This afternoon I received an email from a young woman who wrote to tell me that Melissa’s story inspired her to reach for her own “Someday..”. I was so moved by her words that I asked if she would be willing to write a guest blog post. Thank you Lindsay for sharing your story. ~ Judy
Changing Lives Together
The first time I read about Melissa’s story, something rang out inside of me. Our stories were similar. I knew the phrase “Someday…” so well. My journal had pages of my own personal “Someday” goals and aspirations. The most recent “Someday” I had written in my journal was: “Someday, I’ll be a survivor. Someday, I’ll overcome.”
At the time I first read Melissa’s story, I was sitting in a residential treatment facility. I was being treated for co-occurring illnesses. I had been diagnosed with bulimia, depression and anxiety. All of which had become debilitating; All of which I had suffered with for years. It was on day 13 of my 28 day treatment stay that I stumbled upon the Someday Melissa website. I was so close to giving up treatment at this point, feeling like I was never going to get better. But then I read her story and my eyes filled with tears. I understood her. She understood me.
It was in that tear-filled moment that I realized I shared Melissa’s dreams. I, too, wanted to change lives. While not with movies, but with writing.
I had begun writing a book about my life, my struggles, trials, treatments and the hope that I had found through out the years of my seeking recovery. I had given up on the idea of ever being someone who could make a difference and had stopped writing- until that night. I realized that I had a chance to make a difference. Melissa’s story is changing lives, and mine could too.
I picked up and continued writing my book, which is entitled “The Girl Inside” (set to debut in late 2012). I determined that I would use my journey to recovery to reach out and touch other people’s lives. I have become an advocate for mental health awareness. I want people to know there is hope, healing and that they can become survivors.
Staring at Melissa’s picture that lonely night in my hospital room changed my life. It made me realize I have to make a difference. I have to help save other lives. I have to join the Someday Melissa team in the journey of advocating awareness. Melissa has inspired me to step up, have confidence in myself, continue on in my recovery and share my story.
Thank you, Melissa. Your story has both saved and changed my life. Hopefully we can change many more lives together.
“I think Melissa has an eating disorder,” the doctor said. I can still picture his office, diplomas and awards covering his walls, Melissa in the leather chair beside me. As I stared at him across the expanse of his desk Melissa’s eyes filled with tears and my reaction was immediate. I said he was wrong, that the little weight she had lost was from healthier eating and increased exercise. I didn’t believe him and we didn’t return for a follow-up visit.
The prior year, at the start of 8th grade, Melissa began struggling with severe constipation. Her pediatrician prescribed laxatives and later sent her for an ultrasound, then referred us to a gastroenterologist who prescribed different laxatives. The problems continued. What I didn’t know, and I suspect most parents don’t understand, is that if the food isn’t going in, or if it goes in and comes out, the digestive system can’t function normally. It seems so simple in retrospect, but I had much to learn.
Although I didn’t yet know it, Melissa had been actively bulimic for a long time. Never overweight, she had gained a few pounds the year before; the weight gain I later learned that is normal and necessary for healthy development of the reproductive system. She told me years later that it was at camp the summer she was 13 that she began struggling with body image issues as the girls changed clothes in front of each other, compared their bodies and talked about boys. She decided to lose a few pounds.
Having struggled with self esteem and body image issues my entire life, I had always been careful never to comment on her weight and was secretly pleased when she started exercising more and making healthier food choices. What started innocently, with Melissa’s desire to lose a few pounds, rapidly turned into an active eating disorder behind our backs.
It was a long time before the signs of Melissa’s eating disorder became impossible to explain away or ignore. Of course in retrospect, they seem more like flashing neon warning signs that should have set off alarms. But why didn’t they?
What makes it so difficult for us as parents to see what’s happening in front of our eyes?
Adolescence by its very nature is a time filled with change. Beginning stages of disordered eating can be confused with “normal” adolescent behavior and early symptoms are easily explained away. Doctors and pediatricians often overlook the signs as well. People with eating disorders become incredibly skilled at hiding the behaviors and lying about them.
What does someone with an eating disorder actually look like? To many people, the image of a person with an eating disorder is someone who appears dangerously anorexic. But eating disorders come in many forms, with many disguises, and I later learned that bulimics are often within normal weight ranges or may even be overweight. Melissa had bulimia.
Then there is the shame. Eating disorders are considered shameful and parents don’t want to believe their child has one. However, the longer eating disorder behaviors continue, the more entrenched those behaviors become. Early detection and treatment dramatically improve recovery rates.
Although we ultimately did everything we could to help Melissa beat ED, using all the information, understanding and resources available to us, I have to live every day with the knowledge that critical time was lost in getting her into treatment. I have made it my mission to speak out and help raise parental awareness so other families don’t have to endure the devastating loss of their child.
The National Eating Disorders Association has developed a wonderful Parent Toolkit that provides valuable information. Read it. Educate yourself. Don’t close your eyes. Yes, it CAN happen to your child.