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1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives.

Bell Let's Talk Day is about getting the facts and opening up the discussion. Only then can we begin to break down the stigma associated with mental illness, and help people who need it. Not a handful of people, 1 in 5. Not nameless, faceless people - they're our friends, families, co-workers, people you hang out with at school, people you know from your neighbourhood.

If they had cancer, you would say a kind word, give them your support. Are people suffering from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia getting the same words of kindness, the same support?

For Let's Talk Day, Much is devoting a special edition of NML to focus on eating disorders. Learn about issue from experts and share the personal stories of young people who have struggled with it. Keep the discussion going here and wherever you are - let's talk until we make it better.

Profiles

  • Caitlin

    Just the thought of writing this letter terrifies me. My pulse quickens and there are acrobats performing in my stomach. Both are now second nature in this prison you've created. Your bars are the strongest steel, reinforced by misconception and welded together with self-loathing. Through all these years, I have played the part of convict serving a maximum sentence of self-destruction; but the guilty verdict that keeps me here is merely your delusions that you have projected so convincingly onto me. Because of you, life has become a spectator sport. You lead me to the sidelines and then taunt me in my restraints that prevent me from actually partaking in anything, nor letting me ever fully engage anyone.

    With consistent strokes your cruel remarks and mocking laughter has scraped away at my self-worth. You've eroded my confidence with your acidic lies and twisted truths. Every line has been blurred until I am no longer able to define myself save for by the lines that you create. In your wake drifts a hollow shell, a ghostly specter that no longer resembles anything of who I was.

    This stranger that stares back from the mirror has your accusing eyes and judgmental scowl - all lines set firmly on my face. This cold being has neither empathy, nor compassion and for the life of me, I cannot reconcile my todays with my yesterdays. The beaten path of my true self has diverged dramatically and I find that you have led me on a tangent, so far from where I ought to be and who I really am.

    Everyday you blanket my mind in a thick, malnourished fog, clouding every situation with a heavy distortion. There wasn't a single flaw you didn't exaggerate, nor did you miss an opportunity to point out my failings in comparisons you had rigged for me to fall short in. Every night you would sing me to sleep with lullabies detailing my inadequacies. Until you had fully convinced me, between the onslaughts of night and day, that I was a worthless husk of a person, completely undeserving of any love or kindness,

    You ripped apart happy memories, shredding them with whispers of "fake" and twisting kind gestures into mere acts of pity. Your mantra of "unlovable, inadequate, LOSER" became my own words, flung at every reflection. It dragged me deeper into shadows, away from the light, and right into the bowels of my own person Hell. There in the darkness you abandoned me, stranding me so far from the person I had started out to be. I completely lost my way in the labyrinth of your lies. Each passing moment had me sinking deeper in a quicksand of self-hatred. As every attempt to save myself only had me drowning faster, I gave up fighting and believed it all to be futile.

    You taught me to lie and cheat, to disregard those I love in my efforts to appease you. Performing your little plays, with every lie scripted to the letter, I could find a single, brief moment of peace from your cruel recriminations. It ceased to matter who I hurt in the process. Slowly, those moments grew fewer and farther between, until there was no escaping your wrath.

    Even as I rotted from the inside out and butchered myself from the outside in, you had the self-hatred so ingrained that I believed, with everything in me, that I deserved it all. Soon my hatred grew too much to be contained and I was bursting at the seams. Hundreds of times doctors would stitch me back together, shaking their heads in disgust, but the toxic bile that you had poisoned me with oozed from every pore tainting ever action, thought, experience, and relationship.

    I look at pictures now of a little girl from long ago and start to realize that even if she wasn't perfect, she had worth. It didn't matter what she could or couldn't do she was loved. That innocent little girl who never did a thing to deserve your torture had, and has, every right to exist. Not just to exist, but to live and thrive.

    I can never forgive you for the pain you caused her. Even if I cannot yet believe that I deserve better, I know without a doubt that the little girl in those pictures did nothing to warrant such monstrous treatment. So although, right now, I cannot find it in me to fight for myself, I will fight for that little girl, along with every hope and every dream that you stole from her and left in shattered pieces at her feet.

    She deserves the chance to shine brightly and to go out in a brilliant blaze of glory. She will no longer rust away in your shadows.

  • Marie Tomeoki

    Curiously, art has the ability to allow us to reflect on aspects of our lives that we may otherwise not have been aware, and gives us a medium to speak about and through. Sometimes, all we need to voice ourselves is to be given the opportunity to share.

    I began to consider visual arts as a career when I had to stop ballet due to doctor's orders. I needed another form of expression; this initially came through paper cut outs, which then developed into something more elaborate. This process began while I was in an inpatient psychiatric hospital program, first for anorexia and bulimia, later for chronic depression and anxiety disorders. I hope to inspire others and give hope to those who experience similar struggles; to create a safe place to share and discuss mental health matters, as well as how mental health awareness is reflected in society and the real world. My art is proof of the possibilities, capabilities, strengths of living and surviving, BEING human.

  • Stephen Martin

    I'm Stephen. I struggled with an eating disorder after I came out. I hated myself; I felt like I didn't fit in anywhere. My adolescence was a turbulent one, and I exerted the only sense of control I felt I had by restricting calories and exercising excessively. The downward spiral of anorexia nervosa took hold and refused to let go. Silence gives an eating disorder power and while it felt like the suffering was all my own, its reach affected the relationships with my friends and family. My Mum couldn't bear it any longer and insisted that I see a doctor. I was referred to the Eating Disorder Unit at North York General Hospital. The whole time I was convinced I wasn't really "sick enough". In the four months I spent in the hospital they helped me take an honest look at my behavior and nourished my body, heart, and soul. I'm proud of what I overcame, and hope to inspire others so that they can do the same.

  • Victoria Fox

    It is difficult to recall a time where I was happy, or carefree. For me, there wasn't one moment or event that changed everything. I had a childhood filled with trauma, which contributed to my already existent feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I wanted to disappear, and I did everything I could to be "numb" to my reality. The eating disorder served this purpose, as did engaging in self-harm.

    Quickly my life was out of control. I spent my teenage years in hospitals and treatment programs. I dropped out of high school, and most of my friends distanced themselves from me because they couldn't watch me kill myself any longer. I lost the capacity to care about anything outside of destroying myself. It is an exhausting way to live. But year after year I have dug myself a deeper grave. Rock bottom is dying. And I had to accept the reality that I will die if I don't say yes to recovery.

    The idea of recovery is scary and unfamiliar. I have spent more than half of my life doing everything possible to disconnect from the world. And I am learning that recovery is all about connection - to yourself, your body, people and the world. Being sick often feels safer and so inherent, but truthfully having an eating disorder is miserable, lonely, and full of darkness. I need to believe that life doesn't need to be like that. And so, I hold onto hope and the belief in a different future. It will take challenging my core thoughts and beliefs, and addressing experiences I buried deep within myself. I think recovery is also about changing behaviors, and learning that I am outside of sickness. Recovery takes commitment and it requires getting uncomfortable. As overwhelming and terrifying as recovery is, it is the only option with possibilities. I want my life to mean more then illness and engaging in the process of recovery is the only way I will discover the possibilities my life holds. I am fighting for my life. I am fighting to live not merely survive. My journey has changed me, but it will not destroy me. This is not the end of my story.

  • Shelby Ernst

    People with eating disorders think that becoming thin will solve all of their problems, when in actuality, that is a problem in itself. The media has a massive impact on teens, both girls and boys, portraying the image of a what you 'should' look like. We will strive for this image whether it is a thin girl or a fit, muscular boy. People with eating disorders are also very sly and cunning at hiding their problem. They will push you away with all their might, simply saying 'I'm fine' when in actuality they're begging for any kind of help. I'm Shelby, I'm 16 years old and I know exactly what all of this feels like.

  • Ashley Tritt

    It amazes me to think about how much life has changed for me in the past few years. It is hard to believe that not so long ago there was a time when I never thought I'd say, "I am hungry, I will eat and I will enjoy it," and that I would mean those words.

    There was a point in my experience with an eating disorder where I could not picture my future without being obsessed with weight. My body and mind were so ravaged from months of restricting and dieting, that I did not see my life without a full-blown eating disorder. There was a lot of denial and resiliency to get better because I was too sick to see how unhappy I truly was. I embraced recovery when it became more about feeling better and, ironically, less about food. Funny enough, a side effect of feeling better, in general, was that I would actually WANT to nourish my body.

    I am so proud and excited to be a part of Project HEAL, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness about eating disorders and fund individuals to go for treatment. After founding the Canadian division of Project HEAL we have already grown to four Canadian chapters and over 18 American ones. My hope is that we can get to a point, as a society, where we can learn to accept our bodies-imperfect yet amazing as they are-and in doing so, we can heal from the negative messages about weight and thinness that have become accepted as the 'norm' in today's culture.

    The wonderful thing about recovery is that, eventually, we learn that instead of depending on an eating disorder, we can depend on something far stronger and more absolute, that is, ourselves.

Comments

FAQ

I'm worried that my friend/family member has an eating disorder. What should I do?
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Try to talk to her/him about it. Don't ignore it. Be direct and show your concern. Start by telling her/him that you want to talk and ask for a good time. Tell her/him that you're worried or concerned for her/him and say why. Be specific about the behaviour [e.g. "I saw you throw out your lunch" "I heard you throwing up in the bathroom" "I see you at the gym all the time" (over-exercising)]. Tell her/him that you think she/he might have an eating disorder. Show her/him some educational material on eating disorders with signs and symptoms. Be patient. Ask her/him if she/he needs/wants help. If yes, make a plan to talk to someone else with her/him: a teacher, guidance counsellor, doctor, parent, or therapist. If she/he denies or minimizes your concerns, you can: back off and try again another time, find others who share your concerns who can each try to talk to her/him (it gets harder to deny from multiple sources), or if it's very serious, tell her/him that you can't be around her/him if she/he doesn't get help. This is a last resort for people and is a serious consequence for the eating disorder. Sometimes it takes something very serious like this for the person to see how damaging the eating disorder is to her/his life.
My friend has told me she/he has an eating disorder. What can I do to help?
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Learn as much as you can about eating disorders (try Life Without ED by Jenni Schaefer to start). Tell her/him that you're there for her/him to talk (if you're comfortable doing so) and let her/him talk about whatever's bothering her/him. Just listen and be supportive. You don't have to have all the answers or try to fix it. Remember: FEELINGS, NOT FOOD. Eating disorders have much less to do with food, weight, and shape and more to do with self-esteem and trying to cope with intense feelings. A little validation and understanding go a long way. Ask her/him what you can do to help. It may be just being there to talk, having a meal/snack with her/him, providing distractions from thoughts/urges at difficult times (e.g. playing a game after meals), or being a good role model for normal eating and positive food and body talk. Don't agree to keep secrets for her/him regarding the eating disorder. This can put you in a very uncomfortable (and sometimes dangerous) position. Tell her/him what you are willing/not willing to do and when you think you're out of your league (when professional help is needed). Be honest and respectful with them.
I have some eating disorder behaviours but I don't fit the criteria for AN, BN, or BED. Do I have an eating disorder?
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The three categories and diagnostic criteria for each may make it look like you have to fit into one of the categories to have an eating disorder. This is not true. Fifty percent of people with eating disorders do not meet all the criteria for any one disorder. There is a fourth category, called EDNOS or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, under which these people fall. This category is for people who meet some but not all of the criteria for any one of the three diagnoses. They may have aspects of both Anorexia and Bulimia for example. It is also important to note that it is common for people to change or shift from one category to another. Many people who are first diagnosed with Anorexia may later become Bulimic. This can happen if someone has had their eating disorder for a longer period of time.
Why can't she/he just eat?!?
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Eating disorders are complex biological and psychological phenomena and cannot be resolved by "just eating". Many people have entered treatment where their weight has been restored to a normal level and left only to slip or relapse soon afterward. Restoring weight or balanced nutrition is only one aspect of recovery from an eating disorder. Someone once described it like this: "Imagine doing the thing you're most afraid of, three or four times a day, for the rest of your life." There are many fears and anxieties people with eating disorders will have to face through recovery, and fears about food, weight and shape (even though they don't seem to make sense from the outside) are only some of them.
Do people recover from eating disorders?
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This is a difficult and complicated question to answer. The short answer is yes, they can. The longer answer begins with what is meant by "recover". Recovery from an eating disorder (or any mental health issue) is not black and white. There are varying degrees of recovery. Some people will go through treatment and be fine. The prognosis for an adolescent with an eating disorder, if caught in the first year and treatment is completed successfully, is very good (Lock et.al., 2001). Others will go through treatment and their recovery may be up and down. They may have times when things are fine and times, especially under stress or during life transitions (e.g. getting married, having children, etc.), when they have slips (a "slip" is short-term, not kept secret, and becomes a learning opportunity). Generally, the first year after treatment seems to be the most difficult. Many people will continue to actively engage in recovery activities (e.g. attending therapy, seeing a dietician, participating in support groups or social action) for years after treatment. And still others may be more chronic in terms of their struggle with their eating disorder. These people may go to treatment several times, they may relapse (a series of slips that don't stop, are kept secret, and are not used for learning), and they tend to have a harder time achieving a full recovery. The hope is that people will continue to try, and that if you keep trying, you will eventually get to where you want to be.

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