There was a way out of the darkness, but I couldn’t have found my way out alone

patricia34842015 marked my seventh year of recovery from an eating disorder. For most of my teens and my twenties, bulimia consumed every aspect of my life. Undiagnosed and untreated for almost a decade, my eating disorder got out of control in 2006. After years of binging and purging, I eventually found myself in the ER in need of surgery to remove my gallbladder. That’s when I knew the self-harm had to stop.

I sought therapy, but unfortunately didn’t meet the requirements for long-term service in the public system. Private sector care was also not an option, as I had just graduated and was on a limited budget. The stigma and difficulty in admitting and talking about my illness to my own social network were also a bar in my early recovery, which in hindsight lead to a much longer road to overcoming bulimia.

Now that I’ve recovered, I am committed to being an advocate for removing stigma surrounding mental illness. Having seen how the public and private healthcare sectors were inadequate for my needs, I feel it’s my duty to help others who are further back in their journey turn to their own social networks without the fear of the stigma that is associated with bulimia. Also, on a personal level, many years later, I stay recovered by maintaining a level of self-care that goes way beyond simply avoiding triggers and practicing coping skills. Without self-care, my recovery would be compromised. More importantly though, without being involved in my community, my recovery maintenance would also be compromised.

Three summers ago, I took the decision in my recovery to speak publicly about the fact that by then, I‘d been maintaining recovery from an eating disorder for about 5 years. I started by writing an essay on the topic which ended up published by the Canadian magazine Bust. One thing lead to another and by chance I was offered the opportunity to act as a guest blogger on the Surviving ED blog featured on ‘Why not?’ I thought, after finding out more about what it entailed little did I know that I would eventually act as the official co-author of the blog for 18 months; one of the most cathartic and healing experiences in my eating disorder recovery.

The blog and my active social media presence gave me a platform to connect with people in all stages of their illness and recovery. Being active in the online mental health community also allowed me to engage in dialogue with amazing people behind some organizations across Canada, such as NIED,  the National Initiative for Eating Disorders based in Toronto. Closer to home, in my community, I started to get involved on the Board of Tracom, a Montreal crisis center offering psychosocial intervention services for adults as well as their loved ones. I’ve also given local talks within my community and was involved in various local nonprofits working to improve mental health and to remove stigma, in general, related to mental illness.

Outside of my very fulfilling professional life, I realized I had found a niche as a mental health advocate and proud eating disorder survivor. I’ve evolved my personal experience as a springboard to talk openly about mental illness, with the goal to end stigma and promote dialogue. As my presence grew, I was even invited in the spring of 2014 to testify about my lived experience with bulimia at the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO).

While each person’s story and recovery differs, in having met many people with a mental illness, one common thread has come up again and again; that mental illness is not uncommon.

So, I’ll end by saying that no matter if you personally suffer or you don’t I encourage you to initiate conversations in your community, or within your family and a group of friends. The chances are that someone close to you is or has been fighting similar problems to which you might be able to relate to or conversely help through your understanding and support. Sometimes we feel like we might be helpless to our disease and even like there might not be a light at the end of the tunnel, but then even just sharing that thought with another human can provide a sense of amazing relief in and of itself. And that is what recovery is to me: allowing myself to feel my feelings and understand them before the wave of emotions overwhelms me. It is by doing so that I cope and maintain my recovery, before those thoughts go out of control, and self-harm seems the only option to cope with how I feel.

There was a way out of the darkness, but I couldn’t have found my way out alone. #TakeActionNow

Patricia Lemoine,

Faces of Mental Illness 2015

/ Mental Health