Ahead of the 2022 Vitality Blast Finals Day, which is supporting the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, former Somerset all-rounder Arul Suppiah has bravely revealed his battle with anorexia.
Eating disorders steal childhoods, destroy relationships, and pull families apart and Suppiah has experienced first-hand the devastation the disease can cause.
The 38-year-old, who played 276 professional matches and once held the world record for best bowling figures in T20 cricket, was just 29 when chronic knee injuries forced him to retire, and he soon went into a second career of teaching accounting and business studies.
Four years on though, an interest in being healthier sadly became an obsession, which led to an eating disorder and changes in his behavioural patterns.
Around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, many in secret. They are of all ages, genders, and backgrounds – eating disorders do not discriminate and tragically it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, though not all eating disorders can be deadly.
Even in his most successful years that yielded 7,350 runs and 95 wickets, Suppiah’s demons began during his time on the field. He reached out to the Professional Cricketers’ Trust through the Confidential Helpline for support and was diagnosed with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Conditions he managed into his thirties.
The turning point for Malaysian-born Suppiah came five years after he retired from playing, when he felt he was going to faint at the end of teaching a lesson at Queens College Taunton.
It was after this that he began to benefit from the help of the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, the registered charity that supports members of the Professional Cricketers’ Association and their families when they are in need.
“In 2017, I decided to be a vegetarian and be healthy,” Suppiah said, who played alongside Professional Cricketers’ Trust director Marcus Trescothick at Somerset, who himself has been a pioneering voice in raising awareness of mental health related issues.
“But I could sense that something was talking to me, and I call this ‘The Voice,’ and The Voice is the eating disorder.
“Come February and March, people were starting to comment that I was starting to lose weight and I just nodded, and I think what it did was just fuel the ego, fuel The Voice, and just strengthen it.
“I did not realise anything of that and during spring 2017 – during the Easter term – I think that’s just when it started to get a bit more intense.”
Former England skipper and TV presenter Andrew Flintoff produced a documentary called ‘Living with Bulimia’ and admitted he suffered from the eating disorder after feeling victimised for his appearance by the British press at the start of his international career.
In 2021 alone, the Trust supported 106 individuals with mental health problems, taking the total since 2015 to 526.
The assistance for current and former players in England and Wales is all encompassing, whether it be for physical or mental needs including provision of specialist equipment, funding operations or specialist wellbeing support.
Suppiah admitted his disorder had got so bad by 2017 that it was having an adverse effect on his ability to live and caused him to spend periods of time isolated and avoiding social situations, with his mental health worsening.
“I couldn’t socialise,” he said. “I didn’t know how to go out with my friends to have dinner – my answer would be ‘no, I cannot come for dinner’ because I had to do my exercise or because I could only eat types of certain safe food.
“In the summer of 2017, I think that’s when things started to change in terms of my behaviour, my mood – I was very snappy, I was throwing tantrums and I was spending time a lot of time by myself.
“I was completely possessed by The Voice.”
It was after his dizzy spell early in 2018 that Suppiah decided to get to the bottom of his troubles and visit his GP, who gave him the news he had become drastically underweight.
A former professional cricketer and colleague at the time put him in touch with the Trust, who are partnering with the ECB and Sky Sports ahead of Finals Day of the Vitality Blast to highlight the work of the players’ charity and to raise much-needed funds.
The Vitality Blast Finals Day is to support the players’ charity for the third successive year and with several heart-breaking and heart-warming stories told throughout the build-up, fundraising activities are now confirmed.
The Trust was created to support the health and wellbeing of PCA members who have entertained cricket supporters over the years on the pitch for when they are in desperate need for help.
Several past and present players have spoken so openly on support they have received, including Yorkshire Vikings spinner Dom Bess and Hampshire Hawks seamer Chris Wood who are set to feature on Saturday.
With the Trust taking centre stage for Finals Day, awareness of the charity will be raised with the aim to create funds to continue its work in being a vital support mechanism for cricket’s biggest assets, its players.
“The Trust rang me and said, ‘do I need help?’ and I’ve gone ‘yes, I do, I really do need help,’ and that’s when I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa,” Suppiah said.
“I never, never in a million years thought that would have happened to me.
“In terms of how the Trust helped me, it was simply amazing, and I was very lucky to see a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a dietician all together.
“That’s when I managed to turn a corner and managed to show progress, and progress then was to put on weight.
“In terms of recovery I am still very much on the journey and I think the Trust has given me a second chance, another opportunity to life and I sincerely thank the Trust for that.”
The Professional Cricketers’ Trust provides vital support to past and present cricketers in England and Wales and their immediate families when in desperate need. The charity’s work is all encompassing, whether it be for unforeseen physical or mental needs. Vitality Blast Finals Day is supporting the players’ charity - to find out more about the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, visit professionalcricketerstrust.org