LISBON - When she received the news that a young friend of hers died due to an eating disorder, MJ was hit hard by the news. The family, struggling to understand their loss, was primary in MJ's mind when she reached inside herself to shed light on the problems of eating disorders.
At Facebook she writes, "I hate remembering this bad time in my life. I had an eating disorder as a teenager. My mother loved me enough to lock me up. I know she saved my lifeI want you all to know it is not easy to recover from this disease. But it can be treated."
The National Institute of Mental Health describes eating disorders as serious disturbances to diet, either eating too little and becoming emaciated or eating too much and purging afterward.
MJ was 220 pounds at one time. Other kids bullied her, called her names because she was overweight. At the height of her battle with eating disorders she weighed only 89 pounds. She remembers skipping breakfast and riding to school with a friend who begged her to eat crackers or something. Eat something! Instead she popped strawberry Lifesavers in the car. Lunch was likely to be a can of diet Coke.
"I thought I looked great!"
She also recalls her mother and brother arguing with her. When she turned away from them she collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
"I died," she said. But she was one of the lucky ones. The first responders were able to revive her. She explains the role of potassium and the heart. When potassium level drops below a certain level you can go into heart failure. Her heart stopped beating.
"There is more information available now," she said, noting how important electrolyte balance is. When you purge, she said, the hydrochloric acid from your stomach will eat the enamel off your teeth as well as causing acid reflux. MJ has spent a small fortune on dental work and will likely be on medication for acid reflux for the rest of her life. She warns that, because of low weight, hair falls out, too.
"My parents divorced when I was 16." She suffered with her problems for years, up and down in remission until she finally arrived at the door of reality. "I was a social worker in the healthcare field. A few of the cases I came in contact with hit home. In social situations I was being dishonest. I knew I had to be honest with myself if I wanted to get better and live." And her healing began. It was a long road between age 16 when the problems with eating disorders began and when she finally was able to close that book at age 37.
She notes there is still stigma attached to eating disorders. She shares her story because there are others who need to know about the disease, some who need to know they aren't alone. And, although talking about it makes it real, it also helps to dispel the mystery of it and erode the stigma.
"I was popular in school, involved in everything: band, track, bowlingI gave it all up for this. And I got hungry. I learned about purging. It was my new best friend."
Eating disorders, she said, start with a problem that is not resolved. For MJ, she didn't talk about the problems. Now she talks.
But, "It's not about me. It happened to me, but it's about the teens going through it." Now 44, she is comfortable with herself. "I'm finally who I always was." And she likes that woman.
But she didn't get through it alone. "You can't do it by yourself." She worked with her family doctor, her counselor. "I did some counselor shopping. You have to find someone you're comfortable with." Though she lost a lot of her friends-she thinks they were afraid and didn't understand-- there were family and friends who stuck with her through her illness, like her husband, David, her mother and her friends, Tina, Beth, Dee, Lisa, Susan and others. And she worries about friends that she knows are still battling eating disorders.
Today MJ works a job, volunteers for a food pantry, participates in the Relay for Life and has been a guardian ad litem as well as volunteering for the Salvation Army. Her family is at the core of her world. "I had to reacclimate myself to life." She says she's cured. She writes. She hangs out at Facebook. And she worries about young people who are where she has been. She hopes that sharing her story publicly will help someone else.
Family Recovery Center promotes the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and other mental health issues. For more information about eating disorders contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.