The aisles were littered with various cans of energy drinks and bottles of water. Underneath the seats were crumpled notes and dog-eared textbooks. In the classroom sat 200 students, slouched in their seats wearing everything from sweatpants to five inch high heels. They chewed on pencils, stared at the ceiling for inspiration and furrowed their brows.
It was that time of year again, the time of final exams. I was helping a friend administer the final for her class, a large introductory media course that I had also taught a few years prior. As a seasoned part-time lecturer on a college campus, I knew the drill well: pass out exams, look for people possibly cheating and clarify the test questions.
This time I had something else on my mind as I strolled around the lecture hall. I was thinking about a person that I have never met. A person that never had the chance to sit in a classroom like this. A person that was gone from this earth all too quickly. I was thinking about Melissa. She could have easily been one of these students, who were mostly sophomores or juniors. A student sure of their future or trying to find their place on campus or in life. What classes would she have enjoyed? How would she have made her mark?
I wondered if any of these students were suffering in silence. I wondered if any of these students had a roommate, a friend, a family member with an eating disorder. I wondered how many could be helped by hearing Melissa’s story.
As I scanned across the classroom, I began to see Melissa in the students. A person that I never had the opportunity to meet, but whose life lives on. I thought about all who struggle with ED but make it through another day because of Melissa. I thought about all those who have seen the film and said “this is my story too.” I thought about the impact that Judy has made by speaking out about this disease that is silenced too often.
Melissa never had the opportunity to be in a class like this, but her spirit is in everything that we do at Someday Melissa. She has touched countless lives, even those who have not yet heard her story. After hearing about Melissa, you will see her face and hear her story in others. I know that I do.
“What brings you here?”
Such a simple question for a situation that had become so overwhelming over a couple of months. I’d had bouts of depression in the past, but never as lingering or as complex as the one that I had been experiencing that year. At the time I was working for a mental health non-profit and knew all the signs and symptoms of depression from memory: persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue (among others). In my mind, I was already diagnosed before my first therapy session was even scheduled. I spent the next 55 minutes spilling out every emotion, every mood that I had been experiencing. I was a textbook case of major depressive disorder.
Or so I thought.
I was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder along with major depressive disorder. Co-morbidity, or the presence of one or more disease in an individual, is extremely common with physical and mental illnesses. In a 12-month period, 5-9% of adults have co-morbid depression and anxiety. Although I was also educated about the symptoms of anxiety, in my mind I didn’t “fit” the diagnosis because I only saw my symptoms of depression. Without even realizing it, I was also relaying my symptoms of anxiety to my therapist: restlessness, irritability and constant worrying. In order to get help for my depression, I also had to seek treatment for my anxiety.
Just as anxiety and depression can be co-morbid, eating disorders and mood or anxiety disorders can often go hand-in-hand as well. While not widely discussed, the statistics are eye-opening:
- 80% of people suffering from bulimia have also suffered from an anxiety disorder.
- Both anxiety and depression are frequent co-morbid conditions among those suffering from anorexia.
- In a 2008 study, 24% of bipolar patients met the criteria for eating disorders.
- As many as 50% of patients diagnosed with binge eating disorder also have a history of depression.(Source: Psychology Today and WebMD)
These numbers emphasize that treating eating disorders can be complicated, but that it is important to treat the co-morbidity as a whole-body approach. Armed with my own diagnosis, treatment and education about co-morbid depression and anxiety, I have learned a great deal about co-morbidity and eating disorders since joining the Someday Melissa team. So often in discussions of treatment for ED there is an emphasis on treating the underlying causes of ED, but not often are depression and anxiety highlighted as accompanying the ED. Let’s break the stigma and bring all of these issues out in the open.
I’ve never met Chelsea Clinton. I hope I do one day. I never met her grandmother, Dorothy Rodham, who passed away last month. I wish I had.
There was a long article in today’s New York Times about Chelsea’s decision to begin leading a more public life and the process she went through in making the decision. Chelsea Clinton Living up to the Family Name. I hope she doesn’t mind that I’m referring to her by her first name. I feel like I know her, which I’m sure is one of the difficulties when growing up in the public eye.
Chelsea was 12 years old when her father was elected president. It’s difficult to be on the brink of adolescence and harder still to be the new kid in town. I know. I remember well what’s it’s like to be 12 and starting a new school. My family moved from Ann Arbor, MI to a small town in upstate New York when I was that age. It was rough moving to a town where it seemed everyone was related to each other or had grown up together. I thought I’d never fit in. I can’t imagine what it was like for Chelsea.
I admired how her parents kept her out of the spotlight as much as possible. I watched her grow up under the glare of public scrutiny. Politics aside, my mother and I often discussed how much we admired her parents for trying to create as normal a childhood as possible, given the circumstances. Chelsea has grown up to be an educated, articulate, socially active young woman. Most of her work, however, has been done quietly, on the sidelines. I respect that. She needed to find her place in the world.
She has decided that the time is right for her to take a more public role and will be joining NBC as a special correspondent on their new series, “Making a Difference”. She was quoted as saying “My parents taught me to approach the world critically, but also to approach it with a sense of responsibility.”
Why am I writing about Chelsea Clinton? It seems that as she was struggling to figure out how to add a public element to her life, she discussed things with her grandmother, as she always had. As I continued reading, curled up on the sofa with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand, I stopped short when I read the following advice her grandmother had given her: “… life is not about what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.”
Melissa’s death, followed a month later by the loss of my mother, nearly crushed me. Life happened to me. However, something gave me the strength to share Melissa’s story. To fulfill her dream to “.. make a movie that will change lives” and make a difference in the fight against eating disorders.
My mother and both of my grandmothers were extraordinary women. I think they would have had a lot in common with Chelsea’s grandmother.