The Warrior Project: Portrait of Chelsea
by Northern Life
Lancashire photographer Donna Craddock loves to capture the perfection in everyone from behind her lens. Her warrior project is a series of stunning shoots featuring people with a physical or mental illness or disability. In this issue, we meet our next incredible warrior Chelsea Hall…
Chelsea Hall, 28, emerges from Donna’s lens as a self-assured young woman with an unmistakable presence. Having participated in numerous photoshoots with Donna, Chelsea exudes confidence and ease in front of the camera, a far cry from the challenges she’s faced.
A decade ago, Donna and Chelsea’s paths converged when Donna was actively seeking participants for her Warrior Project. At that time, Chelsea from Manchester was just 18 and had recently been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Modelling became an avenue to express her identity and confront the misconceptions surrounding her condition.
“Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition caused by an inflamed colon and results in symptoms such as blood or mucus in stool, diarrhoea or constipation and stomach pains,” she explains. “It’s a very similar condition to Crohn’s disease. The two just take place in different parts of the bowel. Ulcerative colitis is just the ugly sister that nobody seems to know about. There are also many secondary symptoms, including chronic fatigue, achy joints and a high temperature. So basically, ‘my butt doesn’t work!’
“Ulcerative colitis is just the ugly sister that nobody seems to know about.”
“I spend most of my time bloated, looking slightly pregnant; this has often resulted in people giving up their seats for me on buses!” She giggles. “A lot of foods set off my bowel problems and cause me to either bloat or cause stomach spasms, I’m still working on figuring out which foods cause what. (Fingers crossed that it’s not cake because I don’t want to give up cake!).”
Chelsea has also realised that the condition doesn’t just cause stomach issues; the brain fog and tiredness she experiences are also connected.
She first developed symptoms eleven years ago, when she was just 17 and in college. Whilst other teenagers were navigating first loves and A-levels, she attempted to juggle hormones and busy student life while keeping her stomach issues under wraps.
“My condition is most commonly diagnosed around the late teens to mid-20s, and I fall quite nicely into this bracket. Stress aggravates the condition and causes flare-ups. It commonly shows itself during times of great stress, and for me, this happened to be around the time of my A-levels. This continues to be a reoccurring theme throughout my life, and any amount of stress tends to see me running for the nearest toilet. I also suffer from an anxiety disorder which makes this an interesting mix. The condition impacted me greatly back then. There would be many days I couldn’t leave the house for fear of being too far away from a toilet. I was exhausted and embarrassed; I was too ashamed to tell anybody and tried to manage as best as I could on my own.”
The condition came to a head when she was caught out away from a toilet. “I still remember it clearly; I was mortified, and I remember being in floods of tears in a public toilet. (Not my finest hour).”
Her final year of college proved to be a daunting experience as she grappled with her condition in isolation. While most young adults navigated the transition to university life, her health challenges magnified her struggle.
“Her final year of college proved to be a daunting experience as she grappled with her condition in isolation.”
“I missed out on so much of my first year of university through fear of leaving my room and struggled to socialise because of it. A fully-fledged flare-up is not a pretty sight. There are tears, sweat and a lot of stomach spasms. Think hard-core period cramps mixed with the flu.”
Whilst studying psychology at the University of Sheffield, Chelsea found the courage to confide in her family, who then pushed her to see a doctor. At the same time, many medical professionals brushed her off with a diagnosis of IBS.
“I thoroughly believe in pushing for further investigation if you feel your condition hasn’t properly been looked into,” she explains. And she was right to push for further tests. “The doctor I finally saw referred me quickly to the hospital’s gastroenterology department. I had a lot of different scans and eventually a colonoscopy and endoscopy, which led to my current diagnosis.”
The most challenging thing for Chelsea is knowing the condition will be with her for the rest of her life. “My condition has periods of remission where all symptoms are easily managed by my medication. If my condition worsens as I get older, there is a chance that I will need to have part of my bowel removed and a colostomy bag fitted. This is a massive fear of mine, but I am trying to remain as positive and hopeful for the future as possible.
“One positive of having ulcerative colitis, however, is that I am never embarrassed by any toilet talk. It’s near impossible to make me cringe talking about number twos; it’s like my superpower. It’s always important to keep a sense of humour. It can sometimes be debilitating to hear people joke about bowel illnesses because poo is funny. But without treatment, people can die. I try to keep a positive outlook and take charge of how people see me and my illness by being open in conversation and candid as possible.”
Working on the project with Donna made her feel glamorous at a point in her life when she struggled to manage her condition.
“My experience shooting with Donna was amazing. You are made to feel right at home when you arrive for your photoshoot. I felt completely at ease and comfortable. Donna is a complete professional and knows how to direct you to get the best possible poses. The conversation is always flowing, and there is no shortage of laughs (which no doubt makes for good pictures). Donna is the kindest of souls, and I feel so lucky to have met her.
“I was so excited to show them to my mum, as I have so many pictures of myself which as less than sophisticated and she loved them too! It’s amazing to feel glamorous, even if you spend hours on a toilet; you might not feel it!”
Images courtesy of https://www.clickclickbang.co.uk/
NorthernLife Sept/Oct 23