In several days, 2015 will begin. This small pocket of time, between Christmas and New Year, is a grand opportunity to pause and reflect — like inserting a dot between finishing one chapter of life and starting another. Such time provides a chance to attend to items requiring closure, to repackage wayward thoughts, beliefs and perspectives, to dream, and prepare for a continued process of self-discovery and renewal.
Reflecting can be painful but also healing and reassuring. It can help us decide which way to go.
Pain and Hope
Along the way, we might shed some tears. Tears cleanse and help heal inner wounds. On Christmas Day I hugged my eldest son and tears of gratitude flowed; my daughter hurried over and touched my shoulder, ‘oh Mum, come now, no tears on Christmas Day’, but I assured her, these tears were borne of but now not of sorrow, today’s tears were borne of but not now of loss; today’s tears were happy tears; tears of love and the comfort that comes with belonging. Today’s tears were for life itself. My sweet daughter, it’s okay to let our feelings show. ‘That’s good, Mum’.
Family and Food
Many people with eating disorders dread Christmas, for reasons mostly revolving around food and relationships. For decades I was one of these people. Not any more.
Upon reflection, I feel convinced that when we are able to be in touch with, and true to, our feelings; when we feel loved and have a strong sense of connection with trusted others, especially close family members, and most importantly, with our own self, the anxiety and fear that can surround food, abates. For people with an eating disorder, this is easier said than done, because the eating disorder thrives on creating mistrust, and causing isolation from loved ones. For more than 40 years, ED ruled my inner self. Today, with the pen my sword, I am dedicated to exposing that bully’s wily ways.
Writing is Healing and Liberating
The year 2014 has been amazing in relation to my passion for writing.
Firstly, in March, I began working one day a week as a diary-writing mentor for patients in an eight-bed eating disorder unit of a private hospital. This work is personally humbling, meaningful and fulfilling.
Secondly, following the 2013 national conference for caregivers of people with eating disorders, two professors encouraged application to join the PhD program in Creative Writing, at CQUniversity, Noosa, Queensland. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t have a BA or Masters; I really didn’t have any pieces of paper saying I could do anything! All I had to show were my six books written about eating disorders in past six years.
But I applied, was accepted at the end of May, and in November, my confirmation of candidature presentation was successful. To top things off, the university has granted a scholarship that will assist with living expenses while completing the PhD. An amazing ride, to be sure. I am enjoying the PhD challenge, which has involved a steep learning curve in the academic world. My creative work is the book, The Diary Healer, which Routledge (London) will publish in 2015. I consider this book will be my major life’s work. My late mother, who shared my love of diary-writing is my inspiration. So too are readers of my blog, with many of you actively sharing in the creation of this book.
Noosa, being on the Queensland coast, is a pleasant base for a PhD student – I visited the campus, a 10-hour journey from my home in Victoria, three times in the latter half of 2014, and look forward to more visits in 2015. I am deeply appreciative to my principal supervisor, Prof. Margaret McAllister (School of Nursing) and associate supervisor, Prof. Donna Lee Brien (Creative Industries) for their belief in my ability, and for their wonderful guidance on this academic journey.
I’m writing two other books as well, with professors from King’s College, London, on eating disorders. One of these is titled My Family is Back with Prof. Ivan Eisler, on multi family therapy for eating disorders, and the other is the second edition of Getting Better Bite by Bite with Prof. Ulrike Schmidt and Prof. Janet Treasure, on bulimia nervosa and other binge eating disorders.
I feel deeply honored to have this opportunity to share my love of writing, and desire to raise awareness of eating disorders, with others.
Above all, my message is that an eating disorder is an illness. It is not a weakness. If you are feeling concerned that you are developing eating disorder symptoms, reach out immediately: don’t wait another moment. Reaching out for help takes immeasurable courage but this is the first and most vital step to take. Secondly, recovery is far more likely with a supportive, loving, understanding family. Ideally, today, every member of the family is involved in and supportive of the recovery process. (This is where I cry). Recovery IS possible without family support, but much easier and more likely with informed family support.
Don’t be Afraid – Let ED Go
So … family is important. So too, is freedom. Settle for nothing less. A mother wrote last week, saying that her daughter, a higher achiever at college in the US, is afraid she will lose her creative and competitive edge if she lets go of her eating disorder. NO. I wrote back immediately with a message for the daughter. Don’t be afraid. Let the ED go, and you will be amazed at where your wings of liberated creativity take you. Imagine … you may be getting by on five per cent you, but imagine, where you can fly, on 100 per cent you.
Allow Your Self to Be
I understand the daughter’s concern, for I felt the same way while in the clutches of ED. Since recovery, I expressed a similar train of thought, that I’d achieved what I had, because of my ED, to a wise physician at an eating disorder conference. She looked at me and said, gravely: ‘Yes, you have written several books, but if you had recovered earlier from your ED, you may have won a Nobel Prize by now’.
Too late for me, but not for young women, and men, today: if you are in school, in college, in early adulthood, I urge you to settle for nothing less than recovery. You may achieve good results academically in spite of, or despite, your ED. You may think it is your helper. But believe me: you will achieve much more, you may achieve a Nobel Prize, when you regain your authentic self, and all of your energy is free to focus, to be channeled, in a positive way. Most of all, you will achieve the right to explore and be true to, you.
So, this is my reflection as 2014 draws to a close. I feel grateful for a wondrous year and look forward to sharing adventures 2015 with you.
At Every Age, Family Support is Important
To conclude, I encourage you to read and share this article by
Stephanie Knatz, PhD, University of California, San Diego. Stephanie is one of the amazing, dedicated researchers investigating the benefits of multi family therapy in recovery from an eating disorder. Titled, Towards Establishing the Role of Family Support in the Treatment of Adults with Anorexia Nervosa this article will help you understand why family, whatever the age of the person with the illness, is important.
We have much work to do. Together, we can do it.