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Fundraising for Beat Helped Me Find Meaning in Lockdown

When lockdown came into force – what seems like a whole lifetime ago – I struggled. Like many people who experience eating problems, I felt so threatened by the changes in routine, the limited availability of certain foods, the massive uncertainty of it all. Trying my best to support the people around me meant that I struggled to give myself the attention I needed to make sense of everything. I needed to work out how to maintain the fragile sense of wellbeing that I’d worked so hard for in my long, slow recovery from anorexia and bulimia, which now seemed to be at threat.

It took me a while to get my head around all the changes, to work out how on Earth I would cope without things that previously seemed essential to me – cafes, the gym, familiar foodstuffs, eating with others rather than in secret at home. In some ways, though, living with complex mental health problems including an eating disorder meant that I was quite prepared for the changes brought about by the pandemic.

I’ve spent many months of my life in lockdown before, barely getting out of bed with the exhaustion and weakness of anorexia, unable to leave the house much or participate in work or study. This time around, I’ve felt so lucky that I am no longer in such a bad place, but the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness at the suffering that was unfolding all around us have been hard for any of us to avoid. I wanted to step up with the skills that I had and make a difference, however small. But I’m not virologist, a doctor or a vaccine specialist. I felt at a loss as to how to help others outside of my immediate community.

My first priority as well was to make sure I could survive this time financially as well as mentally. My work as a yoga teacher and freelance mental health advisor was all up in the air for a moment, which was very stressful. But soon enough we managed to adapt to working online. After years of resisting teaching yoga virtually, I was zooming with 100 yogis at a time, almost overnight. I was amazed to realise that people still wanted to practice yoga with me. In fact, it seemed like they needed it more than ever.

Then came my idea of how I could help! It occurred to me that if people were willing to pay for my yoga classes via the lovely studio I work at, then they might be willing to pay for a charity class too. I am often frustrated at how exclusive yoga can be for people who might not be able to afford it, so I thought a donation-based class would be ideal. I added a Friday evening flow class to my schedule and crossed my fingers as I hoped for people to turn up to the first session.

And they did! I was so moved that people wanted to support me, but also by how much people of all different backgrounds were interested in supporting people experiencing eating disorders and their carers. Not only did some of my regular students and friends come along, people I had never met tuned into move and breathe and flow together. With students joining from North America and all across Europe, I felt a sense of connecting in to something bigger than ourselves in the face of difficult circumstances, and that gave me hope.

I wanted to raise funds for Beat because of my own experiences of eating disorders, and because Beat have experienced both a huge increase in demand for their services during the pandemic and a gap in funding – right at the time people might need their support the most. People were generous beyond my wildest imagination when donating for their yoga classes, and so far we have managed to raise over £2,500. I even put a few of the classes up on YouTube for people to take in their own time, and received many messages of support and gratitude which made it all so worthwhile.

Fundraising for Beat has ended up being one of the most profoundly meaningful things for me during what has been a difficult time for us all. In offering support to people with eating problems throughout lockdown, Beat has been a ray of hope for many of us who struggle on with our eating disorders, have found it harder to cope than usual, or found support even harder to come by than it so often can be.

However isolated we may feel, however locked-down and restricted our circumstances, this experience has kept alive my hope that, together, we can beat eating disorders. 

Contributed by James Downs

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