"It is who I am that is important, and not how I look"
Fundraiser Steph talks about why she went Bald for Beat with the support of her parents Carmen and Nigel.
Why did you want to fundraise for Beat?
Steph: I wanted to fundraise for Beat because I suffer from anorexia nervosa. I reached crisis last year when I was hospitalised for six months, but that should never have happened. Beat provides support for not just the person suffering, but also friends and family. The illness mercilessly attacks the people who love you, and who you love the most. It is a debilitating and life-threatening condition. Had I spoken up earlier, I may have been able to avoid hitting rock bottom. Saying ‘I need help’ was the hardest decision I have ever made, but I do not regret it. Reach out to someone to talk to. Beat provides Helplines for those who feel the most alone, and they also provide refuge and help for carers. Ultimately, Beat helps save lives. It helps fix broken families, and that is why I must do this. For Beat, and for everyone trapped in the prison of their own mind.
Why do you feel it is so important to raise awareness of eating disorders?
Steph: Eating disorders are neglected. They are too often perceived as a vanity game, and not as a mental health illness. I want to change that. There is NO weight you need to plummet down to. There is NO physical injury you need to have. There is NOT another grave to be dug. I was forced to reach crisis point in order to receive treatment. My entire care, both as inpatient and outpatient, was dependent on my BMI, and that only perpetuates the myth that you need to be emaciated to have an eating disorder. Not all disabilities are visible. Not all illnesses can be seen. Eating disorders affect many individuals, claiming the lives of both males and females. Eating disorders kill. The focus of treatment needs to shift from physical to mental. I felt paralysed to ask for help because “I didn’t look right”, but anorexia does not have a look. It is a constant battle with your mind, a torrent of abuse day in and day out, a living hell. There is no respite, and in the full-blown cruelty of your eating disorder, you end up becoming your own killer.
What has helped you as a family?
Carmen and Nigel: When Steph first told us of her condition, we didn’t fully understand the ramifications of the illness. We felt completely isolated and out of our depth, so the support of the eating disorder service helped us to connect with people who were going through a similar battle. We had reassurance from the health professionals, as well as other parents and carers. To meet others who could empathise with our struggle was hugely reassuring. We also read several books of genuine accounts of people who suffered from anorexia. This gave us a beacon of hope that we didn’t have before. A sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Steph may have reached rock bottom, but it taught us that this isn’t the end for her. With our support, and the care of staff, we helped her to find a future that was too nearly ripped away from her.
What are you doing to fundraise and why did you choose this challenge?
Steph: It was difficult to pick a fundraising challenge. A lot of fundraising is dominated by sport, whether it be long walks, marathon running, or cycling. Having battled with a chronic exercise addiction, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that fellow eating disorder sufferers could also achieve. I have dyed my hair bright blue and I will also be shaving it all off. I am going blue, bald, and beautiful for Beat. I have always struggled with body dysmorphia and have coloured my hair several times throughout the years. But I have always hated the way I look, the person I am – inside and out. I was repulsed by my own reflection and wanted to tear apart my skin, but I have come to the stark realisation that I am enough. My hair colour, body shape, skin colour…none of it matters. None of it defines who I am as a person. I am Steph. I am NOT my eating disorder, and I am NOT going to die for anorexia. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. This is me, and do you know what? That is okay!
What made you want to do this as a family?
Carmen and Nigel: It is for an amazing cause. Our daughter was suffering so much, and the harsh reality is that not enough is known about the disorder. There needs to be more research into the complexities of it. When Steph was admitted to a mental health hospital, we assumed she would be getting the mental support she was crying out for. We were left sorely disappointed. The focus was entirely on weight restoration, and Steph’s psychological state of mind actually deteriorated during her admission. It is a charity that is close to out hearts because we watched out daughter killing herself, and we were powerless to help. By raising money for Beat, she is also raising awareness in the public arena of eating disorders and the effects they have on the lives of both sufferers and carers.
How has your fundraising event been positive for your family and what did you enjoy most about it?
Carmen and Nigel: It was lovely to see Steph being enthusiastic about something for the first time in years. It is such a positive and reaffirming experience for all of us. It helps to give Steph focus and she is able to throw herself entirely into this project. Dyeing the hair blue was something that was carefully planned out. It is a brave thing to do to shave your hair and to be so open and raw. It was something we could all participate in as a family, and it only brought us closer together as a unit. It was a liberating experience for everyone involved.
Steph: I am making a statement that is okay to be blue and bald. It is who I am that is important, and not how I look. I am stripping everything right back, and it is a cathartic experience for me.
What would be your advice to others considering fundraising in a similar way?
Steph: Do it! Don’t overthink it – just pluck up the courage and do it. If I can help to raise awareness of eating disorders and save at least one person, then I have succeeded in fundraising. I need to embrace who I truly am and hair, whilst a part of me, is not representative of who I am on the inside. Hair grows back, but I will never get back the years I lost to this illness. I may not be able to love myself at the moment, but I need to know that I am enough, and that being me isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For the first time in my life, I am opening myself up to the world. I am sharing my story and braving the shave. I need to make a difference, and you can do it too. Don’t let your eating disorder take away your family and friends, and don’t let it take away your life. Fight back and stand in solidarity with me. Hair today, gone tomorrow… but you will not be gone. You will live and you will thrive. Yes. You. Will.
Contributed by Steph, Carmen and Nigel
Want to brave going Bald for Beat? Find out how you can get involved with this fundraising challenge here!