'My depression first came on in the middle of Holby when I was happiest so it doesn't always relate to what's going on in your life'
Ex-Holby City actress and Strictly Come Dancing contestant Chizzy Akudolu tells Gabrielle Fagan about her mental health and fitness struggles
Chizzy Akudolu is putting a characteristically brave face on, but the former Holby City star, whose bubbly, positive personality won over the public when she competed on Strictly Come Dancing last year, is currently battling with depression.
"The 'black dog' of depression has come back. It's come out of the blue - there's no apparent reason for it. I guess it is what it is... it comes to stay and there's nothing I can do about it until it leaves," says Chizzy, who revealed her struggle with the condition last summer just after she quit her role as heart surgeon Mo Effanga on the hospital drama.
The actress first experienced depression in 2014, but she used her TV role of jokey, bubbly Mo as a "mask" to conceal what she was going through for more than a year.
This time she's tweeted the news that she's suffering again to her 40,000 followers on the internet.
"I understand people might be shocked that I have (depression) because I'm naturally a very happy person, just as I appear," Chizzy says. "I don't put that on, but every now and then I have this thing - depression - which makes me less happy.
"By being open about it, I hope I help people realise that they're not alone in going through this. My depression first came on in the middle of Holby, when I was at my happiest, so it doesn't always relate to what's going in your life. I worked and carried on throughout, but it was tough.
"This time around, I'd had a lovely time the day before my depression came back, meeting up with my old co-star Ben Hull (obstetrician Mr T) and reminiscing about old times. Then, bang, I woke up the next day and it was there. But there is help out there and I'm having therapy."
It's all part of the effort the 44-year-old will put in this year to work on herself and her fitness - partly triggered by Strictly. Chizzy, who danced with Pasha Kovalev, won admiration for her upfront honesty when she had to adjust her hair weave during an energetic foxtrot, proclaiming, "Sorry to all the black women watching", but she was voted off in the first round.
It dashed her dream of losing weight on the show and "transforming her body".
"I'm not going to lie, I'm still sad that I couldn't go further on the show," she says. "It was a massive confidence boost that they chose me and it felt like, 'Ooh, I'm playing with the big boys now'. I was having an amazing time and hoped to lose loads of weight, but I was unlucky - I injured my knee before the first live show and ended up on crutches. I had to have my knee strapped while I danced. That didn't help.
"I made a resolution, though, while on the show to really work on my fitness when I came out. Feeling out of breath when I danced made me realise how much I need to change, otherwise the older I get, the harder it will become. I used to do karate and work out, but I've let it all slip."
She feels empathy for others trying to lose weight. "I lost half a stone on Strictly, but I've put it back on," Chizzy says. "It's such a vicious circle when you're overweight, because it's so hard to lose it. You just think, 'What's the point?' and end up eating the wrong stuff. For me, it's takeaways and crisps.
"Then you feel bad for letting yourself down, which hits your self-esteem. I don't even want to get slim, I'd just like a powerful body, like tennis player Serena Williams."
The insecure life of an actor, she adds, can play a part in triggering stress and undermining her dieting efforts, but despite that she rules out a permanent return to Holby City.
"I miss it and think I'd like to go back for one or two episodes, but going back full-time isn't right for me now," the actress says. "It would be the safe thing to do, but I need to take a few risks to further my career."
Prior to joining Holby City in May 2012, Chizzy starred on both screen and stage with notable appearances in EastEnders, Green Wing, The Inbetweeners and a semi-regular role on Channel 4's Campus.
Recently, it was revealed that she was married to Henry Anang, who alleged she'd put her career before their marriage, leading to their break-up in 2000.
"I was shocked he talked about me and, to be honest, I don't want to give him any more air time. That was something in the past," says Chizzy. "I don't think my career has stopped me from being with somebody - I just haven't met the right person. I have a brilliant life and I want to continue to be happy and spread joy. I'd like to adopt a child at some point. I've got projects I'm looking forward to and think the future will be exciting."
Chizzy Akudolu supports the work of St Mungo's to help the homeless. Visit mungos.org for more information