I finally got some paint and began to refurbish my room. This meant a lot of looking through bags of old university things and other miscellanous items, and deciding if I should keep them. Yes, I did give the Marie Kondo if it sparks joy approach, and it turns out a lot of the stuff I kept for years did not spark joy. Anyway, I discovered a bag full of Beat materials, and amongst the materials was a certificate from my induction training. I’m not great with dates, and I tend to generalise how long I’ve been a part of organisations, groups etc., However, this certificate brought to my attention that I have been ambassador for Beat for five years, as of today. Wow!
Although I had known of Beat for years before, I didn’t become an ambassador until I was just a few months shy of being twenty years old. It was actually a customer in the restaurant I worked in that told me about the Beat ambassador programme, as he discussed my studies at university, and my intended career in mental health and clinical psychology. A few days later I googled Beat and noticed they had openings for the Young Ambassador programme. I sent away an application, and within a few weeks I received an email from Sara, the participation officer, who informed me of the training dates available. Come the 13th of June, I was welcomed into a training room in Edinburgh and within the day I was inducted as a young ambassador for Beat.
Over the years, the charity has changed its branding, and the Young Ambassador programme has now become the Ambassador programme, with many of the young ambassadors reaching the age of twenty-five (the last year of the Young Ambassador programme) and requesting to stay on. Things have changed, but the message and objective of the ambassadors has remained the same. Recovery from eating disorders is possible.
Throughout my experience, as an ambassador, the opportunities to spread this message has been limitless. My first opportunity to do so was for a group of women involved in Apex Scotland where I talked about my journey with orthorexia and anorexia. After this, I spoke at schools, in hospitals, eating disorder units, universities… I spoke to nurses, teachers, dietetic students, people in recovery from eating disorders, Childline operators… My message maneuvred through small crowds to bigger crowds. My voice found it’s way onto the radio, on TV broadcasts, livestreams, in news articles. Within my role, I have worked both on my own and with fellow ambassadors. I have connected with people in support groups, using my experience as someone in recovery from an eating disorder to offer advice and hope in reaching said recovery. My role has allowed me to speak about my experience with an illness that dominated my late teens and become an example of recovery, having people come on that journey with me and explore what happens after the fact. All the ins and outs, ups and downs.
However, this experience has done so much more than I thought it would.
I knew I had experienced eating disorders, and I had a sense of what the eating disorders were. But, I didn’t think I was unwell enough to talk about, because I didn’t go to hospital. I hadn’t received psychological therapy. I didn’t look like the typical version of someone like an eating disorder, such as the ones glorified and exploited by TV and media. When I joined, I still held this concept in my head, but as I continued on as an ambassador I began to understand my eating disorders, and that my story was actually quite similar yet so unique to others. I found a commonality with the people I worked alongside. I felt a validation in what I had gone through. I discovered so many stories, and so many build-ups to eating disorder developments, and how they were maintained. I learned how eating disorders manifested in so many.
Being an ambassador has allowed me to understand and explore the space in which one has an eating disorder. I truly understand my mental health far better than I did when I was a scared and angry teenager. I have been given back my voice. I always knew that I had one. It was a loud voice, and it was quick in its cadence, but I was always frightened to really talk without anxiety and self-hatred bearing me down. I’ve gained a perspective and I’ve become okay with learning and expanding what my story is, finding little bits of my story that slot in ways I didn’t think they would before. This role has allowed me to, not only spread a recovery-focused and, often more concise, message, but I have the ability to talk about what is important in my journey; what makes me different and what makes me the same as others.
And, that’s what being able to express your lived experience does. It not only opens up the eyes of others, but it opens up your own. It’s remarkable the power behind the ability to share your story. People have begun to rely on the experience and knowledge behind ambassadors, as our stories are key in helping others understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder. My role has allowed me to teach so many people and to inspire so many people. I don’t like to say I’m inspiring. I don’t think I am, but I feel I can leave a good mark on the world with my work. I never in my life thought I would be interviewed by radio stations, featured in health and social care articles, have a small segment on ITV Borders, be interviewed by newspapers and the National Lottery Community Fund. I have been able to carry out research in eating disorders while at university through my work at Beat, because their resources are simply incredible and so helpful. I have been able to share my story to so many different audiences who all want to listen. I spent so much of my life wanting people to listen to me and retain what I was saying, not brush me off, not look passed me. I feel Beat has given me that opportunity. Who knew any of this would happen?
Moreover, it has helped me to maintain a level of recovery; one, in which makes me feel strong and generally content in coping within myself. I have been able to understand not only my illness, but what recovery means to me. We have this idea that recovery is dichotomous and that we are either recovered or not recovered, but in reality, it should be considered ‘in recovery’, almost like a continuum. I have been given a platform to reflect and maintain my recovery. It’s like I am being held accountable, and I know being in a good state of recovery carries a lot of weight behind it, so to speak.
Beat has provided so much for me. It has kept me on a good path. I have seen eating disorder awareness and support grow over these five years. I’ve seen opportunities to speak about eating disorder recovery go from very little to thick and fast. Eating disorders now get frequently spoken about in Scottish Parliament. Beat has now expanded to a team in Wales, which I was so grateful to be a part of when I lived there. I have felt so inspired with how Beat has impacted the public’s view of eating disorders, and how they have impacted my own view of my eating disorders. I have met so many amazing, amazing people. I’ve got to work with fantastic, inspiring individuals, and I have now found somewhat of a comfort in my voice and my being.
Here’s to another five years.
This week has been Volunteers Week, which celebrates all volunteers. Please donate to charities like Beat who are in need of funding during the Covid-19 crisis. If you would like more information about Beat and how to donate, then check out the website here.