At DCT, we are fortunate to have community partners to work with when we are producing shows that deal with a specific medical or social issue. As a result of those relationships, we were able to interview a few experts in the area of eating disorders as we prepared for our Teen Scene production of EAT (IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOD) by Linda Daugherty. Only one of our interview participants, however, chose to become an expert in the field. For the other two interviewees, they candidly told us about their very personal run-in with the disorder. I wanted to share a few of their main points You may notice some consistencies. I know I did.
The Elisa Project right here in Dallas is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. Their Executive Director, Kimberly Martinez, sat down with us to provide some insight:
KIM: It’s really through behaviors that you’re able to identify eating disorders; just being aware of them, and what they look like. It is something that culminates over time from depression, negative body image, low self-esteem, other self-harming behaviors…but parents don’t usually see it coming.
Bradley Evans is a high school student who is now keenly aware of how close he was to a serious medical crisis due to his eating disorder. He shared some details of his experience with us:
BRADLEY: My dad was military, so we moved around a lot. I was probably about twelve or thirteen-years-old when I started getting into trouble with eating disorders. I was under a lot of stress. I think we had just moved and I was having a hard time making friends. I didn’t feel like I could really talk to anybody. I started to feel alone, and I guess I just started eating less and didn’t take care of myself so much, and eventually it got so bad I was going four or five days without food or water. I was just so weak I could barely even stand.
I guess I didn’t know anything was wrong until my parents started noticing. They tried to help me get back on track, but I couldn’t figure out how to stop the behaviors.
Steven Dunn is a successful lawyer and a good father. His daughter Morgan was a good student with good friends and a selfless spirit. This past October, Morgan lost her life after a seven-year battle with an eating disorder. He shared his story with us:
STEVEN: Her very good friends, for lack of a better word, ratted her out to us. They told us that she was beginning to go to the restrooms after they ate lunch at school; she was a little bit distracted. She came home, and on the surface, she was pretty much the way she was, but her friends told us these issues are going on.
Eating disorders is this insidious monster that comes into your household. It takes the person, and it sinks its claws into them, and it lies to them. It isolates them from their friends, their school, their loved ones, and keeps them in the dark. It isolates them. For us, that was the best way for us to identify this and try to get it, not only out of her life, but out of our lives and all of her friends’ lives as well, because it has this way of expanding and pulling everyone else in. It only has one goal, and its goal is to kill.
KIM: Eating disorders are life-threatening. Your mind becomes malnourished, and you’re not able to function the way that you normally would. From heart attacks and strokes, to not being able to jump and run and have friends, eating disorders really take over your life. And it’s not just the young people who may suffer from the illness, but it’s their entire family who suffers from an eating disorder.
Those are hard words to hear, especially for parents of young kids. Of course, the more we learn the better off our children and our families will be. Bradley offers some practical advice for those suffering and for those who want to help, and our experts offer some hope.
BRADLEY: If you’re struggling, it’s so important to reach out to someone and let them know that you feel trapped and out of control. If somebody you know is closing themselves off to relationships, reach out to them and say, “Are you okay? Is everything really okay?”
STEVEN: There is hope. I urge people to get to it in time, to pay attention. You can recover, but you’ve got to put your life into it, because if not, you may lose.
KIM: There is hope, of course, yes. Recovery is so, so possible. It’s something that you totally could recover from, so that’s the good news. Many people with eating disorders feel a sense of guilt and shame about having an eating disorder. As long as you keep it secret, you are gonna be sick. The minute you tell somebody, you’re on the road to recovery.
EAT (IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOD), a play by resident playwright, Linda Daugherty, ran at Dallas Children’s Theater from February 10-19, and is part of a series of plays focused on issues teens and those who love them face.