Photo credit: Martin Holtom
It’s difficult finding a genuine reason to dislike Elise Christie.
Her quirky personality, motivational Instagram posts and relative humbleness despite her immense talent all serve to make the short track speed skater highly endearing.
She is a journalist’s dream too, with her often brutal honesty and willingness to delve into some of sport’s most challenging topics a refreshing change for many.
Nowhere was this more evident than her interview with BBC Sport earlier this week where she revealed the extent to which she has struggled with mental illness.
The 28-year-old has always worn her heart on her sleeve and has never been afraid to show emotion in front of the media, something which has unfortunately been evident at both the Winter Olympics in which she has competed.
In an interview with BBC Sport back in November 2018 she admitted feeling ‘very alone’ after a tumultuous year in which she suffered yet more Olympic heartbreak, saw her long-term coach forced to leave after funding cuts and was dumped by text.
But despite this the extent to which she had been suffering with anxiety and depression for a number of years – having taken antidepressants for two as well as admitting self-harming – still came as a shock to many when she first announced it on social media before opening up to the BBC’s David McDaid in a subsequent interview this week.
So this post might come as a surprise to many, but as a huge supporter in raising awareness of mental health, especially in sport and supporting the forward movement of being able to talk more openly, there’s something I feel that’s important to share. During the… pic.twitter.com/eSePgGcFyA
— Elise christie (@Elise_Christie) 25 April 2019
Not that it is inherently surprising though given everything she’s had to deal with over the last few years.
Following last year’s Winter Olympics I penned a piece for SportSpiel in which I asked the question of whether we have forgotten that Christie is simply a human being with feelings, the same as the rest of us.
The pressure she faced going into both Sochi and Pyeongchang was unparalleled for a British winter sport athlete as the media, the fans, UK Sport and Christie herself all expected the triple world champion to walk away with gold medals.
Very few, if any, Winter OIympians from this country have ever had to deal with anything like this.
As a result when she was unable to deliver on what we expected, the scrutiny was harsh, sometimes unjustly so, from some corners of the media as well as the general public.
She has even had to deal with death threats on social media.
Of course Christie is in a profession where she is much more likely to experience this than the vast majority of us but combine all of the above factors and it’s no wonder that they took their toll on her.
What was very apparent from her interview with McDaid though was that she wasn’t looking for sympathy or anything similar; instead she wanted to share two empowering messages.
The first was that it’s ok to suffer from mental illness, that it’s nothing to be shamed about.
The second was that it is also possible to come out the other side, that there is always hope.
Speaking to McDaid, the Livingston-born athlete said: “I want to show people it’s OK to feel that way and that it’s OK to use medication.
“Depression is an illness, not just sadness, and I want people to think it is OK to speak about it.”
Whether you’re a fan of Christie or not, it is difficult to not admire her for being so open in speaking about something so personal to her.
She could have kept all of this to herself and very few of us would have been any the wiser.
But instead she chose to bare her soul and add her voice to a growing number of athletes – including Remi Allen and Laura Gallagher – who want to help grow the awareness and understanding of mental health not just in sport, but in society.
“I just ended up broken, but I wanted to show that it’s okay to feel like that and to need medication.”
Well done for speaking out, Elise Christie. ❤ pic.twitter.com/4ZXijcLOjY
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) 30 April 2019
Her comments on self-harm are particularly noteworthy as this is an element of mental illness that still very few people are willing to talk about and continues to have a huge stigma.
In her interview with McDaid, she admitted: “At my lowest moment I did self-harm – not badly, but I was still doing it because I didn’t know how to cope without it.
“Because you have a physical pain, I guess it just takes away the emotional pain. I would never have shared that, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know.
“And that’s the point: you can get to these points and you can get out of it – because I have.”
The fact that Christie has already gone through so much in her career and is still touted as one of the best short track skaters in the world is testament not only to her sheer talent but also to the way she approaches her sport.
Even after the awful experience at Pyeongchang last year her focus immediately turned to trying to rectify the situation in Beijing at the next Games, focusing on the positives rather than the negatives.
And despite having missed a large chunk of the off season injured she still managed to surprise herself by winning silver and bronze medals at the recent European Championships.
Not that any of us following her progress were surprised though. The reason why?
Because Christie is one of life’s serial winners.