I spoke with Jenn on the phone recently. She laughed. She had hope. She planned to write a book. I was going to help her.
But I can’t help her now.
I guess I couldn’t completely help her then. I tried as best as I could. I mailed cards and signed books. I sent encouraging text messages. We shared many long phone conversations.
Jenn died anyway. An eating disorder took her life at only thirty-two years old.
The loss of my friend Jenn is the harshest reminder of why we do what we do. The illness is insidious.
As a field, we have a lot more work to do to ensure that no more lives are lost. We need more research, improved treatment options, and better access to care. We need more people like you — smart, dedicated, and passionate — to join the fight.
If you are reading this, my guess is that you are, in fact, a recovery warrior. Maybe you are a clinician, an advocate, or a family member of someone who suffers. Or, possibly, like me, you know what it is like to struggle with an eating disorder yourself.
In the busy-ness of our everyday lives, all of us can easily forget the importance of our mission. We do what we do — fight against eating disorders — because families can be shattered and lives can be lost. But, more importantly, we do what we do because recovery can bring families together — stronger than ever before. And, with continued access to treatment, healing is absolutely possible.
Hope can be hard to hold onto when, in the course of our efforts, we face inevitable challenges like insurance coverage cutting out early — for many folks, this may even happen repeatedly. When fighting against life-threatening mental illnesses, this extra effort can be exhausting. We can feel hopeless and want to give up altogether.
I know this challenge firsthand; in my struggle to recover from both an eating disorder and PTSD, I spent an unreal amount of time fighting insurance companies; I filled out long forms proving that I needed help only to have to re-send these documents again and again — often to be denied.
Speaking about hopelessness, my dietitian probably forgot (momentarily) why she does this work when I yelled “I hate you!” with a lot of conviction during our appointment. You see, I was hyper-focused on what the Gatorade she held in her hand might do to my body. I feared I was losing control. Of course, in that moment, my eating disorder was in absolute control — not me.
With my brain hijacked by the illness, I had forgotten about the precious moments of freedom that I had experienced up to that point. Moments of freedom that included things like:
- Entering the grocery store alone without relentless anxiety
- Preventing a binge by calling a family member
- Making real friends and even initiating friend dates
Thankfully, my dietitian continued to hold onto hope for me.
Eventually, I was able to achieve my recovery goals. I was able to do that thanks to the amazing support from professionals, family, and friends.
If you are a champion for your own recovery or someone else’s (or possibly for a lot of someone else’s), cling tightly to moments of freedom from the illness, no matter how small the achievements may seem. The healing journey is long and arduous, no doubt, but we must have hope and keep moving along because people can and do fully recover.
As we begin a new year, consider how you might strengthen and revitalize your fight. Think about the things that you value. How can you spend more time and energy focused on those things?
For example, you could:
- Commit to better self-care
- Vow to have more fun
- Spend more time with friends and family
- Take time each day to reflect on why you do what you do for yourself and others
Personally, this year, I am devoted to all the above. Authors often write about what we most need to learn! I am also committed to spending more time on my newest passion — writing a book about fighting through PTSD.
It breaks my heart that Jenn never got to write her book, but I am sharing this now because I know that her message was one of complete hope.
Jenn desperately wanted you to know that, together, we are stronger — much stronger — than eating disorders. Jenn wanted recovery so badly, and she believed in it. Tragically, like many, she struggled with obtaining continued access to quality care. She was blessed to have a loving family who did all that they could to help her; they never left her side. In fact, I just called Jenn’s mom and sister. They gave their blessing to me so that I could share Jenn’s story with you today.
In closing, Jenn’s family and I want to share one of her favorite proverbs with you, something to remember her by and hopefully something that will inspire you to have hope and continue to do the good work in 2017:
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
Over the holidays, a beautiful monarch butterfly flew past me as I was at my parents’ ranch in the dead of winter. I immediately thought of Jenn.
Thanks, Jenn, for leaving so much hope behind. We need it; we will use it.
I love you, sweet friend.
Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and a National Recovery Advocate of the Family Institute at Eating Recovery Center. Contact ERC to learn more at (877) 957-6575. For PTSD-specific resources, contact ERC Insight at 877-737-7391.