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Eating Disorder Support Network
Launches hope and connection
By Sue Huff
On October 6, the first support group offered by the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA) gathered in a meeting room at the Old Strathcona Library in Edmonton. It was a proud moment for founder and president, Moyra McAllister. Two and a half years of hard work and perseverance had finally come to fruition. The parents who assembled were nervous and unsure, but had all bravely decided to step forward and ask for support in dealing with their child’s eating disorder. The result was amazing.
The aims of the group include reducing stigma, building hope, raising awareness, and providing a place to connect with others who truly 'get it'. “It is exactly what I wished had been in place when my daughter was going through her eating disorder," said Moyra. "I vowed that no parent should have to face this horrible illness alone.”
Breaking down the barriers of stigma and shame is no easy task. As a society, we have a difficult time understanding that mental illness is on par with physical illness. And when children show signs of mental illness, parents experience a swirling tornado of emotions: fear, guilt, anger, shame, blame, panic, self-doubt and more fear. It is hard to know what the ‘right thing’ is to do.
It’s hard to know where to go for answers. Parents often encounter ignorance, denial and plain old thoughtlessness from friends, family, and medical professionals. People throw out suggestions that aren't helpful or kind. Sometimes they just retreat, uncomfortable with mental illness and unsure how to respond. Parents feel isolated, misunderstood and judged. It becomes a battle just to put one foot in front of the other, because feeling utterly powerless to lessen your child’s distress is like no other burden. I speak from experience: my daughter, like Moyra's, is recovering from anorexia.
So, when Moyra and I left the room on October 6th to let the parents and a professional facilitator begin the important work of supporting one another, it felt momentous. We were so happy those parents had found each other and so very proud to be able to build something that our community desperately needs. In a couple of weeks, we will have the opportunity to experience that feeling once more, at the first-ever EDSNA meeting for individuals recovering from eating disorders.
The EDSNA Board is already planning the winter and spring support groups and connecting with others across the province to expand our network next year. It feels like we are at the beginning of a long and exciting journey- building connections and hope, one family at a time.
Sue is a Westmount resident, a writer, advocate and Vice-President of EDSNA.
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The Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta, (EDSNA) is a grass roots organization that was born out of the experiences of an Edmonton area mother and her daughter following the daughter's development of anorexia nervosa.
"In the early days when Caitlin's weight was plummeting, her personality was changing and I was losing my daughter, fear was my constant companion. Watching my daughter struggle with anorexia nervosa was the hardest thing I have ever done. My daughter was literally dying before my eyes. I searched the internet for countless hours looking for help, direction, treatment options and guidance. There was so much information and yet there was nothing that provided specific help.
The sense of helplessness was magnified by the fact the Caitlin was an adult and, as I now know is common with individuals struggling with eating disorders, was refusing medical intervention.
Caitlin eventually accessed treatment by a wonderful team of individuals and thankfully is much healthier now. As a family we have had time to start the healing process both physically and emotionally.
As I began to talk to other families who were affected by eating disorders I found that our story was not unique - the feelings of isolation, panic, and desperation to find the right treatment and the fear that our children may die from this illness were nearly identical between families.
Following our experience I vowed that no family in Alberta should struggle with these issues as we did. Families need to be able to focus their energy on healing, not searching."
The seeds of EDSNA, the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta were sown.
An organization to provide support, guidance and education to those affected both directly and indirectly by eating disorders: individuals, families, friends and treatment professionals.
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