Last week I flew out to California for the National Eating Disorders Association Annual Conference. As the lights of Los Angeles came into view outside the plane’s window, I couldn’t help but think about Melissa. She always talked about moving there when she was healthy, when she’d beaten ED, determined to fulfill her dream of making movies. As the distant lights blurred through my tears, I felt that I was there to carry out her dream.
As a first-time exhibitor, my perspective was very different from past conference experiences. Misty and I sat behind the Someday Melissa table, our beautiful banner adorning the front, the film’s poster standing on an easel at one side, pamphlets and wrist-bands spread across the top. People began stopping to talk.
Before I continue, I need to explain the uniqueness of the NEDA conference. Most professional conferences are just that: conferences for professionals in a given field. In 2003, NEDA made the groundbreaking decision to bring parents and families together with scientific researchers and eating disorder professionals at their annual conference, “Building Connections and Mobilizing Families, Educators, Advocates and Professionals.” Thus began a unique sharing of information, resources and perspectives that continues to this day.
When you have a child or loved one battling an eating disorder, there is a sense of isolation that engulfs you. You hear it over and over. I know that feeling. I lived it. Part of it is the amount of physical and emotional energy required to deal with the illness: the doctor, therapy, nutrition appointments feel never-ending; but the other part is the perceived stigma and shame attached to eating disorders.
When parents and families attend the conference, they say it’s like meeting people from the same foreign land, who speak the same strange language, one they never taught you in school. It’s a place where parents can share experiences without feeling shame or embarrassment. Where you can ask a glowing, healthy young woman or young man what finally enabled them to conquer ED after years of illness. Where a mother can go up to a top researcher and ask “what are your studies showing?” Where a husband can comfortably approach the director of an eating disorder treatment center and ask questions. Where sisters and brothers meet others who lived the same bizarre life of battles at the dinner table, locked food cabinets, stolen money, and estrangement from their siblings.
People began stopping by our table – parents, therapists, nutritionists. Many of them knew about Someday Melissa and were excited to learn they could buy the DVD. Others wanted to learn more or inquire about scheduling a screening or to have me come speak. People still struggling came to tell me that Melissa’s story is inspiring them to continue their fight against ED. Some just wanted to give me a hug. It was emotionally exhausting and energizing at the same time.
As Misty and I packed up to fly home for a screening of Someday Melissa that was scheduled for the next day, I knew in my heart that Melissa’s story, her dream of “making a movie that will change lives”, was coming true.