Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Looking Back ~ Two Years Later

August 1, 2013 was the most difficult day, as a mother, that I've experienced yet.  It was the day my husband and I took our daughter, Avery, to St Paul's Hospital to be hospitalized for anorexia, she was 18 years old.

If I close my eyes, I can see it all.  I can feel the grief, sadness and guilt for leaving her there.  Though it seemed surreal and difficult to believe; her life was hanging by a very small, weak thread, and indeed, it was real!

It's nearly August 1, 2015; we're nearing the 2 year anniversary of that day.  It still feels surreal.
Back then we were immersed in a all out war. The enemy, anorexia, a destructive, life threatening illness that was attacking Avery's mind, body and spirit!  However, Avery fought with everything she had and won the war.

Avery has come a long way from where she was.  It hasn't been an easy two years, not by a long shot!  Especially for Avery.  She has continued to fight her way through every day. She has remained strong and positive, even on the tough and tormenting days.

In a guest blog I wrote for PEDAW in February 2014,”Fighting for Avery", I spoke of raising awareness once Avery was stabilized.

Throughout 2014 and 2015, I've raised awareness by organizing Professional Day Workshops for Teachers and Educational Assistants. I was also successful with scheduling a workshop at Richmond's annual "Learning and the Brain Conference" in February 2014, where parents were also in attendance.
In May 2014, I arranged a workshop at Thompson Community Centre for "Move for Health Week" for Personal Trainers and clients of the Centre.

Amy Pezzente, (Co ordinator of PEDAW), graciously presented at all of these workshops. She not only spoke about eating disorders, but she stood in front of strangers and bravely told her story of battling anorexia and bulimia.   While she spoke, you could have heard a pin drop!

I attended all of the workshops and would raise my hand to speak and share our experiences.  Without fail, there would always someone needing information about eating disorders, because they had concerns for someone close to them. Often times it was more than one person requesting information.
I've contributed in a very small way to help bring awareness to eating disorders. I am one person, one voice, but put me with all of the other voices who are doing the same; we will be heard...we are being heard!

We are no longer held tight in the grips of an eating disorder.  We are in a different place, a healing place and a place where, for the most part, the eating disorder is behind us. We don't look back very often.  When we do, it's with pride of how far Avery has come.

Unfortunately, there are still numerous... countless, men and women battling this horrific illness.  Some have been battling this illness most of their lives.  Some are alone with this illness, without the love and support of their families. Many have lost their lives to this illness either by medical complications from the eating disorder or suicide.

While Avery was in hospital, I met some wonderful women.  They helped Avery get through the first few days and fortunately, they were there for her at moments I wasn't.  I've recently learned that two of these women are in hospital now, as I'm writing these words!  I was saddened upon hearing this news.   M and L, you are both in my thoughts!  I wish you strength as you fight ED!  Keep strong!!  Sending you both love and encouragement to get well!

If you suspect someone in your life has an eating disorder, do something, say something!  Don't wait!  Don't ignore the elephant in the room. There is help.

If you're in the beginning or in the midst of supporting someone with an eating disorder, I can tell you this, you are not alone!!  Eating disorders are very complex illnesses that are hard to comprehend and they can be incredibly isolating, for both the sufferer and the care giver.  Learn all you can about them and advocate for your loved one. Attend all appointments and meetings. Ask questions and make sure you get answers. There is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel.  Remember to love and care for them and yourself!  Be patient!

In hospital, Avery had a drawing book.  In this book, while visiting, I'd write letters, draw, doodle, color, write poems and inspirational quotes.  Before leaving her each night, I'd lay the book open to the newly written page on her pillow. We'd say our good byes.  (This was always a difficult part of our day).  This book brought comfort to both Avery and myself as she always had something positive to read before going to sleep.  Often she would draw in it as well. The attached drawing is one she drew and she wrote the quote from Buddha above the trees.

I keep the book tucked away; however, I bring it out from time to time to remind myself of the love and support I gave to Avery during her most challenging times.  It brings me to tears each time I read through it.  It is also a reminder that her illness, as surreal as it felt, was far from surreal. It was this book that inspired some of my words here today.

Eating disorders are NOT a choice!  They are a mental illness that requires immediate care and treatment from Eating Disorder Specialists and many other medical professionals.

~ "Your ability to heal comes from knowing that you WILL heal" ~

Tracey has witnessed the vast destruction an Eating Disorder has on a person.  Eating disorders are indeed prevalent and still so misunderstood. Tracey anticipates the day where the stigma and assumptions associated with Eating Disorders will diminish and that others will carry the same understanding and compassion for Eating Disorders as they do for other complex, life threatening illnesses. Tracey is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, animal lover, dedicated athlete and chocolate connoisseur!  She is an Educational Assistant for the Richmond School District.  Tracey resides in Richmond with her family. 

"Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves."

~ Mason Cooley

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Swimming Taught Me to Love My Self!

“How did you learn to love your body?” 

While I was out treading water in the middle of the lake on a hot summer evening recently, a new friend asked me this question after remarking how confident I am in my skin.

Loving my body has been a process, mostly a shift in mindset. Now, even though I can confidently say that I truly embrace and accept my beautiful self, I still have off times.

Whenever I feel insecure, stressed, or down about life, I seek out the pool, a lake, or an ocean – these places have been my greatest teacher. They are where my body loves to have fun and move: in the water. No matter what the day, jumping into my local pool makes my whole being (mind, body, & soul) feel so much better.

My love of swimming came naturally. As an infant, my parents brought me to swim at our local pool and took me in the lake at my grandparents’ cottage. I grew up surrounded by water; its’ constant presence taught me so much!

Over the years, I’ve competed in water sports like rowing and kayaking; but I have never competed in swimming. Being in the water is a place I seek out to relax and be nourished. Where I can go after a long day and life’s stressors are washed away.

Funny enough, I learned to love my body through swimming. No matter where I am in the world, I seek out the water: it is a positive environment that makes me feel my personal best.

When I am swimming, my whole being feels nourished and at peace. Immersing myself in this aquatic environment makes me realize how powerful I am. I focus on my body’s strengths as it moves through the water; the belief that my body isn’t perfect never crosses my mind. During such moments, I am at my best and truly accept and respect my beautiful self. My whole being is nourished by the water; it’s my playground.

Once I get in the water, I can swim for hours. Take, for example, the night I was asked “how did I learn to love my body?” I went to the lake as the perfect way to cool down and relax after a long hot summer work day. After getting there, I entered the water easily and proceeded to swim out deep and tread water for three hours with friends. My body just kept swimming and moving in the water. I felt truly alive and at peace in this beautiful lake. I wasn’t working out as a chore to keep my body fit. No, I went into the lake because my body craved it. My friends and I were having so much fun; we swam until the sun started to go down.

Swimming is a stress-reliever, a time when I can think deeply and process what is going on in my daily life – a place where I feel like all my worries are gone. When I’m floating on the surface or diving under the water, I feel weightless. No burdens.

In the water, I have never felt self-conscious – rather, it’s a place where I feel my body’s value – its’ innate worth and strength. As soon as I jump or dive in the water, the worries of life just wash away. Through water, I know that no matter where I am in my life journey, I will be reminded of the beauty of life!

Being in the water makes me feel invincible – diving in and surrounding myself in such a beautiful place – why am I not doing this every day of my life?!

The water is where I learned to love my amazing self – with its changing hues and depth. Water nurtures life. Perhaps that’s why I always return to it.

Arianna Merritt, M.Ed., is a behavioural change practitioner, digital storyteller, & Founder of The Self-Discovery Retreat – an interactive forum that provides recent grads, entrepreneurs, and professionals with practical strategies, community, and mentorship to reach their full potential.