Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fighting for Avery, by Tracey Todd

I am going to be honest and tell you I thought writing this would be easy, that it would flow from within ~ from my heart. I love to write! I enjoy writing and during my daughter's most medically challenging times with anorexia, I did a lot of writing. Writing in the form of journals to myself, emails of support to Avery and emails to family and close friends, updating them on her situation or trying to explain the complexity of this illness. I never had any problem conveying what it was I wanted and needed to say...until now.

I'm feeling incredibly frustrated and discouraged. Am I fearful of having our story out there for anyone to read? Am I fearful of what Avery might think when she reads my writing? That I have limits on how many words to express my thoughts and that I need to be mindful of content? Am I worried about what my family and friends may think? Frankly, yes, all of the above. However, I do know I am determined to raise awareness and educate others about this horrifying illness. So, whatever the reason I'm struggling, I will overcome it, my words will be written and ultimately read. I know without a doubt, that I'm not fearful of being vulnerable, I view allowing oneself to be vulnerable as strength, not weakness.

I will omit details of what Avery endured, as I know that whether you are recovering from an eating disorder or supporting someone with one, you know very well the the vast complications of this illness.

Within weeks of Avery being diagnosed with anorexia, her health went from bad to worse, to life threatening. She was very emaciated and presented each and every symptom of anorexia. We were seeking help, but things weren't happening fast enough.

Finally, while seeing her Eating Disorder doctor for her initial assessment Kevin (my husband/Avery's father) Avery and I were told just how sick Avery was. Deep inside I knew she was very ill, but part of me was in denial...I was hopeful that I was wrong and thought perhaps she really wasn't very sick at all. My fears were realized and all of my hope was shattered when her ED doctor told us just how sick Avery was. Hearing her words “she is very, very sick, I'm urgently referring her to St. Paul's” was heart wrenching.

I soon made a promise to myself that once Avery was stabilized, I would raise awareness and educate others about eating disorders. I had no idea in what form that would take, but knew I needed to do something. What drives me to raise awareness and allow myself to be vulnerable in sharing our experience is the absence of knowledge about eating disorders. My shock at the lack of compassion while being in public with Avery as well as the comments and questions I received from others when telling them of Avery's illness. And lastly, for the women I met at St. Paul's 4NW.

First ~ the jaw dropping stares. Double, triple looks, up and down looks, the head turning (I refer to these as “whiplash” looks), the tap your friend on the shoulder to have a look, look! The staring was endless and was always a given when being anywhere in public. It was as though she was a being from another planet.

Second ~ the comments throughout her illness, all innocent, but confirmed why I needed to help raise awareness. I received comments like, “So she's trying to be anorexic now?” “She should just eat more.” “You mean she has this because you (meaning me, Tracey) exercise?” “Why is she doing this?”...and many more. Comments like these told me that people really don't know about eating disorders. After all, I too, had no knowledge whatsoever until “ED” reared its ugly head in our home. I probably would have asked the same questions if the tables were turned.

Third ~ for all of the women I had the honour of meeting while Avery was in hospital! I admire your strength and determination to fight ED! Some of you are doing this on your own without support! I am so very, very proud of all of you! You impacted my life in ways I cannot describe. I told some of you that I would be raising awareness and I'm keeping my word!

It's also very important to tell you that we were embraced with compassion and understanding by many, in fact, deeply touched.

Avery was hospitalized at St. Paul's for 20 days in August 2013. Once again, I will spare details as it is very difficult to relive and it is all still very fresh. However difficult having her hospitalized was, it is what saved her life! I carry an immeasurable amount of gratitude towards all of the doctors, nurses, specialists, LifeLabs technicians, dieticians, counselors, our GP's receptionists, and paramedics who cared for Avery while in and out of hospital.

People have asked me how I cope...my response, "I just do". When your daughter's life is close to slipping away, and “ED” has blinded her from seeing how sick she is, as a parent you do whatever you need to do. I hit rock bottom on many occasions, but thankfully with Kevin's love and support and that of family and close friends I got through it. Kevin and I kept one another strong. When I struggled he was strong, and vice versa.

Kevin and I were (still are) an amazing tag team and support for Avery...we know this because she told us many occasions, and we were complimented numerous times on how committed we were in supporting Avery. Together we loved her unconditionally, learned about anorexia and understood it. We cared for her, and listened to her. We were there for her no matter what. We attended each and every appointment, every meeting, every emergency room trip...everything! Our patience never ran thin and we never got angry with her. Once Avery was hospitalized, we were there everyday!

Without the love, support and encouragement from family and close friends, getting through Avery's illness would have been much more difficult. We appreciate all of your prayers, emails, phone calls, texts, YouTube videos, inspirational letters (L&Z), gifts you brought to Avery, and hospital visits more than you will ever know. Tristan and Kale, (Avery's older brothers)...you stood by and supported Avery, myself and dad. I know this has been incredibly worrisome and difficult for you to witness. Your words to Avery in her journal before going to hospital meant everything to her. Your love, hugs, visits and your gifts of healing stones all remain very dear to Avery.

For my close friend, Kathy, who first recognized that Avery may have an eating disorder and who urged me to talk to Avery about our concerns. Kathy, I appreciate the love, strength, knowledge and support you have given and continue to give me, Kevin and to Avery.

Avery, I am, (as I always tell you), beaming with pride for all you have endured and accomplished throughout your illness and recovery. I am thankful you chose recovery! You have remained strong, stoic and incredibly positive throughout! Keep fighting ED, you can and you will beat him!

I don't know why ED came to be in our family, but I do know that things happen for a reason. Illnesses, be it an eating disorder, cancer, alzheimers etc...usually come out of nowhere and hit you when you least expect it. It is through times like these that we gain strength, courage and knowledge to help us cope with anything life throws our way.

4 comments:

  1. Love can heal anything. And it seems that a lot of healing is taking place. I didn't know how bad eating disorders could be. This has opened my eyes and helped me understand how bad it really is. Hope things keep getting better for your daughter and your family. Thank you for sharing this. Jason

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    1. Thank you for your kind words Jason! I am glad that my sharing a snipit of our experience has helped you to understand the seriousness of eating disorders. So many people think they are a choice...not at all, they are a life threatening illness. Avery is happy...even proud that I am bringing awareness to eating disorders and desperately wants the stigma to be gone. Those who suffer from this illness endure so much medically, physically and mentally; being gawked at in public and faced with the comments just adds more needless pain to the suffering. I will continue to bring awareness to others with the hopes that sooner rather than later eating disorders will be understood, not just for my daughter, but for all who suffer from this illness. Thank you again for taking the time to read and respond to our story Jason! ~Tracey (:

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  2. Thank you so much for the post. As someone that had anorexia and bulimia for 20 years (18 of them working toward recovery- with the longest periods of success being during pregnancy), it's nice to see some light shed on eating disorders. The stares, the ignorant comments, the misunderstanding.. it's just more things to carry on your shoulders. I have had a very long journey, so I won't share it all here, but please tell Avery to never give up. I fell and got back up thousands of times. Falling is part of the journey. If you expect perfection from yourself, you will fail. Nobody does it perfectly - if they say they have, they are lying to you and themselves. Sometimes I didn't want to keep trying, but something in me knew I wanted more from life. The journey was worth it. I have a beautiful life now, free of ED, with a husband, beautiful children, friends, a good relationship with my family, and a normal life. I just have to remember the tricks that ED can play and make sure I am smarter than him. :-) Sadly, I had 3 friends from various treatment centers take their lives and, looking back, I feel so sad and angry for them and their families that they gave up before their moment happened. For me, it was that simple - just culmination of everything I had been through, learned, and tried for 18 years wrapped up into a moment. One day, I just looked at myself and my young children and said, "that's the last time." And it was. I was just ready and I was done feeling terrible. Keep loving her, keep encouraging her to branch out and do things she loves. For me, I had to gain things that I didn't want to lose. I felt like the Little Engine That Could. Recovery can feel impossible, but I am living proof that no matter how long you have had ED, it is possible!!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story Erin! You battled ED for a long, long time! It is so nice to hear that you are recovered and as someone told me recently, it's nice to hear someone talk about ED in the past tense...giving those still battling, hope that they too will recover.
    The stares and comments were unbearable. BUT, I often wonder if it wasn't for those things would I be so driven to help bring awareness to EDs. It is my hope some of those people who stared at Avery will read my blog or see my article in the local paper, and will think twice before staring so blatantly at someone so obviously ill in the future. If they only knew that the young woman they were staring at was dying from an abundance of symptoms of her illness while waiting to be hospitalized.
    I appreciate your wisdom and words of encouragement! I am happy for all you have gained with your recovery. You should be very proud of yourself!
    Wishing you much happiness Erin! ~ Tracey =)


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