A few weeks ago a high school student in Indiana contacted us about hosting a screening of Someday Melissa for her senior project. I had several email exchanges with Jane, a remarkable young woman, and received a lovely note from her mother as well. They both made comments about the impact of eating disorders on the entire family.
Yesterday morning, a Google Alert led me to a powerful article written by her father, Mark Baldwin, Editor of The Republic in Columbus, IN.
Reprinted with permission:
Openness about eating disorders overdue.
Although we don’t exactly shout it from the rooftop, my family never has hidden the experience of our middle daughter’s struggle with anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder that leads some people — and especially smart and pretty young women — to starve themselves.
Very often, the conversation produces a flash of understanding.
There was the baseball executive. The City Council member back in Wisconsin. The fellow parishioner. The neighbor. The casual professional acquaintance.
All had firsthand experiences with eating disorders.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
After all, the theme of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, to be held Feb. 26 to March 3, is “Everybody Knows Somebody.”
Lynn Grefe, president of the National Eating Disorders Association, pegs the number of Americans battling a form of the illness — anorexia or one of its evil cousins, bulimia or binge eating disorder — at 24 million, a figure that dwarfs the number of those suffering from, for example, Alzheimer’s disease, estimated at about 5.4 million in 2011.
Some estimates put the eating disorders number as high as 30 million.
“The piece that’s missing is ‘eating disorders not otherwise specified,’” Grefe says. “That’s probably where most people are.”
To put it simply, that means sufferers are prone to bouncing pinball-fashion from anorexia to bingeing to bulimia.
Here’s one more fact to make you shiver: The mortality rate for eating disorders is higher than for any other mental illness, with death typically resulting from medical complications or suicide. And anorexic patients remain at higher risk for premature death for years after treatment.
One key to reducing the awful toll is to raise public awareness. Ignorance of eating disorders, their warning signs and their long-term effects is widespread. Teachers, coaches, physicians and plenty of others who ought to know, don’t
And that brings me to Daughter No. 3, a clever and articulate lass named Jane, who was required by circumstances beyond her control to transfer to Columbus North High School before her senior year. With the change of schools, of course, came the requirement that she produce a senior project.
Almost on the fly, Jane decided to draw a positive result from the experience of her sister’s illness and make eating disorder awareness the focus of her project.
One result of her work will be on display at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Bartholomew County Public Library, where Jane will screen a documentary called “Someday Melissa,” the story of Melissa Avrin, a New Jersey woman who died three years ago at 19 after a grueling battle with bulimia. The movie was produced by Melissa’s mom, who resolved to make something good come out of her daughter’s death.
The documentary will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a representative of the Coalition for Overcoming Problem Eating at Indiana University in Bloomington.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by Jane’s choice of topic. The two sisters are best friends — except, of course, when they’re mortal enemies. They’re very different, but their bond is unbreakable.
Her sister’s ordeal has been a significant influence on Jane’s teenage years. Like alcoholism, eating disorders distort family routines nearly beyond recognition as the illness exerts a centripetal force that draws all things to it.
Life in a household struggling with an eating disorder can be isolating. After all, who else understands that for the sufferer, “dinner” can be a few strands of chicken breast and a lettuce leaf?
Let me rephrase that. It was isolating — until it became clear just how many families out there have dealt with the same thing.
That’s why I’m writing today. If an eating disorder has wrapped itself around someone you love — or if you simply want to learn more — head to the library on the 16th.
A six-week hospital stay provided Daughter No. 2 some valuable tools for coping with her illness, though eating remains a high-anxiety endeavor. A sharp, sympathetic therapist in Bloomington has made a difference. Still, you can’t wave a magic wand to make an eating disorder vanish.
If you know what I mean, we should talk.
Mark Baldwin is editor of The Republic. Reach him at 379-5665 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkFBaldwin.
The article can also be found on: The Republic’s website
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 stared at my computer screen. I froze in disbelief as I began scrolling through the emails in my inbox. In between offers for flat screen TVs and other great holiday deals on things I didn’t need, sat an email with the following subject line:
Acceptance Into the 2012 California Independent Film Festival
I slowly clicked on the email, not really believing what I was reading. It was real.
Dear Ms Judy Avrin,
Your documentary film, Someday Melissa:the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope, has received early acceptance into the 2012 California Independent Film Festival (CAIFF).
I began shaking uncontrollably. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I kept repeating it out loud. I couldn’t believe it. I knew the first two people I had to call were Danna Markson and Jeff Cobelli who made the film a reality. I GOT BOTH OF THEIR VOICEMAILS!!! I tried texting and kept calling. Danna finally called about 15 minutes later, Jeff shortly after, and I shared the amazing news. To say we were excited is the understatement of the year.
We knew how positive the feedback was, but to receive acknowledgement on this level was amazing. Better still, the festival is February 10 – 16, 2012, just a few weeks before NEDAwareness Week and the NEDA sponsored NYC premier of Someday Melissa on February 28th. Having Someday Melissa as a selection in the festival will provide a forum for sharing information and awareness about eating disorders to the festival community – messages that they will take back to their own communities.
The following day, I had a long planned visit with a friend of Melissa’s at a nearby park. Although they had met in treatment out of state, she lived nearby and the girls had stayed connected. It was a warm autumn day, and as we walked around the lake, we shared memories of Melissa. She said how incredibly funny and inspiring she was. How they could talk to each other honestly and openly about their body image issues and the savageness of ED. She told me how they shared their dreams about the future, beating ED and how they would make a movie together one day.
Several months before Melissa died they were extras in a movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker that was filming in NY. I remember dropping Melissa off at 5:00 AM so they could catch the bus into the city. When she came home that night she was exhausted but so excited about having been a part of it. The film was released the same week as what should have been Melissa’s 20th birthday. I’ve never seen the movie but her friend told me the entire scene was cut.
As I reflected on the weekend’s events, I kept thinking about the film festival and the one person I wanted to share the news with. Melissa.
The impact of Someday Melissa around the world has been overwhelming:
“I am a 22 year old college student and I have struggled with bulimia all my life. This story has inspired me, and certainly made me seek out the help I have needed desperately to get well.” “The story was genuine and listening to the family describe Melissa’s life was heartbreaking. I think it should definitely be available for others to see especially those currently suffering.”
“I know this film will make a difference. Parents and society in general know so little about these kinds of disorders! Discussion is much needed so we can all understand… so we can prevent and fight eating disorders. I’m in Chile -so far away from you – and yet your message reached me, as it will reach all kinds of people around the world. Thanks for doing this.”
“My mother and I watched the film together yesterday, it sparked many questions about my eating disorder from my mother. It also allowed her to learn a little bit more about eating disorders. My father said this movie is a great outlet for families and friends to talk with sufferers of eating disorders. With “Someday Melissa” they understand a bit more what an eating disorder is, so when the movie is over they have questions for the sufferer.’” She was inspired to create her own “Someday..”
“My best friend suffered from an eating disorder, and is still in the process of recovery. Everyday is a struggle, but things are definitely getting much better for her, and Someday Melissa helped me to understand maybe what’s going on in her head more. I just want you to know that the movie you made is changing lives.” “Thank you for creating an avenue to open this level of conversation about a prevalent and yet taboo subject.”
Please share your story about the way Someday Melissa has impacted you!!!!
Several days ago I stumbled on a blog posting I wrote over a year ago, in September, 2010, for our first, very short-lived blog. I’d actually forgotten about that blog as we focused on completing Someday Melissa. I would like to share part of that entry:
“Yesterday I received an email from a therapist at a mid-western college counseling center asking when the film will be completed. She wrote:
“I work with many of the college women on our campus with eating disorders, and I found your website while doing my several-times-a-week check for updated information on eating disorder treatment. ….Best of luck to you in your endeavors to reach the countless and often silent victims of these deadly diseases. I pray many people find hope and freedom from Melissa’s story.”
I receive a steady stream of inquiries from college and university counseling centers around the country as well as from guidance counselors at middle schools and high schools. There’s a sense of urgency in the emails. Everyone is trying to find ways to reach kids in a way that will make them pay attention to what eating disorders really mean. I know “Someday Melissa” will do that.”
A year has passed since I wrote that entry, naively thinking the film would soon be completed. Making a film was unchartered territory for me. The road to completion was long and winding, with many unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows.
During that time I continued to receive emails and Facebook messages, from eating disorder treatment programs, high school guidance counselors and coaches, from individuals and their families. A therapist wrote that I was making a profound impact in the fight against eating disorders. We knew we were doing something important. That’s what we kept focusing on when we hit unexpected bumps while completing the film.
However, the most powerful messages I receive, the ones I read over and over, are from those fighting their own personal battles against ED. They post messages in our website’s guestbook and Facebook pages. One young woman wrote:
“The documentary brought my therapist to tears. we watched it over 3 sessions. This is only the beginning to the many lives you and Melissa will continue to help save.”
“Melissa’s story inspired me while I was in the throes of my own battle with Bulimia and Anorexia. I remember watching the clip from the Today show over and over…she was like me, only difference was I still had a chance to beat this monster. After a 15+ year struggle, I finally found the courage to step forward and accept treatment.”
“Thank you for giving me the courage to live “sober” and choose to be real… My heart bleeds for you, but rest knowing you can always save one starfish. Melissa’s story woke me up from a relapse today…. and I might never know how much I potentially owe you, and her, for that.”
I’m grateful that Melissa’s story, and my ability to share it, is continuing to fulfill her dream of changing lives. ~ Judy