I don’t know your name, and you have probably never heard of me; and yet, I saved your life last year. I didn’t rescue you from a burning building or pull you from the path of a speeding train. There was no drama involved whatsoever. All I did was write a blog, in this space. A blog that your mother reads.
And so, when you were struggling with bulimia last year, your mother reached out to me and asked for my advice. I had never met her before; in fact, we don’t even live in the same country. She is a complete stranger, as are you, but as fellow members of the worried mother club, mothers of daughters with an eating disorder, we were kindred spirits. She began speaking about your eating disorder symptoms and the most recent bloodwork that you had done, bloodwork which somehow did not alarm your doctor, and I sat up straighter in my chair. Once she finished, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I told her to grab her car keys and take you to the emergency room immediately. I explained that your heart may be in trouble, and that you needed urgent medical attention. I am far from a medical expert, but I am educated enough to know that you had signs of being in imminent and life-threatening danger. Your mother hung up the phone and promised to get you to the hospital ASAP. I felt badly scaring her, but I feared for your well-being, and I would much rather err on the side of caution. Eating disorders have claimed too many young lives; it would be too tragic if bulimia ended yours.
A week later, your mom called me back. She was so overcome with emotion that she couldn’t get any words out. I waited until she was able to speak, at which point she thanked me for pushing her to take immediate action. She told me that you were on the brink of having a serious cardiac episode, but since you got to the hospital in time, they were able to stabilize you before there was any damage. Untreated, you easily could have died.
Your story is the quintessential reason why I do this, why I blog, why I put myself in the public arena, why I violate my personal privacy and that of my family by talking about my own experience with my daughter’s eating disorder. I believe that breaking the silence will break the stigma, which will ultimately lead people to seek treatment for themselves and for their loved ones. Breaking the silence will make it acceptable for people to acknowledge their own experience with eating disorders and to reach out to offer support and help to others who are desperately seeking guidance, information, and reassurance.
I am so glad that your mom turned to me, but I wish that she had parent resources in the community where you live. The somewhat ironic thing is, I would bet that as a conservative estimate, there are at least 10 families in your local synagogue who have experience with eating disorders, but no one wants to talk about it, just as no one wants to talk about depression, self- harm, suicide, and addiction. These are topics that are shrouded in secrecy, spoken about in whispered tones behind closed doors. This is the norm in many communities, but strongly so in Orthodox ones like yours and mine. While understandable on some level, it’s just so incredibly damaging.
Look, I get it. These are subjects that are acutely difficult to talk about, because they are painful and raw and extremely personal. They are conversations that people would rather not have, because they make us and those around us uncomfortable. They compromise our privacy. But not having these conversations only perpetuates stigma and forces patients and their families to suffer in silence. Not having these conversations is detrimental, because keeping eating disorders and mental illness a secret precludes people from finding help and support within their own communities. It forces your mother to seek the help of someone who lives 6000 miles away when someone who lives on your block has a daughter or a son with an eating disorder and can easily offer advice and support, but won’t, because in so many of our communities, there is some unwritten mandate that eating disorders should be kept a secret. Somehow, this mandate trumps the written one in Jewish law that saving a life precedes all else. This truly baffles me.
Sharing my narrative has helped other parents out of the dark by flipping on the light for them, even though it exposed my pain in the process. This was, and is, not an easy thing to do. But whenever I second guess the wisdom of taking my personal journey to such a public place, all I have to do to convince myself that I did the right thing is to think of you, the girl whose life I saved last year.