Harnessing The Healing Power of Stories


Health Story Collaborative Blog

Harnessing the healing power of stories...

Mindy Stricke: Grief Landscapes


Mindy Stricke is a "photographer and multidisciplinary artist whose work centers around the idea that sharing stories and making art about potentially isolating experiences can help make those experiences less lonely."


She has recently launched a new project focused on the experience of bereavement called Grief Landscapes, incorporating her photography and interviews with people who are in the midst of grieving a loss. Check out our new Healing Art Archive post here, and follow Mindy's weekly posts.






How My Chronic Illness Made Me a Better Man


By Derek Carbone


Change is inevitable, but it’s how we choose to deal with that change that determines who we are as people.

Health is something that we take for granted. Because we never fully understand its value until it’s gone, it often isn’t until we suffer some form of physical or mental breakdown that we realize just how valuable it is. But, sometimes, when we lose something so treasured, something much better is found. For me, when I lost my health, what I gained was a journey into discovering who I really am. I transformed into a person that I didn’t know existed, and this made me redefine myself.


In my youth, I was an avid snowboarder, skateboarder, weightlifter, paint-baller, and rock climber. But, of all the sports I loved, volleyball was my muse. I thought that I would play it forever. I racked up numerous medals in the high school, regional, and varsity circuits. I attended nationals in club volleyball, and snagged a silver and bronze medal in provincial beach volleyball tournaments. I loved it.


With plans of becoming a police officer, I found myself finishing university with dreams of my next steps. A partner, a big house, a fancy car, and then maybe some cute babies---all those picture perfect things we all aim for. I thought that life was in the palm of my hand. Little did I know, sometimes things don’t last forever.


It started with annoying muscle cramps, and then progressed to debilitating gastrointestinal, immunological, neurological, and psychiatric symptoms. I plead my case to over 15 specialists and had over 100 vials of blood drawn. No answers. After years of searching, I started to wonder if the doctors were right that nothing was wrong, that perhaps it was all in my head. But then, a neurologist from Hamilton’s Neuromuscular Clinic in Canada decided to take a closer look. My intuitions were validated as I was finally diagnosed with a rare disorder called Isaac’s syndrome, or immune-mediated neuromytonia.


Everything that I had previously envisioned about my life was gone. The volleyball. The fancy car. The policing career. All of it. Because of my health problems, I was pushed to the limit and forced to adapt to new limitations and reinvent the story of my life. Now, I’ve grown into someone who is completely different than the person I used to be. Before, I was a jock who was insecure no matter how low my percentage of body fat was or how dark my tan was. I was desperate for attention, I was impatient, and I was a know-it-all. Looking back, I knew nothing.


“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” Aristotle

Before my diagnosis, things came easily for me. Sports, school and relationships all came effortlessly in my life. Because of this, I naively thought that getting answers to my medical questions would be the same. I thought that they would come quickly. If not, obviously, the first doctor I consulted would set his entire life aside in order to figure them out; that didn’t happen.


It took me a long time to adapt to my situation. I learned that when your back is up against the wall, and there is nowhere to run, you learn to work with what you have, even if all you have is patience. Some goals and dreams will come quickly and others may require a tremendous amount of persistence. And, that’s ok. There is no race to the finish line. Life’s most triumphant moments may take a while to manifest.


Patience became the foundation of my journey. It was the lesson that came first, and gave me the strength and courage to accept the lessons that came next. It allowed me to endure a decade of emotional and physical struggles---rejection, failure, loneliness, and most importantly, symptomatic struggles. I learned that I could become someone that others could rely on. Instead of always receiving help from others, I was finally able to give back. I had the ability to give the greatest gift of all to people around me: my time and energy.


“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius

I believe that the learning curve in life is the same as the learning curve in sports. You start slowly, get a little bit of movement, but then fall down, and have to get back up again. At times, it was hard to keep going when everyone told me that I was fine. But, I remained patient and remembered that sometimes the biggest breakthrough will come when we’re on the verge of giving up. It’s not fair to quit based on what we think will happen. We have to keep searching for answers.


Looking back, I remember the devastation I felt after each negative blood test and each consultation that left questions unanswered. But, now I know that there was always forward movement. One doctor led to the next. One negative test set up another. Even if years went by without tangible improvements, I was still always moving forward. Every step, whether positive or negative, is the result of all your previous steps. Maybe it won’t come in a week, a month, or a year, but sooner or later, you will eventually find what you’re looking for.


“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”Plato

The more I moved away from the person that I used to be, the farther I ventured into the unknown. I realized that I was becoming more aware of those around me. The more I felt my own darkness and pain, the stronger my compassion for others became. I felt for people in similar situations and understood what it was to be chronically ill without answers. I realized that life wasn’t just about me. Everyone has problems. Everyone has battles you know nothing about. Feeling this new sense of compassion, I understood that even the doctors that dismissed me were doing the best that they could. Just like in volleyball, these people became part of my team.


"Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity." – Hippocrates

Early in my illness, I was very attached to the reality I had constructed. I was like a child who clutched his toys and cried when they were taken away. When I lost my health, I lost my identity. Letting go is a part of life, and the sooner you’re able to, the sooner another part of your journey will begin. The day I realized that I would never be able to play volleyball again was the first time I fully understood the true scale of my loss. I had lost the love of my life.


The changes in my life were involuntary, and made me understand the power of surrender. Being forced into submission, but also still consumed with the need to push for answers, I was no longer under the influence of my egotistical desires. I became more peaceful with my thoughts---more loving and more understanding. Our struggles are really here to guide us somewhere else.


Each step of my journey was full of challenges, but I realize that I was unknowingly on an expedition of self-awareness and improvement. Although I lost many things along the way---a stable income, athletic talents and the freedom to do what I want---I gained something much more valuable: peace of mind. I became conscious of myself and I feel extremely blessed that I was able to go through something so transformative while having the ability to become someone I truly admire. Regardless of what you’re going through, I can confidently say that life has a way of getting us to where we need to be---both spiritually and physically. We just need to believe that it’s never the ending; it’s always the beginning.

This piece appeared on “The Good Men Project” website in September, 2015.


About Derek Carbone:

Hailing from Ontario, Canada, I was diagnosed with autoimmune Neuromytonia, or Isaac's Syndrome, after graduating from the University of Guelph. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing and researching various health topics. Follow along as I write for my blog: HealthVerdict.com.

You can reach Derek by email at derek_carbone@hotmail.com.

Voices From Harvard College: Making Meaning When Memories Are Lost


By Katherine Divasto, Harvard College ‘16



“Kate, I just got a call from Jane. She wanted to know whether we wanted to go…wanted to go to…”

My mother closes her eyes and scrunches her brows together as she says this, trying to find the word in her brain.


I ask, “Whether we wanted to go to church with her?”


As my mother then thanks me, I try to hide my unease.


Such exchanges – in which my mother forgot a word or an entire idea, and I completed her sentence – began when my mother was only 51 years old and I was a sophomore in high school. By the end of my senior year, my mother's condition had worsened to the point where she could not comprehend my daily notes, which only said when I would return home from school.


My mother emotionally changed during this time as well. She often became angry, especially when she attempted to deny her memory issues. Sometimes, though, her denial gave way to sadness, as she accepted her new truth: she had the memory struggles of a much older woman.


Both of these emotions – anger and sadness – underline how difficult my mother's memory problems were and still are, for her and for my whole family. We all struggle. We watched her undergo a staggering change – from an exceedingly intelligent woman who graduated magna cum laude from college to one struggling to read.


Despite these clear symptoms, help was difficult to find. At first, my mother attempted to empower herself and take action. She reached out to a local health case management organization that accepted her state insurance. This facility provided her with samples of trial medication to hinder the progression of her memory loss. Struggling just to pay rent, we could have never afforded these medications on our own.


My mother regularly took her medication. She did crossword puzzles. She felt hope – until the organization’s medication samples ran out. She came home from her appointment that day and declared that she would never go back.


Ultimately, my mother would need to visit a geriatric health center specializing in care for the elderly in order to get a formal memory examination and brain imaging. With state insurance, we waited for months to get an appointment. It took a full three years to get a diagnosis, though we were grateful to have the costs covered.


In the end, my mother was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), an illness I had never heard of before. This disease has no clear causes or risk factors, except for possible genetic inheritance, and no known treatments. It causes shrinkage in the frontal and temporal areas of the brain, often at a young age (between 40 and 70 years old), resulting in emotional liability as well as memory problems. As in my mother’s case, it is often initially misdiagnosed as mental illness. This is not necessarily the physicians' fault, however; FTD and certain psychiatric disorders manifest themselves in remarkably similar ways. This is a small reminder of how health challenges connect us all.

Once my family and I learned that my mother's true illness was FTD, we were overwhelmed. We were shocked by the devastating emotional changes that would come with FTD. We also had to learn how to navigate the modern health and legal systems. As my mother became increasingly dependent, and we focused on issues such as paying her bills and finding her a safe place to live, we had to simultaneously “prove” her disability in court. Now, my father has acquired the title “Conservator of Person” so that he, with input from me and my siblings, can make decisions on my mother’s behalf. This isn’t easy.


My mother does not recognize that she has memory issues. Without realizing it, she often acts like a child. She cannot participate in society, or even in our family community, like she used to; she cannot read the newspaper or even a simple word, and she lacks the emotional stability to maintain relationships. She craves attention from others, though, and will even have temper tantrums when she feels ignored. I have watched my mother stomp off to her room, sulking, many times.


One of these temper tantrums actually caused her first adult daycare center to dismiss her. The employees at the center felt that my mother agitated other clients against the caregivers. Perhaps she did, unintentionally; my mother does quickly become anxious and upset when she is not actively engaged in an activity or when her day deviates from routine.


She dislikes boredom and harbors a longing to be helpful – an impulse which often goes unrecognized by society. My mother is actually quite eager to perform simple tasks, like setting a table. She loves to feel usefully engaged and be an active participant in chores or activities.


I am grateful that my mother can actively participate in this way at her current daycare center. Here, she feels safe and full of purpose. My mother loves to attempt to help other clients. She often talks with them when they feel sad or upset, and this truly helps other clients to manage their emotions. My mother also participates in art therapy, pet therapy, and simple sport games, along with other clients. She really enjoys the social, recreational atmosphere that the center offers her.


At this center, my mother's caregivers provided her with a community and a purpose. They support her and treat her with compassion. To them, my mother is an adult woman – which seems to be a simple thought yet is actually a profound affirmation of a dementia patient, who is often stereotyped for immature behavior and simplicity. Dementia patients are adults, although they might act like children, and they deserve to be treated as such. Surrounded by such positive treatment and respectful attitudes at her daycare center, my mother has been happy in the past few years.


But with the passage of time, she now needs more intensive care. She struggles more, internally and externally. Her emotions have become quite explosive and unpredictable. Daily activities, such as bathing or brushing her teeth, have become lengthy and complicated exertions. My mother's daily hygiene routine is a particularly potent source of frustration and stress for her, and this exemplifies how her internal and external conflicts are quite connected. Dementia has affected my mother's physical abilities and personality, as well as her memory. With dementia, and perhaps with illness in general, the physical and the internal are often intimately connected.


This connection between the physical and the emotional can make care-giving a complicated endeavor. My father is currently struggling to completely care for my mother, when she is not in adult daycare. My mother definitely needs full-time health services, but they are difficult to secure. Because of the high demand for a spot in a specialty care facility, immediate placement is rare unless it occurs in in the aftermath of a hospitalization. My mother has been on wait-lists at multiple long-term care facilities for more than two and a half years. For now, I am incredibly grateful that my father and her adult daycare center are able to meet most of her changing needs and desires.


My family’s experience with FTD has changed me. Now, I am committed to advocating for greater health resources for all, especially the most marginalized. While my mother's illness is rare, I hope that my family’s story encourages others to work for broader change. I hope others contact legislators about extending health care access for patients and caregivers.


More generally, I hope my mother's story can also increase awareness that different kinds of dementia exist. Some dementia patients, such as my mother, can remain quite active participants in particular communities. Though individuals struggling with dementia have gone through much personal loss, they may retain their desire to be involved and help others. They can help others, and have much more to offer than one may initially think – if their community will accept them.


As a student in college, I imagine the possibility of experiencing dementia myself in the future. I know what it is like to worry about the shortness of life in the face of medical difficulties. In this way, I feel I am connected to many others – to other students and to other individuals in general – who experience and observe a myriad of health challenges every day. Despite the fragility of health, we can be conscious of all that we have and try our best to always value and make the most of our time.


Katherine Divasto is a member of the Harvard College Class of 2016 and is a Psychology major.

Read more of the voices from Harvard College here.


Learn more about the Diagnosis Spotlight and discover more empowering health stories here.


Nancy Marks: Artist, Public Health Activist and creator of the Intimacy of Memory: The Art of Loss, Love and Remembrance

Nancy Marks

The Intimacy of Memory


Slater Concourse Gallery, Aidekman Art Center, Tufts University
November 1 - 30, 2015

Opening Reception: November 12, 2015 5:00-7:00 pm


The objects we keep are a testament to the depth and breadth of being human and loving. 

The objects we keep are sacred containers. 


By Nancy Marks

My name is Nancy Marks. I have been a Boston-based printmaker and painter for more than twenty-five years. In addition to solo exhibitions, my work has been displayed in galleries, restaurants, and corporate settings. I am also a public health advocate and art teacher who is committed to helping others use art to engage in personal healing and community dialogue.


In 2014, I created The Intimacy of Memory, a body of mixed media paintings based on grief, love and remembrance. The work examined why people chose particular objects or keepsakes after someone close to them died. I was interested in the ways in which an object represents the person who died and the shared relationship with the survivor. How do objects celebrate a life? How do objects prompt memory and how does this memory change over time?


This body of work seeded itself fifteen years ago when the biological mother of my adopted daughter, Taylor, died of AIDS. Taylor was six at the time. As I cleaned out her mother’s apartment, I had to decide what to keep. Which items would hold memories of her mother and offer Taylor comfort both in the moment and throughout her life? As I selected a few dishes, her mother’s favorite shirt, a locket, a mirror, I knew it wasn’t just what I kept but also what I didn’t keep that would play a role in Taylor’s recollections.


As part of this exploration, I interviewed participants and meditated on what I had heard. When I began to paint, the layers of color seemed to mirror the layers of their recollections: feelings of loss, love and longing. While many details faded into the background, what I felt most acutely was the sense of connection that stretched from the present to the past. I began to see how relationships and roles become fixed in time and space at the moment of death. How we forever remain mother/father/grandfather, husband/partner, sister/daughter/granddaughter.


As I exhibited this work throughout Massachusetts, I started to feel that I wanted to more closely connect my art life with the power of personal narrative. Since this initial body of work, I have begun to host Intimacy of Memory workshops.


The Intimacy of Memory workshops are designed to allow participants to make art based on the objects they kept after a meaningful loss in their life. It approaches the complexities of grief and love using art as a central connector. Because so many don’t have language for loss, art can play a pivotal role in communicating emotion and promoting healing.


Whether the loss is fresh or long past, this workshop gives artistic space and voice to the grief and love you may have been nursing privately. While the subject is heavy for many, there is often laughter and joy as people share memories.


But the work doesn’t stop there. After a workshop, participants are encouraged to hang their art in public space. The goal of the public exhibition is to promote a community conversation about death, grief and love, three subjects that are often privatized in the broader culture. I know how deeply painful loss can be, but we make the healing process that much harder by not giving our losses adequate "air time.” After all, grief is really just remembering how much we love and miss those we have lost.


Learn more about Nancy Marks and see her art here.


You can access more of the Healing Art Archive where artists share their work and stories here.   

Hip Hop Artist Shares Stories Through Song: Perspectives From The Sandanezwe Disability Project


Understanding Disability Through Personal Narrative in Rural South Africa


By: Joel Burt-Miller, Brandeis University ‘16


We all have a story to offer the world. Through our stories, I believe healing can be found. In high school, I started to really understanding this more. When I was a junior in high school, I began sharing bits and pieces of my story and my perception of the world around me in the form of hip-hop songs. I wrote about my identity as an African-American. I wrote about life growing up in the Bronx, NY. I even wrote about my future plans of one day becoming a doctor. This hobby continued as I transitioned to college and I truly began to realize the power behind music and the sharing of words in general. Words are definitely powerful.


Scholar Aaron Corn states, “Songs are indeed powerful. They have the power to soothe, the power to persuade, the power to provoke, the power to educate and the power to lament.” I experience this first-hand every time I tune into my music.


Last semester, as a junior at Brandeis University, I studied abroad in Durban, South Africa, with a program focused on community health and social policy. As part of the program, I had the opportunity to explore any topic of interest and complete an independent study project. For a long time I had no clue what I wanted to study. Throughout the semester I felt a strong calling, however, to pursue the connection between music and healing.


During the semester, I had the chance to live with host families both in urban and rural communities. While living in one of the rural communities, called Sandanezwe, my host-brother, Mduduzi, introduced me and the other students in my program to a project that he created in the community. Mdu was in his early thirties and he walked with a limp. Through conversations with him, I learned that he suffered from Polio as a child. The project he created, the Disability Special Project, seeks to create a safe space for the disabled community within Sandanezwe. It is a project established and solely maintained by the disabled community. I saw how Mdu’s experiences growing up in this community shaped his vision for this project. In South African society, and many other parts of the world, many people who are considered disabled face exclusion from society and other forms of discrimination. Although I had no prior experiences working with disabled people, meeting Mdu and hearing his story inspired me to learn more.


After much thought, I decided to go back and live in the Sandanezwe community for three weeks to conduct my independent study project. I titled my project “A Mirror to Society: An autoethnography reflecting perspectives of disability through personal narrative in a rural community in South Africa,” and through this project I sought to hear the stories of members of the Disability Special Project, with a focus on their self-perceptions. I also interviewed members of the greater Sandanezwe community to learn how they viewed people with disabilities.


In the middle of my project, I remember waking up one morning very frustrated. Throughout the process, there were many times when I had to throw my plan away. For example, there were many days when the weather was too cold or rainy, and no garden members would show up to work, which meant I wouldn’t be able to speak to anyone. This morning, instead of sitting around in misery, I decided to go for a walk and climb to the top of a mountain. I found a nice spot overlooking the beautiful scenery of Sandanezwe. I looked out to my left and saw an endless array of green mountains weaving off into the distance. I interrupted my gaze to select a song to play on my iPhone. Unlocks. Scrolls. Music. Genres. Scrolls. Instrumental. Scrolls. J. Cole. Scrolls. Love Yourz (instrumental). Click. My ears were then greeted with the soothing sound of piano chords. The instrumental was from a song by J. Cole entitled “Love Yourz”. While listening, I looked up at the mountain range, and the words “you can, you can, you can” rang through my mind. I started to think of the interviews I had done so far, and the responses that I had received, especially those of the garden members. “I can do things, but they won’t let me do it!” echoed the voice of one member in the garden. “I’m strong! I am a human being,” rang another garden member’s voice. I pulled out my phone and started to note my thoughts. My thumbs moved swiftly. “Don’t let nobody ever tell you, you can’t do,” I wrote, “Can’t walk, can’t shoot, can’t love, can’t live…” I was writing to those voices of oppression. I was writing to the oppressor. I was writing to myself.


One of the last questions I asked the garden members in my interviews was, “If you were to write a song to the community to help them to understand you better, what would you say?”As they answered I took note of the responses. “I can write that God is the beginning and the end, so all our challenges if you can take our problems and put them in God I think all our challenges will disappear,” one member replied in his soft-spoken voice. “I can tell people that I’m proud of myself in a way that whatever I contribute in the project it can also benefit the community,” another determined member responded. “I will write a song and say that if they see me as a disabled person they mustn’t think that I’m useless because they are so many things that I can do for them. They must respect me and have hope in me because I can do of the things that can help them,” said another. A group of three said, “We can introduce the song to teach the community that a disabled person can do anything that a person with no disability can do.”

It wasn’t my plan to write a song for my project but sometimes the best plan is to just live in the moment. I realized that this was what I wanted in my project all along. I wanted the greater community to hear the voices of these members of the garden. I wanted the garden members to know that their perspective matters. After another day and a half of reflecting on these responses, listening to the instrumental on repeat, and writing, the song was complete! The song is especially powerful because it was created using the words of the garden members. On my final day in the garden, a celebration took place. The Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs from a neighboring town came to meet the garden members and planted onion seeds with them, and I performed the song I created for them. Everyone crowded around me with big smiles as I began, and at the end of my rendition, the garden members all clapped and cheered. New life was deposited into the space. Seeds were planted both literally and figuratively in the garden that day.


You can watch the Mirror To Society video here.



The Eulogist


By Annie Robinson

This originally appeared in Modern Loss. Republished here with permission. 


I gave my inaugural eulogy at fourteen. When my best friend Liz passed away from osteosarcoma after one year of unsuccessful treatment, her mother asked if I would share something at the service. I seized the opportunity, as it seemed like a potential antidote to the grief roiling inside me.


For days, I immersed myself in boxes of photographs and stacks of letters that told the story of our friendship. I spent hours feverishly recording my memories, depicting her mischievous smile, glittering eyes, and elegant voice. On the morning of her service, I rose to the pulpit with quivering hands but a strong heart, and delivered a eulogy that was humorous, commemorative, and authentic.


Little did I know at the time what an extraordinary journey this act had launched – into myself, into writing, and into healing.


To read more, click here.



Vinnie: The Face of Opioid Addiction

Want a glimpse of what opioid addiction really looks like?

Meet Vinnie: a self-described “regular” guy from Revere, Mass., and a recovering drug addict.


Toothless, and 60, Vinnie was prescribed opioids — Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Dilaudid, among others — for a chronic pain condition. Though he says he never intended to abuse these medications, Vinnie became an addict, taking painkillers for 28 years as his doctors kept prescribing higher and higher doses to manage his pain. Listen to his story here:



Vinnie stopped caring about anything except opioids, and finding his next dose of medication.


His marriage fell apart. He missed opportunities to spend time with his only daughter as she grew up. He became estranged from friends. He stopped taking care of his body and lost his teeth, gained 100 pounds, and developed diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. He fundamentally lost his will to live and contemplated suicide.

Ultimately, it was a pharmacist who put a stop to Vinnie’s opioid use by refusing to fill his prescription. After his initial panic, this abrupt end to the drugs led Vinnie to connect to a new doctor, an addiction specialist. His new regimen included a slow tapering of the narcotics and the initiation of Suboxone therapy.


The state and nation are in the midst of an escalating opioid crisis — it’s estimated that 67 Americans died each day from opioid overdoses in 2013, and the number of deaths from drug overdoses was three times that of the combined deaths from car accidents and homicides in that same year.


Just this week Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker enlisted medical schools to provide more addiction-related training to medical students. Against this backdrop, Vinnie’s story shows the harsh reality of addiction as well as a path to recovery.


How to fix it? It’s clear that a multifaceted approach is needed, as outlined in an extensive report put out by Gov. Baker’s Opioid Working Group in June.


One element, relevant to Vinnie, is consideration of one of several medications available to treat opioid addiction, including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Currently, these medications are underused, partly because they are controversial.


Access can be tough, as the majority of treatment centers don’t provide such medications, and many insurers don’t cover them or have strict rules on how and for how long they can be prescribed.


Suboxone, the drug Vinnie takes, is a combination of buprenorphine and naltrexone, a partial opioid agonist to reduce drug cravings and an opioid antagonist added in small amounts in an effort to prevent abuse. This medicine is much easier to get than methadone (patients can take it home instead of having to go to a clinic every day), and it can be used both for medically supervised opioid withdrawal and for long-term maintenance therapy.


So, what’s the controversy? Some argue that use of Suboxone (and methadone) is just replacing one addiction for another. It is still an opiate-like compound, and one that is habit-forming.


In addition, Suboxone has street value. It has become increasingly popular among addicts as a means of curbing opiate withdrawal symptoms, bridging the gap until opioids can be obtained, and perhaps, because there is a market for it, providing an income source to allow for the purchase of more illicit drugs.


Does this mean we shouldn’t use the medication? Data clearly show that medications like Suboxone and methadone are saving lives, decreasing the spread of infectious diseases, decreasing criminal behavior and improving social functioning among addicts. And Vinnie’s story certainly argues in favor of Suboxone. As he says: It gave him back his life.


Originally published on WBUR CommonHealth Blog on September 4th, 2015.













Voices from the Eating Disorder Recovery Community: Natalie's Story



By Annie Robinson


When Natalie was in college, the ramifications of her eating disorder reached their pinnacle when she landed in the cardiac intensive care unit. Her heart was in severe distress due to the toll that restriction and over-exercising had taken on her body. Though previously she had minimized, rationalized, and outright denied having an eating disorder, immediate attention became mandatory.


After stabilizing in an inpatient unit, Natalie sought residential care at Monte Nido Vista because she has been exposed to Carolyn Costin’s views on recovery from the book 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder.


In early July 2014, one month after I had begun treatment at Monte Nido Vista, Natalie arrived. We immediately recognized several unique commonalities we share: both of us were adopted, raised in Chicago, and developed eating disorders as adolescents. From the get-go, I have deeply valued Natalie’s sharp humor, keen self-awareness, and courage to be honest.


Natalie remained at Vista through September 2014. Transitioning back into life in Chicago proved harder than she anticipated. While Monte Nido believes that everyone can become fully recovered and live a life free of an eating disorder, Natalie’s step-down treatment program in Chicago promoted the more limiting model that eating disorder symptoms can only ever be managed, never fully alleviated.


Nearly one year later, Natalie considers the tricky relationship between her depression, anxiety, and eating disorder, and admits that although she is sometimes inclined to isolate, it never serves her recovery. She reflects on what is gained by being vulnerable, and how much better she feels when she speaks her truth, without judgment. She knows she needs to be vigilantly honest with the people in her life, and to nurture the relationships that are healthy and to let go of those that aren’t. Despite the bumps of recovery, Natalie reminds herself: “I am capable” – truly, we all are.


Currently 23-years-old, Natalie lives in Chicago and is completing her last semester at college, pursuing a bachelor’s in nutrition and dietetics.


Read about the mission of the Eating Disorder Recovery series here.


Listen to more stories in the Eating Disorder Recovery series here.


Voices from the Eating Disorder Recovery Community: Emily's Story



By Annie Robinson


Emily and I met in February 2012 at a treatment center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during one of the darkest periods in both of our lives. Our respective eating disorders had taken a devastating toll, severely damaging our relationships and our bodies, and utterly depleting our spirits. I could not have been more fortunate than to surrender to recovery at that moment, because it brought Emily into my life. She has been an unparalleled source of sisterly love, spiritual resolve, and unwavering support.


Emily’s eating disorder developed when she was just 14, shortly after she left home to attend boarding school, when her parents were getting divorced. She talks about the difficulty she had – and sometimes still has – in speaking and claiming the word “bulimia”. She reflects on how her eating disorder was not born from body hatred, but rather a plethora of painful emotions seething inside her.


For years, Emily’s eating disorder was her hidden identity, active to varying degrees but always present. She was convinced it would always be a part of her life. But finally, when she was 28, her family confronted her and revealed that they knew about it. Emily allowed them to serve as her initial motivation to begin recovery.


When she first entered treatment, Emily struggled to even find the words to articulate her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. But as she began to crumble in the safety of treatment, she also began to blossom.

Now 32, Emily resides in San Diego, California where she devotes herself to mothering her 20-month-old daughter, Winnie. She shares her aspirations for Winnie, and the values born from her experiences in recovery that steer her parenting decisions. And she speaks about how being a mom has bolstered her along the path of recovery, and celebrates how far she has come.


Read about the mission of the Eating Disorder Recovery series here.


Listen to more stories in the Eating Disorder Recovery series here.

Voices from the Eating Disorder Recovery Community: Kelly's Story





By Annie Robinson


On July 7, 2014, Kelly arrived at Monte Nido Vista, one month after I began treatment there. On July 7, 2015, she celebrated her first year in recovery. When we spoke just before her anniversary, she marveled at everything being in recovery has afforded her.


Originally from New Jersey, Kelly stayed in California after finishing residential treatment in order to complete her college degree at Pepperdine University, where she is now a senior.


Kelly developed anorexia when she was just thirteen years old, like I did. She spent the following nine years cycling in and out of eating disorder treatment, trying to manage her primary behaviors of restriction and over-exercising. Told by her doctors that she would never fully recover, Kelly became intensely focused on maintaining her identity as a person with an eating disorder, which provided her with a meaning and a purpose. She excelled at her eating disorder. Furthermore, the treatment centers felt like safe havens, retreats from the challenges and uncertainties in life. But eventually Kelly’s behaviors took too great a toll: her body, her mind, her spirit, and her family needed to be freed from the depleting cycle.


In her story, Kelly speaks about the impossible desire to have just a “little bit” of an eating disorder, shares the challenges she has encountered in trying to strike a balance between recovery work and social life, and identifies what keeps her committed to recovery when the road gets bumpy. She acknowledges that recovery is a long process, but she harbors the essential faith that becoming fully recovered one day is absolutely possible.


Read about the mission of the Eating Disorder Recovery series here.


Listen to more stories in the Eating Disorder Recovery series here. 






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