I was fortunate in my working life to come across many dynamic and inspirational people - and while I hope I took the time to convey what they meant to me along the way - I feel compelled to talk about one person in particular - the illustrious Vancouver Sun health reporter, Pamela Fayerman. She is one of the few dedicated health care reporters left in the newspaper business and her experience and knowledge shines through in the depth of her stories - in the questions she is compelled to ask - in the quality of her fine and fair reporting on this complex topic. Seeing an email from her in my inbox in my former capacity in communications - or hearing her voice on my cell-phone was enough to make me stop and take notice - not because I feared her (okay maybe a little bit but in the good way - as happens when you are confronted by someone so incredibly bright) - but because I knew what she would bring to the table would be important and warrant thoughtful consideration. Since I left my post - and in the months since my diagnosis she has reached out to me repeatedly in a private way to see how I was doing - offering the resource of her considerable professional connections if necessary and generally demonstrating the depth of her caring in the midst of her very full life.
Recently she challenged me on the topic of my eating disorder and whether there was anything I might have to offer after my decades long battle that might be helpful or instructive to others who are suffering. While I have touched on the topic as honestly as I can in my blog, I must say that I have never seen my experience as much more than a cautionary tale - that one can not abuse one's body to the degree I have done without some form of reckoning. In all honesty, the fact it took this long for me to experience a consequence as significant as kidney failure is a miracle. The fact is many people - men and women - will die as a direct or indirect consequence of disordered eating and it is probable it will catch-up with them much quicker than in my personal experience. Of course the physical toll is only one aspect to all of this - the emotional toll not just for those that suffer but those who love them is immeasurable. But the fact is I read many times about the risks involved - and none of it was enough to compel me to stop - nor do I believe you can scare someone into changing their behaviour. Back when I was young - before this behaviour became so entrenched - the options for people like me were limited and dare I say, primitive. I still do not believe waiting until people are so acutely
sick, then throwing them into hospital for "stabilization" when they are emotionally ill-prepared for the consequence of that - is an effective or reasonable approach. Nor is sending a select few sufferers for extended stays in hospitals south of the border at a cost of millions of dollars (it happens) is fair or sustainable. I know efforts have been underway in our own province to transform the approach to treatment as part of the broader mental health plan. The road back to health - for those that recover - is rarely a straight line. Some like me - will not make it - while others will try literally dozens of times to recover before they overcome. I feel a poor choice to offer any advice on this topic but I would say the following:
1. Teach your children that "you've lost weight" is not a complement they should strive for above all else.
2. Understand if someone you love is suffering that it is not about food and weight - it is about something so much deeper - fundamentally feeling unworthy - unworthy of self-care, unworthy of love.
3. Know that you can not force someone - as much as you would love to - to be well. You can be supportive and loving - but in the end and even with the best professional supports - they will need their own light and strength to overcome.
4. If you struggle with your own issues with food and body image - to the extent you can - seek help for that before visiting these issues on your children.
5. Recognize that eating disorders are not diseases of vanity - nor do you have to be a walking skeleton to suffer acutely from these conditions.
6. Do all you can in the early stages to facilitate the sufferer in accessing resources - be it a trusted and knowledgeable family doctor, counsellor or other more targeted professional program. As with any addictive behaviour - the more it is entrenched - the harder it is to prevail.
7. If you are a loved one or support person - remember and acknowledge your own need for a helping hand and don't be afraid to reach out. You will lead by the example of your own willingness to acknowledge that there is no prize for suffering alone.
8. Read everything and learn as much as you can about what type of supports exist and support those who are advocating to better address the overwhelming needs in this area.
Again, I am not in any way a poster child for this condition nor do I profess to have any particular knowledge that might assist. All I have are my thoughts - such as they are - after these decades and facing the prospect of my own mortality. If you are struggling, I send you all of the light and hope I have to give - you are worthy of love - you are worthy of leading a full and meaningful life. And to Pamela - my love and gratitude.