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Mental Health

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.


Treading a thin line

Claudia Tianne Chai

Reprinted from "Treatments" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3(1), pp. 11-12

stock photoSome people deeply miss their childhood or high school years. For me, the biggest wave of nostalgia arises when I think about the years I spent in hospitals and doctors’ offices. While I would never wish an eating disorder upon anyone, I do hope everyone has a chance, at least once in their lifetime, to feel as cared about as I did through my eating disorder journey.

I don’t remember much about my childhood before the time I began treatment. I was only nine years old when my family doctor sent me to the eating disorder treatment team at BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development. At that time I hated doctors, nurses and therapists and went kicking and screaming to every appointment. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about—I didn’t see anything wrong with my eating habits. But my mother, seeing how unhappy I was, took me out of treatment, against medical advice.

In the years that followed, with nobody to help me, my anorexia became more entrenched. I relapsed in the summer of grade nine and returned—reluctantly—to treatment through the Ministry. I still hated going to appointments, but this time my mother didn’t back down. Now I am extremely thankful that I was forced to continue seeing specialists in the years that followed.

In grade 11 I was referred to the BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH) eating disorders ward. With all its brightly coloured artwork and smiling suns on the walls, it made me feel safe and comfortable. For the first time in my life I felt at home. In the hospital there were people I could talk to and open myself up to without the fear of being judged or not taken seriously. In my own home I always had to be ‘happy.’ It felt as if I didn’t have the right to be sad or angry, because there was always someone in the world who was worse off than me.

In the intensive day-treatment Capella Program, I was surrounded by other girls who knew what I was going through and by staff who did their best to understand. Through individual therapy, group therapy, meal time, cooking group and trips outside the hospital, the support I received was amazing. Ironically, unlike outside in the real world, while inside the hospital I never felt ‘crazy.’ I could express how I felt—good or bad—and it was accepted.

I remained in the day treatment and intensive outpatient programs at BCCH by choice even after I became medically stable. The truth is that by this time I had come to fear that I didn’t know how to function without the consistency of weekly appointments. My therapist knew how hard it was for me to leave, so I was allowed to continue as an outpatient at BCCH until I turned 20.

When I reached the appointed age and walked out through those sliding doors for the last time, it was an emotional event. If you have spent more than half your life seeing therapists and doctors, when their services are removed it takes some adjustment. It has been a very difficult and lonely time. In these past two years since leaving BCCH, I have been trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I have to tread carefully. There is a very thin line between sickness and health, and it’s all too easy to be sucked into the other side. I’ve not had a major relapse since leaving the BCCH program, so some would say that I’m “recovered.” But, though I no longer look like a skeleton, every day is still a struggle.

A common stereotype is that people with anorexia are looking for attention. In my case, I wanted nothing more than to disappear. Instead, the opposite ended up happening. I came across so many people who showed me they cared at a time when I really needed to feel cared for. I am touched by the number of people who left an impression on my heart. When I don’t feel motivated enough to keep fighting for myself, I remember all the people who fought for me. I don’t want to let them down. I wrote this goodbye card to my therapist:

“I know that I need to stand alone now. Knowing that you believe I can makes it seem not so scary. I will honour all the work we’ve done by not letting this goodbye trip me up; by moving on and forward and living everything that life is. I hope I’ve made you proud.”

I don’t know why I got sick or why I still struggle with eating healthfully and maintaining my weight, but finding that answer is no longer my focus. I am content with who I am today. Rather than focusing on my past, I am trying to look to the future. I’ve already made the mistake of not seeing how much treatment meant to me until it was gone. I don’t want to make that mistake again in any other part of my life. I want to enjoy life in the present. This time around, I want to truly be in the moment.

About the author

Claudia is a student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby


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