Here in the after……. I need to speak of the people my Eating Disorder has gifted me with, in the midst of the rubble hope, support, and awareness was made available . In the eye of the mental illness storm; I was given space in my heart to share the journey with some incredibly resilient, strong and underestimated companions.
Reality hit, on November 9th, 2016, when I stood on the opposite side of the door in the St. Paul’s Adult Tertiary Eating Disorder Program. Day one of of 57…. 58……112…..438 and the count continues. I was walking blindly into a locked Mental Health Wing in a Providence Health Hospital. Fear, shame, embarrassment and ambivalence were my guests on this journey; and although those guests continue to follow me around – I’d like to think uninvited – what I found in the bleak institutional environment, was a safe place to call home – within the stories & lives of my co-patients. I was among a community…. I was more me than I knew was possible. It was like we were all different chapters in the same book. I was immediately embraced by this collective, figuratively and literally. There have been others, outside of this group that came later in the story, but have or do play important roles. Please allow me as I share with you the struggles, life and heart of who someone with an Eating Disorder is – when their Eating Disorder is their disorder and not their descriptor.
Jane…. she left us far to soon. I have spoken of her before and will forever remember the feisty, defiant, curious and loving soul that she was. Her heart held so much room in it for everyone she held dear, so much so that she never left room for her own self compassion. She was a lover of GOOD music, hated crafts, her life was lit up by her son, she found solace in God, and she was a stereotypical tea toting Scot. Little in stature – and big in personality. A daughter, a sister, a wife, mother, friend. She was more than her Eating Disorder allowed her to become.
KP…… she has climbed mountains and is shouting from the top that it can be done. A compassionate & pure young woman, her sweet and innocent presence easily hides the old and wise soul that lives within her. I am certain that she is one of the bravest souls that I have ever come across. I have seen her face the fire, tears streaming down her face, raising her sword and ready to battle. I have been inspired by her, found comfort in her words and wisdom, and sought her embrace for reassurance and strength. She is a daughter, sister, friend, Acro-Yoga enthusiast, and a compassionate lover of peace and acceptance. – she can be found stretching and posing with her fellow acro stars, cuddling her silly Kitty or owning her recovery over her evening snack – the reliable bowl of cereal. She makes me proud through her commitment to creating her own version of a beautiful life and her acknowledgement that it isn’t always easy. She is not defined by the limitations her Eating Disorder attempts to place on her development.
SD…..when you meet some people for the first time; you don’t always clique. Her exterior was made up of a strong, no bullshit, I will survive attitude. She was in treatment to get things done; not to paint popsicle sticks; put together puzzles, crochet a dishcloth, or build friendships. Quite honestly, she did not give me a warm, fuzzy, welcoming feeling. I can tell you now, that this woman is my sister. She is my most trusted confidant, voice of reason, she reminds me of my worth and makes me feel calm in the chaos. She has been weighed down with more than one serious mental health diagnosis; yet however weak, sore or defeated she feels she stands back up just as tall as before she fell. I am proud of her; proud for her saying I don’t want to live this way; proud of her for doing the thing that she does not want to do, so she increases her chances of change. The best thing about her is that she has diagnosis’ that are difficult parts of her but she also has wonderful labels, daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, that make her the magical.
BAT……coming to the group as a medical admission, her friendly personality was opened to everyone immediately. She has a unique ability to ease herself into a environment without others feeling intrusion. This was a short stay, but we were all surprised by Christmas cards & gifts from her after she had been discharged. It was in another program that we were really able to connect – and in her I found a woman that has a dark and cloudy past; filled with moments and events that were out of her control; and have shaped and at times haunted her. She had once told me that she has never been able to make connections with women, and so I consider myself among the elite in her life. She is colourful; pink cotton candy; call ‘em as she sees em’ and ever giving. Her heart overflows for her precious Samuel, her generosity is limitless to her daughter and family. She lives her life outside of her comfort zone; and so can often be found mid-way through a Netflix Series in attempts to find down time. Her Eating Disorder has a specific purpose for her – so I am thankful that she makes all the efforts she can to fight back. She has a eating disorder, created by a past – and she has many today’s filled with strife; yet 100% filled with survival.
RL….. If I was to describe RL; it would go like this…. she is slightly above a unicorn, with rainbow wings, covered in glitter, with trails of stars and hearts, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. Her heart has carried a heavy burden for many many years, but through it she has scattered joy, happiness and childlike fun to those around her. She has excelled professionally, involved herself in important community and national causes, and been a strong influence on the lives of many. I am actually in awe of her achievements; and finding success despite the struggle. She has given life to a Purple Unicorn, named Sophia, recently become Mommy to adorable Otis, a mini Aussie Labradoodle, she is a proud Auntie, little sister, and a blessing as a friend. She lets her rainbow shine brightly, even though the clouds of her Eating Disorder still scatter the sky.
CW…… some people are burdened with more trauma, pain and negative life experiences than anyone could reasonably cope with, but out of the fire came the strength to create a world of independence, strength and ability. She had been behind the locked doors of a treatment centre before – but she was determined to face “ED” and take back control. She was known by many titles in her life; some were blessings and others were curses; but she wore the titles of Daughter, Mother and Grandmother like a Purple Heart – she was honoured to be those things to the people in her life. I heard stories of her rebuilding washing machines or car engines; and witnessed the wracking tears of grief that over took her. She fights on with what she knows, asking for nothing more than a fair shot at the days ahead. She is a woman who fights on to be an example to her daughters, son and grandchildren. She wants to be here if the dryer ever goes on the fritz – because there is no doubt that she can fix that too. She has been with “ED” for a long time – but knows it’s time for them to go their separate ways.
LH….. although the journey that I took with LH ended the day that she left the inpatient treatment program; she remains a important part of the time that my discovery began. I was drawn to her compassionate, maternal instinct in our group. We connected over our shared diagnosis of Co-Dependancy. I saw her find her voice, speak up for her needs – yet be respectful and mindful of the emotions of others. She is truly and extraordinary woman, who I was hurt did not have interest in maintaining contact with me, but I find joy in the time I had with her and she helped me to realize that the impact made at the right time, is sometimes more important than a future relationship. I watched her gush over the up-coming birth of her first Grandson, re-connect with her husband and share stories of her sons. She is a witty, sweet, dynamic, patient and spiritual soul; that is maneuvering through life with an Eating Disorder.
MA….. yes its a fact, eating disorders are not biased, they hold men in their controlling clutches as well. They know no boundaries when it comes to age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other group you can think of. He is a hard working Tradesman, who has been married for many many years, has adult children and will soon be a Grandfather. He never met a banana or spoon of peanut butter that he could not out run. Exercise was his drive, his “passion”, his outlet. He was faced with the reality that something that he enjoyed was a compulsive symptom of his eating disorder. Through programs and hospitalization, he has found a degree of acceptance in his body, found ways to calm and slow down his thought process and walk into awareness. He is a man with an Eating Disorder and Body Image issues – he is a man with a family, a future and a plan.
EM….. my shared treatment time with EM was brief, but I have remained connected. She has found peace in her new found spirituality – with God being a motivator and support for her as she works through her disorder and addiction. To fight a mental illness is a battle, to fight it with other restrictions or impediments, can be compared to taking a knife to a gun fight. It is an uphill battle. I’ve seen her retreat to the corner, fall back into symptoms, and question her own journey; but I know that today she is waiting to be admitted to a treatment centre, to continue to fight….. and instead of focusing on the repeat treatments, she chooses to leaves with a bigger knife each time. She is an insightful and intelligent young woman, that has been affected by her Eating Disorder in difficult ways, but her prayers continue to be answered so she can make it through.
The statistics in Canada have numbers ranging from 150,000 to 600,000 of individuals diagnosed with an Eating Disorder – I assume that this is those that have sought out help in one form or another and does not include those that suffer in silence. This is not a illness that solely effects young, Caucasian, teens seeking attention – nor does that accurately describe the young Caucasian teens that are affected. It is important to see that we are all individuals who have an eating disorder and in some cases other impediments – we are Mothers, Fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, husbands and wives. We are Health Care Workers; Lawyers; Plumbers, Sales Staff and Servers. We are able to work a job without interference from our disorders or we are on long term disability. The faces of an Eating Disorder and all Mental Illnesses, are as varied as the colours in a jumbo pack of crayons. Beneath every symptom, action and behaviour – we are there. I see you….. when you succeed and when you fall. I share in your victories and your struggles. To each of these individuals – I am eternally grateful for the footprint they have left on my heart; and I want them to know.