things I had to deal with during my seven-year battle with mental health issues.
My early life had been great. My parents told me they loved me every day and I wanted for nothing. But I was very quiet as a child and liked my own company. My sister, on the other hand, was funny and outgoing, and I often wished I could be like her, but I was very shy and insecure. At around 16, I developed a phobia of death that brought on anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
A lot of people develop issues because of some sort of trauma they go through. But I had it all, a great family, a nice house, financial stability, a good education – there was no apparent reason for me to have these kinds of problems. But depression isn’t fussy – anyone will do.
I will never forget my first panic attack. I was left dazed and trembling uncontrollably. I developed so many complexes that I hated the way I looked
I will never forget the day I had my first panic attack. Only someone who’s had one knows how terrifying it is. I was left dazed and trembling uncontrollably. I developed so many complexes after that and, at one point, gained a lot of weight and hated the way I looked.
My poor parents tried to help me as best they could. They took me to my GP, who said I was too young to take anti-depressants, so I was referred for counselling instead. After a few sessions, I asked my counsellor: “What do I do to get better?” He replied: “I’m just here to listen, not to tell you what to do.” I didn’t see the point in continuing, so I lied and said I was better so I wouldn’t have to see him anymore. I felt so let down.
I threw myself into excessive weight-training. The weight I had previously gained just dropped off.
I had achieved the body I’d always dreamed of and I was so fit and strong that a coach approached me and asked if I wanted to train professionally. But inside, I was the same depressed, insecure, person.
One of my worst moments was when I had a terrible panic attack and burst into the living room where my parents were watching television. I ran straight into my father’s arms, shaking and sobbing. All my poor dad could do was hold me. He sighed and said: “I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to help you.” His voice was so sad, so desperate. In my mind I was thinking: “If my own dad, who has always been there with the best advice, who always knows what to do, who has always protected me, can’t help, then I’m done for.”
I knew I was hurting my family, and though I loved them so much, I withdrew emotionally. I became distant. I didn’t want to cause them any more pain.
I went through college and university and I didn’t tell anyone about my issues apart from a close friend. I was so afraid of being judged, or of people not wanting to be around me. I saw my issues like some sort of disease that would make people run away from me. I used to look at other people and actually be jealous that they would be smiling and laughing – yet my smiles were fake. Inside I was a mess.
When my friend told me her brother (who was twice my age) was in love with me, wanted to marry me and would treat me like a princess, I was actually quite tempted. I wasn’t attracted to him, but I thought that perhaps if I got married and had kids it would ease the depression as my focus would be elsewhere – on a husband and children. That’s how desperate I was to feel better. Thankfully, my sister made me see sense and I turned him down.
I met my husband, Michael, at university. We were friends for a couple of years before I started developing feelings for him. Our relationship, however, became a combination of obsessive behaviour, arguments and eventually physical fights – all caused by me. Because I felt a little better when I was with him, I latched on to him and was extremely needy.
It was like I depended on him for a little bit of happiness, where I had tiny glimmers of feeling “normal”. But I didn’t realise how destructive I was. I was very jealous and wanted his full attention. It’s like I didn’t value myself whatsoever and would go to any lengths to get his affection.
But despite all the fighting, we loved each other and I moved in with him and his family. Things got even worse and we would sometimes be up until the early hours arguing and fighting with no regard for his mum, brother or neighbours who could hear us. After having a fight, we would sometimes cry in each other’s arms as we couldn’t understand why we were hurting each other so much.
Despite having tried so many things to recover, and failing, I didn’t lose hope because something deep inside was telling me that life wasn’t supposed to be this way – that I was meant to be happy. I didn’t give up. Even though there were times where I thought I’d lose my mind completely, I somehow held on until the day I discovered faith in God.
I learned how to fight my problems and not give into them. I was no longer going to be pushed around by depression, panic attacks, or that voice inside my head
I came across the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) Help Centre and it was truly a lifeline for me. I was never a religious person and certainly not interested in going to church, but this place was different and I had nothing to lose. I walked into the Centre in Brixton for the first time, still shaking from a panic attack the night before, and was made to feel at home immediately. The person I spoke to seemed to understand me completely, and the best part of it was that he believed my life could be different, that I could be happy one day, and that I would learn all the tools to get there. That meant so much to me because it was the first time someone had spoken to me with so much conviction that things could get better.
Combining the practical and motivational advice with the spiritual help was a winning formula for me. I learned how to fight my problems and not give into them. I was no longer going to be pushed around by depression, panic attacks, or that voice in my head. Week by week, I started getting better. Unbelievably, since that first visit, I’ve never had a panic attack again. Within a few months, the depression had completely lifted, and of course that had an impact on my relationship. I now valued myself and wasn’t the needy, obsessive woman that Michael once knew. We learned to communicate properly. We now have a beautiful relationship. He’s my best friend and I couldn’t have asked for a better husband.
Gaining confidence and overcoming my shyness was a bit of an uphill struggle for me. But when I was offered my own TV show – The Chrissy B Show – to help others with mental health issues, I couldn’t say no. I can’t say that I love the TV world, but what I do love is helping people, and a TV platform allows me to reach lots of people. What drives me is my passion to help others not be afraid to open up and get the help they need. Mental health issues can feel so terribly lonely. I don’t want anyone to suffer in silence or be stigmatised in any way. There is help out there. There is a happy life waiting for anyone who dares to look depression in the face and say, “No more!”
Christoulla has a life-long battle with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Despite a happy childhood, she struggles with her own self-confidence and valuing herself. She finds relationships difficult and often feels isolated. She struggles to find the right treatment that will work for her. When she connects, through her faith, with someone who listens without judgement, she gains the confidence to overcome her illness. She discovers how to deal with her problems effectively and live her life to the fullest.