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Speaking out to raise awareness may not be easy but it’s vital

I write and speak openly about the fact that I live with a disability, and have multiple sclerosis. It is not difficult for me. I do it to raise awareness of the disease and to help others.

People often find it hard to speak about having a so-called ‘invisible’ disease but, to me, MS is no longer invisible. My mobility is severely affected and is clear for all to see.

Those whose sicknesses are still hidden but choose to talk about them are the true heroes. They are the brave ones.

speaking

Referee Nigel Owens (Pic: Welsh Rugby Union).

For example, let’s look at rugby union top referee Nigel Owens.

So far, and nothing to do with any illness, he was the first rugby union player or official to ‘come out’ as being gay. However, there is more. He admits that when 26 he tried to commit suicide.

In the past, he has also spoken about his successful struggle to overcome eating disorder bulimia nervosa. But now the man who refereed the 2015 rugby world cup final has revealed that bulimia has returned. Bulimia is a disorder of overeating followed by fasting or self-induced vomiting or purging.

Owens told BBC News: “For those who are caught up in eating disorders and say there’s nothing they can do about it, I understand. It takes you over and you feel there is nothing you can do.

“But I would urge anyone suffering to do something. Seek professional advice, tell people about it, don’t hide it, don’t lie about it, that’s a great first step.

Speaking openly

“I came back from refereeing the England summer tour in Argentina a few weeks ago. While I was out there, I made myself sick three to four times. I think because I was eating more food than I needed.”

“I’m speaking openly about it because I know that men and boys can view it as a sign of weakness by admitting there’s a problem that you can’t sort out yourself. But it’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of great strength to do that.

“If men can find it within themselves to open up about their own experiences of eating disorders, you would find them in all walks of life and in every sport in the world.

“So, the more men talk about eating disorders, the easier it’s going be to bust the stigma that this is only a female problem. More importantly, (we can) raise awareness of the help needed and ensure the funding is in place.”

Owens continued: “As for me, I’m focusing on passing the fitness test for the 2019 world cup. What the challenges will be when I finish refereeing and I won’t have to train for something, I really know.

“But one thing I absolutely do know is that the bulimia can’t carry on. And I just hope that by speaking about my experience I can help many others reach the same conclusion.

“It’s not always easy to get the help you need when you need it. So, the sooner you start talking to people the better.

“Don’t be in my situation; 27 years on and still suffering from it,” he said.

I find it inspiring that Nigel Owens has chosen to go public about his struggle against bulimia. I hope others agree.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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