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'In my head, I didn't deserve to be helped. I was broken and couldn't be fixed'

Ireland rugby international Hannah Tyrrell on the eating disorder that overshadowed her teenage years

Hannah Tyrrell Ireland rugby international

THIS YEAR’S DARKNESS Into Light walk takes place on Saturday May 6th in aid of Pieta House, supported by Electric Ireland. Participants in more than 150 locations, on four continents, will walk the 5km route to raise funds and awareness.

All throughout this week, people around Ireland are sharing their own Darkness Into Light journeys. Here, Ireland rugby international Hannah Tyrrell, 26, shares her story.

I first began restricting my eating when I was around 12 or 13. I remember feeling like I wasn’t good enough at anything I put my hand to: school, sport, friendships. Changing how I looked was a way to change how I felt, and in turn how others felt about me.

I started counting calories and skipping meals, but also bingeing and vomiting after eating. These disordered eating tendencies eventually developed into bulimia, as I continued to do anything to try to lose weight.

Self harm

Any time that I didn’t get the weight loss results I wanted, I’d be very hard on myself, and I soon turned to self harm. If I felt things hadn’t gone right that day, if I didn’t see the weight I wanted on the scale, if I ate something that I shouldn’t have or if I binged and purged, I’d punish myself by self-harming. The temporary feeling of relief it gave me was addictive, but the feeling never lasted long and would soon be replaced by more shame and guilt. It was an endless cycle.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Over time, I began to withdraw from everybody and everything except sport, which I played all through school. I didn’t tell a soul what I was doing to myself. Nobody realised what was going on for years.

It wasn’t until I was in my final year of school that I finally began to open up, first to my school guidance counsellor and then to someone from Pieta House. Initially, I was very reluctant to share what I was going through with anyone. I felt I was broken and couldn’t be fixed. In my head, other people needed help more than me, and I didn’t deserve to be helped.

It was very hard for me to start expressing the feelings I had bottled up for so long. Eventually, by talking to doctors and counsellors, I was able develop more positive coping strategies to use when I was having negative thoughts about my body.

Slipping back into old habits

In 2014, when I joined the IRFU’s rugby sevens programme, I knew I’d be facing into daily weigh-ins. Nutrition is a very important part of the programme and it would have been very easy to slip back into my old disordered eating habits. Thankfully by that stage I was confident that I had the mental resilience to fight any negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

I still struggle with opening up to my partner or my friends sometimes, but the difference is that I now know the value of talking, and I know it’s one thing that will make me feel better. Speaking about how I’m feeling allows me to identify false negative thoughts that are swirling around my brain, and separate them from logic and reality. I feel capable of dealing with whatever comes my way.

Ups and downs

At the moment I’m focused on training for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in UCD this August, and I was in Japan at the weekend for the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, where we took home the Challenge trophy.

The Six Nations loss to England in March was a disappointment for us, of course. We had everything in that match but it just wasn’t our day. There’s a lot of time between now and the World Cup so we are just focusing on the little things that we can do better and being in the best shape we can be come August.

I still go through ups and downs like everybody else, but these days I try to see the positive side of things, and reassure myself that I deserve better than to punish myself with negativity.

Join the thousands walking from Darkness Into Light on May 6th to raise funds and awareness for Pieta House. You’ll find more information online here and here.

Helplines:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Bodywhys 1980 200 444 or email alex@bodywhys.ie (eating disorders)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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About the author:

Hannah Tyrrell  / Ireland rugby international

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