I live in New Jersey but I was lucky. Although I lost power and electricity for a week after hurricane Sandy, I was spared the devastation that many coastal communities suffered and will be dealing with for a long time to come.
A few days after the storm hit, still without heat and electricity, I decided to drive south to stay with my brother and his family in Charlottesville, VA. Before backing out of my driveway, I emailed NEDA Board Member Robbie Munn, who also lives in Charlottesville, to tell her I would be in town. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know her over the past few years and I had just seen her several weeks earlier at the annual NEDA Conference in St. Petersburg, FL. She said o let her know the next time I came down to VA. Before I was even off my street my cell phone rang. It was Robbie calling to tell me that the Charlottesville NEDA Walk was going to be two days later. Would I consider coming? She didn’t have to ask twice.
St. Petersburg was the third NEDA conference that I’ve attended since Melissa died and each year feels different. In 2010 it was in Brooklyn, close enough to where I live in New Jersey that I could attend each day but return to the cocoon of my house each night. It was overwhelming at times, but I felt the support of NEDA members as well as that of other families and professionals I had started to meet while filming Someday Melissa. I was honored to be asked to participate in the first roundtable discussion for families who have lost someone to ED and over the ensuing months we worked together to create the Loss Support Network.
In the year that followed I poured my grief into finishing the film as well as forming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Someday Melissa, Inc., to fulfill the mission of raising awareness of eating disorders and the importance of early treatment. It was what I needed to do to help give some meaning to losing Melissa. I was proud when Someday Melissa became a member of the NEDA Network, a collaboration between NEDA and like minded organizations across the country.
Last October, with the film completed, I flew to Los Angeles for the 2011 NEDA Conference. It was a powerful experience, meeting families, researchers and clinicians. I just re-read the blog post I wrote last year and it still fills me with wonder that Melissa’s story is having such an impact.
In the following months I began speaking at screenings of Someday Melissa: at colleges and high schools, community screenings and treatment centers. We created a Host a Screening program and during NEDAwareness Week alone there were dozens of screenings across the country. With each date we added to the calendar, I felt Melissa’s impact.
At last month’s conference in Florida we were an exhibitor for the second year and there were more familiar faces but so many new ones. I spoke with clinicians in private practice and from treatment centers. I spoke to researchers and educators. I spoke to families and people still struggling. They all thanked me for sharing Melissa’s story, that it was making a difference. That it was helping to raise awareness and provide hope.
Two weeks later I found myself at the NEDA Walk on the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia. I was honored when Robbie asked me to say a few words. I told the crowd that I had blown in on the winds of Sandy and that they had actually blown me home. You see, I grew up in Charlottesville. My father was a professor at the university and some of my earliest memories are of the beautiful campus that Thomas Jefferson created. I remember being a young girl dreaming of my own future. I remember being a pre-teen and feeling anything was possible.
The winds of Sandy blew me to Charlottesville in time for the NEDA Walk. Coincidence? I’m not so sure.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) walk in New York City has a great deal of significance for Someday Melissa. Judy first shared Melissa’s story in 2009 and since then we have continued to promote and educate others about our film and mission at the walk. This year’s walk was my second as a member of the Someday Melissa team and it is so gratifying to see how we are growing and increasing the reach of our awareness each year.
Although the sky was overcast and a chill was in the air, the bright blue NEDA walk shirts cheered up the atmosphere in Foley Square. Balloons, signs and songs floated around as the crowds began filling the area of Lower Manhattan with excitement. Soon the walkers were gathered to the stage in the middle of the square and the mood was rising. Model Emme spoke on her challenges working in an industry that is not usually welcoming to diversity in representations of bodies and shapes. Soon, a voice rang through the air and the walkers began their journey across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Of all the special moments of the walk, the ones that held the greatest significance for me were the ones that happened at our booth. People who had seen our film at a local screening and were thrilled to purchase a copy to share with others. Parents relieved to have a chance to speak with Judy and share their frustrations and fears regarding their child’s disorder. Therapists who were excited about our new Guided Discussions for Recovery so they can incorporate the film into their practice.
Most of all, hearing stories of loss, recovery and hope throughout the walk will stay with me forever. Faces on buttons, names of loved ones on shirts, messages of recovery and hope on signs. Some were walking for loved ones still in treatment, some were in recovery and walking to inspire others. Others were walking in memory of those whose lives were cut short by the disease of eating disorders. Every story that was shared contributed to the goal of breaking the silence about eating disorders and educating others. We may not be able to defeat eating disorders in one day, but on Sunday we were winning the fight.