For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to write a blog about National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week. While procrastination is often my problem, it wasn’t the issue this time. I wrote opening paragraphs over and over, then deleted them. I couldn’t figure out why I was having so much difficulty, particularly since the week was so successful for Someday Melissa as an organization.
Through our Host a Screening program, 26 screenings of Someday Melissa, the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope were held in 18 states and Canada. They took place in colleges, treatment centers and in community groups. The feedback we received about panel discussions following the screenings was powerful and positive. We began receiving pictures of written “somedays” that audiences wrote and posted on boards. Melissa’s story – her dreams for the future – the hope she hung on to – was inspiring others.
Somedays” from William Paterson University, Greenwich, CT and the University of Lethbridge
I had the opportunity to speak at several screenings — at a Psychiatry program at North Shore LIJ Hospital on Long Island where I was able to meet with staff from many departments; at a community screening in Greenwich, CT where I had the thrill of speaking with several young women who had been in treatment with Melissa and are now moving forward with their lives. I flew out to Chicago to participate in a screening and program run by the Illinois School Social Workers Supervisor Council (ILLSSWC), where social workers from across the state participated in a workshop using Guided Discussions for Recovery, our new resource tool for treatment professionals which uses Melissa’s writings to facilitate discussions with patients and families. It was also particularly exciting for me to speak to an overflow crowd at Rutgers University, my alma mater.
ILLSSWC workshop Judy Avrin at Rutgers University
My amazing team at Someday Melissa worked tirelessly from January through mid-March, responding to calls and emails, arranging screenings, updating both our own events page as well as the NEDAwaress page and posting to social media. And I finally realized why I was having trouble writing. I needed time to breathe. To reflect. To step back from the whirlwind of the months of work involved in NEDAwareness “Week”.
People remark at times that I’m so strong and that it must be difficult to share Melissa’s story over and over again. It is hard and often when I’m speaking there will be a catch in my voice and my eyes will fill with tears. But then I take a breath and swallow my tears. I’ve learned that everyone has inner strength they never knew existed until called upon to use it. And I continue speaking because I know that Melissa’s movie is changing lives.
When I first began working with the Someday Melissa organization, I was unaware that mentioning my involvement in the eating disorder community to friends and family would spur some incredible discussions. What began as casual conversations about my work with Someday Melissa turned into meaningful and often frank dialogues about many of the complexities of eating disorders- body image, society, media, genetics and biology and dieting. Out of these talks, people I know have shared personal stories about their own connection to eating disorders- from their friends who have been treated successfully and are in recovery, to their family members who have engaged in unsafe weight loss practices, to their own struggles with body image and eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating.
Even today, after almost two years of being a member of the Someday Melissa team, the stories and thoughts that our supporters share with us continue to amaze and inspire me on a daily basis. Sometimes people are quick to share their own struggles with eating disorders- or the struggles of people close to them- other times these stories may emerge quietly but powerfully. All these stories are important because they are helping to break the stigma and silence about the issue.
Up to 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Some fully recover but others may relapse. Like too many others, Melissa Avrin passed away prematurely due to complications from an eating disorder. Despite these significant numbers, eating disorders are vastly underfunded; only $0.93 is spent on research per affected individual. Alzheimer’s Disease, in comparison, has an average of $88 spent on research per affected individual (National Institutes of Health, 2011).
This is why it is more important than ever before to not only continue the discussions about eating disorders, but to create new dialogues. The theme for this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week, February 24- March 2) was “Everybody Knows Somebody,” emphasizing the fact that eating disorders impact not only someone dealing with an eating disorders,but their friends and families as well. By sharing stories, we are sending a message that it’s ok to talk about eating disorders. With each word, each sentence, each communication, we are signaling that this is important and impacts us all.
NEDAwareness Week lasts a mere seven days each year, but we can all work year-round to speak up about eating disorders. Our mission at Someday Melissa is to promote recognition and awareness of eating disorders and the importance of early treatment and we do this through the film and our outreach and education through our website and social media throughout the year. It’s also as simple as speaking up and starting a dialogue- because “everybody knows somebody.”
For all of us at Someday Melissa, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of non-stop activity. This was our first year participating in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week) and we are proud to say that it was a tremendous success for our organization.
Our Events page was filled with screenings that were held in high schools, colleges, health care centers and local movie theaters around the country. Screenings and discussions took place in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia. Several were scheduled in the weeks before NEDAwareness Week and still more are coming up in the months ahead.
On February 28th, NEDA hosted a screening in New York City at Pace University, the same day that the Empire State Building was lit in NEDA’s colors of blue and green. Although the size and makeup of audiences varied at each screening, there was a common thread that highlighted the importance of the week. This was illustrated when Diana Williams, WABC-TV news anchor and panel moderator at the NEDA screening, posed the following question: “The theme of this year’s NEDAwareness Week is ‘Everybody Knows Somebody.’ I’d like to see a show of hands – how many of you know someone who has been impacted by an eating disorder?” Some hands immediately shot up, while others tentatively followed suit. Soon the auditorium was filled with raised hands. It was a powerful moment that emphasized why NEDAwareness Week is so important. Eating disorders do not only impact those suffering, but also friends, family and loved ones. It is a disease that is ignored all too often due to stigma, shame and silence. Each hand that was raised helped to break the silence and shout “I know somebody!”
I told students at a college screening last week that when I was their age, no one ever talked publicly about alcoholism or breast cancer and that my mission is to help break through that same wall surrounding eating disorders. A short time later, a young woman hesitantly raised her hand and said that she’s been in recovery from bulimia for 3 years and that my words gave her the courage to say it out loud.
We would like to thank everyone who attended a screening and let us share Melissa’s story with them, as well as the film facilitators and sponsors. Even if you could not attend a screening, every post on Facebook with words of encouragement, every reply on Twitter, every DVD ordered helps us with our mission: to educate about eating disorders through Melissa’s words and images. We could not do this without your support.
Although the week has come to a close, our work at Someday Melissa is far from over. NEDAwareness Week has started the conversation about eating disorders, but we need to keep the dialogue flowing every week and every day. Year-round, let’s raise our hands and make the statement that “everybody knows somebody.”
Thank you my sweet Melissa for changing lives.
On behalf of my Someday Team, Love, Judy