Entering "dark places" is a common phrase used to describe the mindset required to adapt to the gruelling training sessions that make or break international rugby sevens players.

Listening to Heather Fisher, a veteran of both England Women's XVs and sevens, you get the impression that when it comes to entering dark places on the rugby pitch, through her own life experience battling anorexia as a teenager, followed by constant anxiety caused by body image issues, then to losing her hair through alopecia, that the 33-year-old does not have to dig too deep to find the mental resilience required.

Speaking to Telegraph Sport ahead of the upcoming Mental Health Awareness Week, Fisher is brutal in her honesty regarding the journey she has taken. From being too scared to tackle as a teenage rugby player due to both how frail and lacking in confidence her eating disorder had made her, through to winning a bronze at the recent Commonwealth Games as part of Team England.

Like many teenagers, Fisher's negative relationship with food evolved out of a need for control. Starting out as a keen rower, around this time she also began to feel more body conscious and admits that receiving increased attention from her mother during her parents' divorces was another factor.


"The one thing I could control was my food and I did it to start with because I was weight conscious through rowing. Then it became about just being weight conscious and then after a few months of not eating, I was getting more attention from my mum. I went down a hole that I couldn't get out of that, then became anorexic," she said.

It is with more candour that Fisher, who also had a spell as a Team GB bobsledder, reveals that the stubbornness which saw her not eat for days was what she used to bring herself back to health. "I am really stubborn and really strong-minded. I think part of having an eating disorder or being anorexic is that you have to be f---ing stubborn because you are hungry all the time," she said.

"I got to the point where I was taking laxatives every night after school and I would be going to the gym, too. I was also on meal replacements and was in a really bad way. I was so stubborn, I just kept pushing down a path that would have destroyed my life. I have now channelled that stubbornness and strong-mindedness in the right way."

Despite having recovered from anorexia, with the main incentive being her desire to become a professional athlete, even now Fisher will still revert to skipping meals when she is feeling upset. She admitted: "Last week, was a really s--- week and a team-mate said, 'Fish, you need to eat.' When I am in a good place, I will eat all the time, little and often. But when I am not in a good place, I just don't eat.

"Being honest, this shouldn't be happening in elite sport. It is probably happening more than it should, it has different strings to it. If I have had a bad week, the first thing I do is not eat without even realising. It is not even conscious."

Fisher's struggles seem overwhelming enough but having lost her hair from alopecia in 2010, she confesses to an unrelenting daily battle with body image. "My friends say they don't notice that I don't have hair, that I am just me but there is not a minute that doesn't go by that I don't recognise that I have alopecia. People say, 'try to be positive' but there is being positive and being realistic.

''I am a positive person but realistically, if you lost your hair you would struggle, too. There is always going to be a mental side to it, if any woman loses her hair, it is going to feel s--- and you can't help but feel ugly and like no one would fancy or go out with you because it is a massive thing."

As with her eating disorder, rugby is helping Fisher to cope better but again she is brutally honest that accepting her alopecia in a continual process.


"Being a professional athlete helps because it makes people aware of the situation and aware of the condition. When I am on the pitch, it is not about my hair, it is about me performing. So, when I am on the pitch is probably the only time I forget about alopecia, the rest of the time I know all about it. That is me being completely honest," she said. "People can see me as being really strong and hard who deals with it, I don't deal with it, I cope with it because I have to be strong about it but I don't say I deal with it very well."

Fisher again shows tenacity and stubbornness regarding staying true to herself. "I have a lot of people say, 'you are so brave not wearing a wig'. But I have this big battle in my head about wearing a wig because it would be so easy to wear a wig and be done with it. But at the same time I wouldn't be being true to myself and I am a great believer in being yourself and being true to the person you are and in which case why should I hide who I am?

"I am not ashamed of who I am. Do I like it? No. Would I like to have hair? Yes. But it is not going to define how successful I am going to be in life."