It is with great peace that I share the news that the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is now the exclusive distributor of Someday Melissa.
When I began making Someday Melissa I never could have imagined the impact that Melissa’s story, my family’s story, would have on the world of eating disorders. When the idea of making the documentary was presented to me just months after losing Melissa, I reached out to Lynn Grefe, the President & CEO of NEDA, for advice on whether I should do it. We had spoken and emailed a few times but didn’t really know each other. Acknowledging that, she wrote, “…maybe I would want to wrap my arms around a project that might help me make some sense of her loss, that might live on to make a difference for others. I don’t know. Truthfully only you can know your limits.”
The process of making the film gave me a powerful way to channel my grief. It gave me the opportunity to ask questions of top researchers and clinicians dealing with eating disorders and mental health issues, to meet other families, individuals battling eating disorders, and importantly many in recovery. It helped me as I struggled to make sense of the demon ED that stole Melissa and changed forever the world as I knew it. The guilt over missed signs, the “what ifs…”, “if only…” were constant and sometimes overwhelming, but I kept going. I began to learn more about the depression that overwhelmed Melissa along with bulimia and started to get a glimpse of the complexity of these illnesses.
Long before the film’s completion, Melissa’s story went global as a result of social media. I heard from people around the world who shared their stories and thanked me for speaking out; to have the courage to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding eating disorders and bulimia in particular. One girl wrote that she had kept her bulimia a secret for years and reading about Melissa gave her the courage to tell her parents and ask for help. Others wrote that Melissa’s story inspired them to fight harder, to believe in a future. Mothers and fathers wrote that they thought they were the only ones living the bizarre existence that having a child with a severe eating disorder brings. And wonderfully, people shared with me their stories of recovery. Of happy, healthy lives, they never thought possible, after years and often decades of illness.
I formed a non-profit organization, hired staff, and upon the film’s completion began speaking at screenings of Someday Melissa around the country. Many of them took place during NEDAawareness Week. I attend conferences and continued asking questions. Over the past four years my life was consumed by my work with Someday Melissa and the world of eating disorders.
One afternoon last May I knew with certainty that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I called it my “epiphany day” and as I shared my decision with family and friends in the days that followed, everyone said the same thing. While understanding my need to have Someday Melissa and eating disorders consume my life, they had all become worried about me. However, they all recognized something important long before I did – that I was the only one who could get myself to this place, that I had to be ready.
NEDA has been by my side from the very start of this journey. I am honored to now call Lynn Grefe my friend. It is with immense gratitude and great peace that I entrust them with Melissa’s story and have them carry on the work that I began.
Facebook Message from Kate Ryan Singer to Judy Avrin
July 27, 2013
I have followed Someday Melissa for years now- probably since its earliest pieces became public, but it was at the first screening in NYC that I became consciously aware of what it really meant to me. As the film ended and audience members began introducing themselves, I started to notice that each person identified him/herself by a connection to the Eating Disorder Community.
At the time, I was in very early recovery, perhaps on the edge of another relapse. I realized in that moment that I wanted to be able to stand among the recovering. I wanted my life to be driven by the unique gift I had worked so hard for- a life after my struggle. It has taken a lot of time and a tremendous amount of hard work…. My struggles with anorexia and addiction cycled out of control for a very long time. Many times, I would sit down and contemplate or write about my own “Someday”.
However as I am writing to you right now I would like to share something different. I would like to share with you my TODAY.
TODAY, I am grateful to be alive. I live in that gratitude by sharing my story and reaching out to those who still struggle with the clear message that recovery IS possible.
TODAY, I have a job. It isn’t my dream job and it isn’t always fun- yet I show up to my job to the best of my ability with honesty and integrity.
TODAY, I have true friends who I love- and who love me- unconditionally. We talk, laugh, cry and live together. Some are near and some are far- all are very much alive in my heart.
TODAY, I am an equal partner in a loving relationship. It takes nurturing and work and it means I have to love myself on a daily basis so that I can be the kind of person my boyfriend deserves- and he does the same.
TODAY, I enjoy laying on the beach on my days off and even go out for ice cream afterwards! I am no longer too consumed with what I look like to enjoy playing in the waves and soaking up the sunshine.
TODAY, I embrace my struggles and the intermittent interruptions by that voice of my disease that tells me I am not enough because it allows me to exercise my strength and love by SHOWING that I am.
TODAY, I am over nine months clean and sober and free from the chains of my eating disorder. I am living proof that treatment, therapy, supportive friends and family and a program of recovery work. Although it will take time for me to repair my finances enough to return to working on my masters degree…. that challenge pales in comparison to what I have already overcome. I will continue to nurture my recovery by advocating for those who still struggle and SOMEDAY I will be a Social Worker, working hands on to give back all that was given to me.
Judy please know that, although there may not be many people who have been blessed enough to see this other side, I am eternally grateful for the people like you who continue to fight by my side every single day, changing lives without even knowing it. I hold you and Melissa close to my heart as a daily reminder of why I am fighting and of how much more there is to fight for.
Sending love and light, Ryan
Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
On June 3rd, 2013, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden held the National Conference on Mental Health to bring greater awareness to issues surrounding mental health in the United States. President Obama acknowledged that while mental health advocates continue to speak out, there is still great shame and silence surrounding the issue. Compared to physical illness and disease, open discussion of mental illness continues to carry stigma.
“We all know somebody — a family member, a friend, a neighbor — who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives… We know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health. You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal. And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions.”- President Obama
Public perception of mental illness continues to be quite different than toward other illnesses. One of the difficulties for those struggling with an eating disorder can be reactions from others who don’t understand the complexity of the illness. Just as someone suffering from depression may be told to “just stop being sad.” a person with anorexia can’t always “just eat something.” A person with binge eating disorder can’t “just stop eating.” A person with bulimia can’t “just stop purging.” Eating disorders are complex, biologically based illnesses. As difficult as it is to understand, eating disorders are not about food, making this mental illness difficult to treat due to the wide range of factors and complexities that impact each affected individual.
“The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it. And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment; we’ve got to get rid of that stigma. Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see to it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.” – President Obama
With many mental illnesses, we may see signs or symptoms in individuals but are afraid to discuss them for fear of a negative reaction or denial. If you saw a friend or loved one with an untreated visible physical ailment, chances are you wouldn’t hesitate to express your concern. Having that conversation with someone about a suspected eating disorder, however, is usually avoided. It’s time to start the dialogue.
Just as we need to work on eradicating the embarrassment of seeking help for treatment of mental illnesses like eating disorders, we must also continue education efforts about symptoms and warning signs. Let’s follow the initiatives from the National Conference on Mental Health and the tireless efforts of activists and break the stigma of mental illness- including eating disorders. Recovery is possible.
We need to have these difficult conversations and ask the questions that others may only whisper.
Conversations with ED
A girl’s conversations with her eating disorder (ED)
An inside look at how it feels to be controlled by something other than yourself
Under ED’s Control
I want to eat, I really do, but ED won’t leave me alone.
“No,” he says, with an evil grin. “You’re not allowed.”
Again and again, I question why.
“If you eat that, you’ll lose control. You know that. And if you lose control, then what?”
“Then it all comes crashing down,” I whisper. “But I want it…I want it so badly I can taste it.” And I stare longingly at the morsels that I know will delight the senses and awaken the hunger.
But he knows what I’m thinking. “Awaken the hunger and it’ll never stop.”
“Maybe I want that,” I mutter. “Maybe I want to be awake. Maybe I want to experience it all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to not be perfect, maybe just once.”
But he refuses to cave and I continue to wither away in isolation because even when ED is there, I’m still alone.
Breaking up With ED
I want to eat, I really do but ED won’t leave me alone.
“No,” he says, with an evil grin. “You’re not allowed.”
“Oh but I am,” I reply. “I can eat and I can live. That’s what they told me.”
“Who told you that?” ED questions, a bit hesitant.
“The doctors, the nurses, the therapists, the people who have already broken up with you. You’re not welcome here anymore.”
“It’s not so easy to get rid of me,” he says again with that evil smile.
“Not easy,” I reply, “but it can be done.”
And then I quote the ever epic line that Jennifer Connelly’s character says to David Bowie’s character in the 80s classic “Labyrinth”:
“You have no power over me.”
True, that was only step one and ED came to knock on my door several other times but I never let him back in. And I lived and I ate and I dreamed about what I’d do someday.
And I was happy.
It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry has a thorny history dealing with the eating disorders of celebrities, particularly given the media emphasis on the notion of the “ideal” body type (aka being thin). When Lady Gaga was scrutinized by the media last year for her perceived weight gain, she responded with a bold confession that startled both the media and her fans. Lady Gaga posted a picture of herself on her fan website “Little Monsters”, wearing only her underwear with a caption “bulimia and anorexia since age 15.” Following that picture was another with a caption “But today I join the BODY REVOLUTION.” Through her fan site, she created a space for discussion of body issues and eating disorders while promoting compassion she felt was missing from the media coverage. Lady Gaga may be one of the most high-profile entertainers to directly confront the media about her weight issues, but others before her have suffered from eating disorders and body image issues both silently and vocally. For many years, celebrities like Karen Carpenter hid their eating disorder until it was too late. Today, many celebrities have openly spoken about their past experiences with eating disorders, but there are many mixed messages in these types of disclosures. Stars like Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba and Katie Couric have publicly revealed that they at one time suffered from an eating disorder, however, what is usually absent from these admissions are how they overcame their eating disorder, whether the were dealing with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder or eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Eating disorders rarely “go away” on their own, which is one reason why our organization’s mission is to promote early awareness, recognition and treatment.
However, there are notable exceptions, as some celebrities have openly and honestly discussed their eating disorders, treatment and recovery processes. While Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger admitted that she initially felt “humiliated” after revealing her 10 year battle with bulimia during a taping of VH1’s “Behind the Music,” she is now glad to have shared her story and the effectiveness of therapy:
“The impact I’ve had on other sufferers is just… I can’t tell you, it’s amazing. That I am now in a position to give strength, and support to others… It’s awesome.”
Others, like Demi Lovato, have not only directly addressed their issues with eating disorders, but have become outspoken advocates for education and awareness. Lovato wrote an article for Seventeen in which she not only disclosed her history with eating disorders, but also emphasized seeking professional help. She is also a spokesperson for the Love Is Louder Than the Pressure To Be Perfect campaign, which encourages people to embrace positivity and not yield to peer or social pressure to be perfect, whether in looks or actions. As members of the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) Ambassador Council, others like actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, former Miss America Kirsten Haglund and models Whitney Thompson and Emme regularly speak at events and to the press promoting positive messages about the facts, myths and treatment of eating disorders.
Every voice that speaks up about eating disorders makes a difference in breaking the silence and stigma about this disease – celebrity voices are just more easily heard, as they have the power of media behind them. By also including a message about the effectiveness of treatment and recovery, celebrities make a strong impression on those currently struggling with an eating disorder. These stars are more than just entertainment figures- they can be life-changers.