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'It doesn't matter who you are, we all have a journey to take....' Claud's Story


It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have a journey to take, a life to create and a path to make our own. Being normal is bullshit.

I’m Claud, a 23 year old who loosely defines themselves as an inclusive theatre artist and overall creative human with a passion for advocacy, disability rights, mental health awareness and education.

I’m non-binary which means although I was born with a female anatomy, I do not feel I have a gender defined by my body. I use they/them pronouns as a way of describing my identity as a gender neutral individual. If you are not sure, please ask! Although my name is actually Claudia, I feel Claud more accurately represents who I am.


How does mental health affect me, well, get ready for it!…

  • Fibromyalgia which is a chronic pain condition that affects my body and brain.

  • Hyper mobility (I’m not that bendy I promise!)

  • High functioning Autism spectrum disorder- also called Aspergers Syndrome.

  • OCD

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Deliberate self harm (caused by panic attacks, OCD, depression and anxiety)

  • Bulimic tendencies

My mental health spans right back to when I was about 4 years old.

Always different, always wanting to go it solo and play with puzzles and colouring books rather than stereotypical gendered toys. I would spend a lot of time trying to fit into binary categories but I couldn’t do it... something about me was almost holding that back.

This continued into primary school where I began to be bullied both by students and teachers. I began to get so angry because I couldn’t understand why everybody was being harsh to me. I went to anger management therapy, got kicked out for being to angry (coincidental, right?!) and then began to self harm as a way of coping with my life. This behaviour of self destruction would be hidden, all the way till I was in high school, where again I was bullied. This time even more severely.

Physically and mentally by both students and teachers- saying I would never be good enough to achieve anything in life and that I was a failure who should give up.

But I got through school okay by hiding all my scars and negative thoughts and went to college. College felt strange as I had never really been in an environment where I as accepted, and I didn’t know how to ‘be’ myself. It got to a point where I was sharing voices of my past and the ‘imaginary friends’ I’d made in my head were telling me to end it all. I had previously tried to take my own life a few times but I had always ‘failed’ and my plans were thwarted.

(TRIGGER WARNING)

But things got way too much this time... just before my 17th birthday, I was 16 and attempted suicide. I was found on the top of a car park roof holding onto the ledge behind me.

I was then sent to a mental health hospital and stayed there for 6 months or so.... working out what worked for me as a person, how I could cope with real life out in the big wide world. It was here I discovered creative therapies like art, music and performance... and was hooked from the get go.


I decided to use my newfound abilities and interests for good.

As I began to delve deeper into creative industries, I took a college course in theatre production, achieving the highest grade possible. Just as I was finishing my course at the age of 19 I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. This was a freeing movement for me as if let like I finally had a name for what I had been struggling with all my life. And it felt like I wasn’t just that ‘Crazy Claudia' who everyone didn’t know how to cope being around. I could finally explain why I was the way I was and who I was didn’t have to define me, or make me feel bad about living a life where I could be happy and content to the fullest of my capacity.

I decided to then go on and take a big leap and move from my little town of Worthing in West Sussex up to Central London to study Theatre Technologies.

It was in my second year university that I began to go downhill again. Everything had been working out great, but I just couldn’t cope with life how it was at the time.

(TRIGGER WARNING)

I was on medication which totally knocked me out and made me more anxious. I stopped eating, I overate.....self harmed, became very reclusive and not my sociable and creative self.

It was then picked up by doctors that I also had bulimic tendencies, OCD, depression, anxiety and that I NEVER should have been out on the medication I was on. They also said I was far too complex to receive anymore therapeutic support.

So I came off medication and was left to face life in my own again.

But I knew that I was going to change peoples perceptions, and bite back against those who said I could never achieve anything in my life.


I began to attend mental health and well-being events, meet advocates, write blogs, get creative again and managed to surround myself with honestly the most wonderful, brave, strong and creative people I’ve ever met. I started running too. And I came out as non-binary, finally realising that I CAN be happy being my own person, doing things that I enjoy... and proving people wrong.

So I graduated university with a first class honours Bachelors of Arts degree... but I didn’t stop my education there. I wanted to continue to share my creativity and help others in the process. I enrolled on a year long teacher training course to become a qualified teacher of further education teaching 16+ years everything theatre, creative arts and spreading the message that if you work hard, speak up when you are facing challenges and try your best... you can achieve anything in life.

My head was in a positive place, but my body was not. At the age of 22 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that means my pain receptors don’t communicate from my body to my brain in the stereotypical way. Meaning I feel more pain or get awfully tired after doing simple things. But again, this diagnosis was so freeing, and I don’t let it stop me from achieving.

For me, the best coping mechanism I have is taking risks. This may be an oxymoronic statement in itself, but taking risks is risky…. but also fun. It means I can challenge myself, do something that scares me and be proud of what I have achieved. It could be a massive leap like speaking out when struggling or something as small as going for a quick run... which I’ve just started back again with a fabulous running group that I support and support me too.

One piece of advice to my younger self would be to not worry about what people say about you, and instead go and do what you need to do to survive in this crazy world. There will always be people who don’t understand, but be open to that and available to ask questions.

To my younger self.... you are not a burden, you are not a failure, you are Claud... a creative person who just needs people who believe in your abilities and help shape the best environments, where you can truly be authentic and proud of your identity.


Right now I’m living back in Worthing. I’m 23. I have just graduated from my teaching degree and am now a qualified theatre arts teacher. In September, I’ll be teaching as a sessional lecturer of theatre production at a local college and also taking another educational leap of my own, by enrolling in a masters degree in inclusive arts practice, to further my knowledge and expertise and I'll be facilitating creative arts projects, for both neuro-typical and neuro-diverse individuals, something I’m extremely passionate about!

My dream is that I want to move back to London next year, get a studio apartment, teach students about how performance can be a means of advocacy and be a voice for the voiceless, helping everybody to get creative, and live life to the fullest.



You can read more about Claud on their website.....

https://claudiavannimwegen.wordpress.com/ or on Instagram @claudi.van





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