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Elise Christie: 'I self-harmed and hid from cameras because of my depression - it's good to feel like myself again'

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 14/05/2019 Tom Morgan

Elise Christie © Getty Elise Christie A special message from MSN: 

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The only thing that always keeps pace with world-beating speed machine Elise Christie is her honesty. In this goldfish-bowl age for professional sport, Britain’s fastest short-track skater is among growing numbers to suffer mental health problems after being bombarded with vile social media abuse.

Few, however, have been as candid, frank and vulnerable in laying bare the full extent of the damage caused in part by those cowardly keyboard trolls.

On Monday, for example, the 28-year-old tweeted graphic images of her scarred arms in a bid to raise awareness on the first day of mental health awareness week. “I was hoping this could help,” Christie wrote. “I used to carry things to harm around, just in case I felt I couldn’t cope, now I carry my smile, happiness and confidence around.”

Video: Elise Christie crashes out of 1500m (Sky News)

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Last month, she revealed, again on social media, that she had been taking antidepressants for two years. Now off the medication, she tells The Daily Telegraph she finally feels content again.

“I’d been off it about a month and it’s been wobbly and it’s been difficult and it’s been hard, but the day I posted online for the first time was the first day I had actually felt like myself again,” she said. “That was why I did it. I woke up in the morning and just thought I would do a post. I’ve hidden it for so long. I hid away from the cameras for a bit because I was struggling, but I feel good to be back out there.”

Christie, from Livingston, West Lothian, had first spoken out about cyber abuse as long ago as the Winter Olympics in 2014. At the time, she was forced to delete her Twitter account after missing out on medals, having been penalised in her 1,500 metres heat and the 500m final.

The three-time Winter Olympian subsequently developed anxiety and over the following years various personal issues and injury problems led to a bout of depression. In the summer of 2017 she spoke to a psychologist and was prescribed antidepressants.

“I’ve seen a clinical psychologist for about three years,” Christie says. “The anxiety came on earlier and I was put on medication about two years ago. I still see her sometimes now, just to check in. But I’m in such a good place now, it’s nice to be normal.”

In Rotterdam in 2017, Christie became the first British woman to win a speed skating world championship gold medal when she won the 1,500m. She also finished fourth in the 500m before taking a second gold in the 1,000m and bronze in the 3,000m to clinch the overall gold, becoming the first non-Asian to win the women’s overall world title in 23 years.

a man wearing a baseball hat: Christie after falling during the 1,000m race during the 2018 Winter Olympics Credit: Getty Images © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Christie after falling during the 1,000m race during the 2018 Winter Olympics Credit: Getty Images

Yet luck has continued to elude her on the Olympic stage. At the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, she fell in the 500m final and 1,500m semi-finals, then raced with an injured ankle in the 1,000m heats, where she was eventually disqualified.

Having since separated from her boyfriend, Shaolin Sandor Liu, her mental health nosedived. She self-harmed in her lowest moment, “not badly, but I was still doing it because I didn’t know how to cope without it”.

Now back to full health, Christie, who appeared at last month’s BT Sport Industry awards, is targeting medals at Beijing 2022, but admits it has been “hard” since funding for her sport was slashed by UK Sport. “Everyone was in tears when we got the news,” she said. “I got funding and I’m just glad to have something ... anything to help me through to the next Games. It’s helping a few of the team-mates as well but it was tough.”

Christie is now carrying British speed skating’s medal hopes almost single-handedly. “It was so hard to watch everyone’s dreams fall apart in front of them,” she said. “You’ve got everyone working now to support it. It’s tough but we hadn’t done enough to get the funding. It made sense.

a woman looking at the camera: British speed skater Elise Christie at The Orium sports complex in 2017 - Getty Images Europe © Getty Images British speed skater Elise Christie at The Orium sports complex in 2017 - Getty Images Europe

“We’ve only had one skater winning medals for the last six years. You can justify that in terms of team funding and I understood that. We’ll have the world cup in October, but the main thing will be the world championships in March. We’re now doing a new sport called ice derby and that will be in March as well. It’s a professional-type sport, so that will be great.”

Christie is the biggest domestic star in skating and says, unlike other sports, she has encountered little overt sexism. “We have little bickerings between the teams about boys getting better treatment but it is just bickerings,” she said.

“I think things have changed. UK Sport did a great job of coming in a few years back. We used to always get changed in the same changing room. All that was changed about five, six years ago. On the world cup circuit, boys and girls do still change together. In other sports that would be so surprising but we’re just used to it. It’s weird that we don’t see it as an issue, but I honestly don’t know if it is or not.”

a person skiing down a snow covered slope: Christie celebrates winning gold in the 1,000m at the 2017 World Championships © EPA Christie celebrates winning gold in the 1,000m at the 2017 World Championships

Should she finally get an Olympic medal in Beijing, her dream is to open a new short-track facility to attract more numbers to her sport. “We’ve got a national ice centre, which is great, but if you’re not based in Nottingham, it’s difficult,” she said.

“It’s hard to use it if you’re not nearby, it’s difficult and it’s expensive, too. If I win a medal at the next Games, my dream is that we could open a centre somewhere else so there’s a bit more space between that people can go to. Facilities are the key.”

Explore more issues faced by those battling mental health and join our fight for happiness here.​​

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