I love photographing Chelsea. She looks like a real life Disney princess, and is a ton of fun to hang out with, so when I found out she had a chronic illness I thought it would be great to have her as part of The Warrior Project. Here is her story in her own words.
"I’m Chelsea, a 23 year old Psychology graduate from Manchester. (Don’t ask me what I’m doing with my degree because I have no idea yet). I love all things cute, cosplaying and my favourite place in the whole world is Disneyland! I have a passion for makeup and I suffer from Ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic condition caused by an inflamed colon and resulting in fun symptoms such as blood or mucus in stool, diarrhoea or constipation and tummy pains. It’s a very similar condition to Crohns 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, as I put it colloquially “my butt don’t work!”
My condition is most commonly diagnosed around the late teens to mid-20’s and I fall quite nicely into this bracket. I first developed symptoms when I was 17 years old and I started college. 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, 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. Unfortunately the condition also caused ‘an accident’ which I still remember clearly, I was mortified and I remember being in floods of tears in a public toilets. (Not my finest hour). This caused me to reach out firstly to my family and then to a doctor. 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.
I was so lucky to see a particular doctor whilst I was studying at University in Sheffield as she didn’t brush me off with the diagnosis of “ibs” as other doctors had said previously. I thoroughly believe in pushing for further investigation if you feel your condition hasn’t properly been looked into. The doctor I saw referred me very quickly to Hallamshire hospital’s gastroenterology department. I had a lot of different scans and eventually a colonoscopy and endoscopy which lead to my current diagnosis.
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 2’s” it’s like my super power. It’s always important to keep a sense of humour. It can sometimes be debilitating to hear people making jokes about bowel illnesses, because poop 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 as candid as possible.
Currently I spend most of my time bloated, looking slightly pregnant. This has resulted in people moving from bus seats for me on multiple occasions. I am still unsure as to whether it is better to take the seat or not. I am a little bit sensitive about showing my stomach because of this. 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. Currently this is a massive fear of mine but I am trying to remain as positive and hopeful for the future as I can. 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 it’s not cake because I don’t want to give up cake).
My experience shooting with Donna was amazing. You are made to feel right at home the moment you arrive for your photoshoot, I felt completely at ease and comfortable. Having a photoshoot in somebody’s home is much less intimidating than in an all-white studio. Even though the photoshoot takes place in a family home Donna is a complete professional and knows just how to direct you in order 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 and know her.
As someone who’s a little bit on the awkward side it’s usually easier for me to be silly than look graceful and serious but somehow Donna managed to show this side of me! I was blown away by the images and I could barely believe that I could look like that. 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! I would encourage everybody who is considering it to have beautiful photos taken by Donna. It’s amazing to feel glamourous even if some days when you’re spending hours on a toilet, you might not feel it."
Not going to lie, reading about Chelseas experience of shooting with me gave me a big lump in my throat, I adore photographing Chelsea and I hope to again and again! Chelseas makeup was done by herself, her dress is by Collectif, and the incredible headpiece in the final photographs is from MyWitchery.