Laura Collins has a lot to do with the fact that I have been able to write six books on eating disorders in the past six years, and am writing another three.
The reason is this: Laura believes in me.
After recovering from a four-decades-long eating disorder in 2007, I began to write my memoir and set about exploring the eating disorder field – the online support, the research, in a bid to further understand what had happened to me.
Imagine someone walking out of a deep dark jungle after being isolated and lost in wilderness for four decades. I was that person. Suddenly here I was in brilliant sunshine, free to explore – and very soon I found Laura on her soapbox. ‘She gets it,’ I thought. She was the first parent whose understanding of the effects of Anorexia Nervosa matched my experience.
Feeling passionate about helping to raise awareness of ED, I tentatively sent my memoir draft manuscript to Laura. She wrote back immediately. Her blurb on the back cover of ‘A Girl Called Tim’ reads:
‘From lost years and relationships, to found treasures of grandparenting and a worldwide audience.’
My son said at the time: ‘Mum, Laura gets it.’
Yes, Laura gets it.
Lost and Found
This mother, parent, carer, selfless advocate extraordinaire understands what living with an eating disorder is like; she understands with uncanny insightfulness, the eating disorder effect on the sufferer’s psyche; and in seeking answers, she walks on sparkling high heels where others fear to tread.
I am (many) years older than Laura but in many ways feel like her child. You see, my family not understand my eating disorder. From the age of 11, when the Anorexia developed in my brain, the illness progressively sabotaged and eventually destroyed family relationships. My mother would occasionally say ‘I want my June back’ and I would cry and sob within ‘I’m in here but I can’t get out’.
Decades rolled by; my mother (and father, and sister) lost sight of the real me, and I lost them. Feeling misunderstood, alienated, rejected, by one’s own family; being labeled ‘self-centered’, ‘weak-minded’ and ‘the problem’ was painful. At age 55, with recovery achieved and self-belief restored, I wanted to show my parents and sister that ‘hey, I’m back! I’ve been here all the time; I’ve worked really hard to escape this illness that sabotaged and suppressed me,’ but by then they had moved on, built a life without that June of long ago. The loss.
A Family of Choice
Yet here was Laura believing, sight unseen, in me. Never mind that Laura was 10,000 miles away. She helped instill in this long lost child a sense of belonging, of worthiness. She injected a strong dose of acceptance and self-belief and with it, a sense of family. My family of origin had fallen prey to Anorexia, but now Laura became a member of my family of choice.
Laura was astounded when I said ‘I want to help you to help families.’ That I wanted to help educate parents and carers in family-based and other evidence-based treatments; and to help disseminate research findings in a way that doctors and families, and sufferers, could understand and implement.
Laura couldn’t understand why I wanted to help families. ‘You have a right to be feeling angry and resentful,’ she said.
A Voice for the Voiceless
Laura, the answer is you: your empathy, your innate ability to see the person beyond the illness and draw them out, to encapsulate what this illness is about and fearlessly share this on the world stage. You are a voice for the voiceless – standing on your soapbox and tap dancing on ED, and on other toes too, if necessary, at all levels and from all sides, on behalf of everyone, everywhere: to educate and bring about change.
You inspire with your unwavering passion and courage to do what has to be done to educate and raise awareness, find answers, save relationships, save lives, save families. Create families.
We met for the first time at a NEDA Conference in Minneapolis in 2010. ‘Bucket’ moments include attending the inaugural F.E.A.S.T. conference in 2011, serving on the F.E.A.S.T. Board and more recently the F.E.A.S.T. Advisory Panel.
It’s so good to see the Academy of Eating Disorders recognizing your amazing contribution in advocacy to the eating disorder field. For 10 years you have asked questions, insisted on answers, made researchers sit up, take off outdated blinkers, and persuaded them to listen to carers. You have helped families around the world cope with looking after a child with an eating disorder. And you have achieved this, not from some swish office suite, but from the kitchen of your family home.
Laura, you get it.
Now it is time for others to pick up the mantle of advocacy that you shouldered so long and so well, and carry it forward.