Monthly Archives: September 2016

OMG – I Met Monica Seles!

I was literally the first person to claim a seat for ‘breakfast with Monica’ today at the NEDA Conference.  I felt like a shameless groupie!  I wore my tennis earrings for the occasion.

When Monica took the stage: my first impression was: boy, is she tall!  Monica spoke very articulately about her struggles with Binge Eating Disorder; which she suffered from for many years.  While her family and coaches knew something was wrong, they did not understand that this is a medical condition that cannot simply be ‘stopped’.  So disciplined and controlled in most aspects of her life, she couldn’t understand why she could not control this element of her life.  It baffled her and those in her inner circle.

For many years, Monica’s obsession was not to win the next grand slam; but to get thinner, as she struggled with body image and binge eating demons.  It is particularly difficult to take a ‘time out’ to deal with a medical issue when you are a professional athlete.  You have contractual obligations, your winnings are needed to support your family and your staff and your staff’s family.  That’s a lot of pressure for a teenager!  She knew she had a problem, but didn’t know what to do about it–no one in circle really took it seriously.  Finally… eventually, she had a frank conversation with her doctor and began the healing process.

During the Q&A, I submitted two questions:  1) Her thoughts on the body-shaming directed at female athletes, including Serena and;  2)  why Monica used a two-handed forehand.  Only # 2 was posed by the moderator:  Monica laughed and said that was because when she started playing, she was playing with an adult sized racquet and needed two hands to control it — and it became a habit.

We were all given a copy of her book:  “Get a Grip”; and she stayed to sign copies.  I gushed up to her with a copy of my  Monica Seles Post  from March 2015 (I’m sure she will treasure it always). She inscribed my book with:  to Paula: keep Swinging, I’ll see you on the courts”.  She couldn’t have been more gracious!

2016 NEDA conference Day 1

I am in Chicago for the annual NEDA conference, and am a little tipsy from the wine at the kick-off dinner as I write this.   MONICA SELES IS HERE!!!  I will try to be first in line for ‘breakfast with Monica’ tomorrow to buy her book about her experiences living with an eating disorder and to hear her speak.  Perhaps I will bring her a copy of my Blog Entry  (see http://paula-ponders.com/monica-seles-speaks-out-against-eds/ ) about her, as well as a tennis ball for her to sign (I happened to have one in my car – go figure!)

Aside from meeting tennis icons; the thing I love most about the NEDA conference is hearing people’s stories.   Tonight I enjoyed a class of wine with a table of parents, and then went to dinner, where I sat with a group  of dedicated young women who are all professionally involved in fighting eating disorders one way or another.

First were the moms… they break my heart. We shared our stories and our heartache.   It’s a unique kind of suffering to watch your child self-destruct despite all your love and support.  The moms (and dads)  at THIS conference understand that all too well. I heard about:  the 22 year old bi-polar and anorexic daughter who won’t take her meds or go to her counseling appointments; the insurance company who won’t pay for much-needed treatment; the child who committed suicide in the hospital while a nurse stepped away from her station.  So very sad.

Often, parents feel a sense of isolation, guilt and shame; compounding their sense of helplessness and despair.  We come together to console, commiserate and support.  We understand and we care.  It is not enough, but it is something.

Then… a walk down Wacker Avenue, past the Trump Tower (I will try to refrain from political commentary) to Chuck’s restaurant.  I ended up at a table of young, attractive and vibrant women.  One is an athletic director and coach in Portland Oregon – she strives to promote healthy body image among her student athletes–which can be challenging in a co-ed sport requiring swimsuits.  She advises that one of the challenges with girl athletes is that they need ‘permission’ to be aggressive.  The challenge with boys is that they need to manage their aggressive tendancies.  Interesting.

Many of the young women work for non-profits:  one manages an on-line community to support those suffering from eating disorders as a positive and constructive alternative to the disgusting ‘pro-ana’ sites on the web.  A couple other women are lobbyists that promote legislation to support funding and coverage for mental health issues. Another is a program director for an eating disorder treatment center.  Wow – that is a lot of inspiring commitment!

I hope they all vote.

Growing up is hard to do

Guzzy wants to move into an apartment with her BFF.   BFF is a year older than Guzzy, and has spent that year living (more-or-less) on her own in Denver.  She recently returned to the village of her youth with pink hair, a variety of piercings, a yippy puppy, no job, and grand plans to move into an apartment with HER best friend… my Guzzy.

BFF often stays with us while they seek a more sustainable living arrangement.  With the notable excpetion of yippy puppy, BFF is a thoughtful and low maintenance houseguest; although I did a sleepy double-take one recent morning to find pink hair tangled in the hair brush on the bathroom counter.

Guzzy has a pretty sweet deal living here:  she pays a ridiculously low, symbolic, rent for her large bedroom;  private bath; food (frequently cooked for her); all utilities, including cell service with unlimited data; washer and dryer, and someone to play cards with late at night.  What could be better?

One word:  independence.  Moving out of the parental home is an important milestone in anyone’s journey to adulthood.  From my middle-aged perch, I still remember the urgent desire of my late teens to be on my own –to be independent and make my own decisions about my life.

As one of my oldest daughter’s friends once said:  “Everyone should experience living in their own filth”.  After all, living on one’s own, means cleaning up after oneself.

It is unlikely that Guzzy and BFF will be moving in the near future; since apartment building managers are pencil-necked weenies that have unrealistic requirements concerning income verification and pets.

But… I know that at some point in time, with or without BFF in tow;  Guzzy will figure out a way to move out.  She will pack her bags, she will raid our closets and scrounge for used furniture.

Once relocated, she will call me with questions such as:  is it OK to eat expired yogurt?;  how do you clean leather? What should I wear to this concert? What do you do when you hit a deer?

She will come home when she has dirty laundry, or when she craves a home cooked meal, or when she misses the dog, or when a boy has done her wrong, or when she needs a loan, or when she wants to play cards.  Maybe I will actually see her more than I do now.

I miss her already.

Tragic Consequences

Readers of this blog know that I coordinate an annual NEDA Walk in my hometown of Madison, WI to raise funds and awareness in the fight against eating disorders. As such– I am the contact person listed on the website.

Recently I receive an email that stopped me in my tracks — it was from a relative of a young woman from our community that recently passed away from complications of her eating disorder–after struggling for many years.  The relative requested materials about our walk to solicit donations in memory of their loved one.

When I received the email I was at an outdoor music festival, surrounded by music and the hum of a very vibrant crowd–including many friends.  It was  surreal–I sadly reflected on this  woman’s tragic passing, while simultaneously being bombarded by the sights and sounds of a lively festival.

After a follow-up phone call to the relative to offer condolences and to arrange a meeting–I wandered the festival in a bit of a daze.   I was (and am) awed by the family’s courage to use their personal tragedy to help others, while feeling an obligation (and privilege) to make this walk a special and meaningful event.

This loss has served to underscore the high stakes of the fight against eating disorders:  what we do is important, and our walk does make a difference — to this young woman’s family as well as the hundreds, if not thousands, of other sufferers and their family’s in our community.  We are providing an important rallying point to demonstrate support and compassion; advocacy and awareness at a time that our community is reeling from this recent loss.

I watch contributions to the walk increase with mixed emotions–knowing that the current uptick is driven by loss.  Yet, what better way to honor her memory?

We will be incorporating a moment of silence for three young women who lost their battles during our walk.  It will be somber, it will be sad.  These losses remind us that the stakes are high.

The war against eating disorders needs warriors of all types.  I fight with a blog and a clipboard (with a large dose of tenacity thrown in for good measure).   Others fight by providing treatment to individuals and their families; or through lobbying, or through research, or through writing, or by sharing their recovery stories, or through organizations such as NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association.   Others fight by donating to events, such as our walk.

I understand there are many good causes ‘out there’.  People tend to participate and get involved in causes that are close to their own hearts.  Dear reader – I hope you have a cause that you are passionate about, something that is bigger than yourself.  Giving of ourselves keeps us human, keeps us humble and enriches our souls.

 

Getting Mad at the Sunday paper

This post is in response to Dr. Zorba Paster’s recent column in the WSJ It is possible to be too thin.  This is the email I just sent:

I have serious concerns about the impact of Sunday’s  column to those who  may be suffering from an eating disorder and anyone struggling with body-image issues.

I am a mom of a daughter who is in recovery from severe anorexia, and am the coordinator of the annual Madison NEDA Walk   to raise funds and awareness in our community in the fight against eating disorders.

Eating disorders afflict thousands in our community:  The problem is serious and it is pervasive.  We have lost at least three young people from our community to eating disorders this year – including one young woman in late August: Chelsea Stahlke; Unfortunately,  Sunday’s column perpetuates a culture  that results in even more suffering--which I am sure was NOT the intent.

Based on the title of the column, I was excited to see the issue being addressed.  However, after reading it, I was disappointed and appalled on two fronts:  1) the examples of how to interpret BMI were male-oriented without any reference to impacts on women’s health and body image and:  2) the perpetuation of the harmful concept that BMI is a reliable measure of health.

The acceptable exceptions given for having a ‘high’ BMI were entirely male-oriented: citing muscular ‘guys’, soccer players, body builders and football players–along with a reference to Wisconsin ‘boys’; without acknowledging that women with ‘high’ scores can also be muscular and active, versus obese and unhealthy.  Statistically, women are more likely than men to suffer from body image issues and fat-shaming.

I cannot overstate the damage caused by our national obsession with BMI scores.  BMI alone is absolutely not a good indicator of health; yet, ironically, it is frequently used to turn individuals away from life-saving treatment for a serious eating disorder, if their BMI is not below the threshold set by their insurance carrier.  There are many heart-breaking cases where individuals who were very sick had to get even sicker before they could receive treatment.  Talk about a Catch-22?

Our national obsession with thinness is only exacerbated by focusing on this single metric, to the point that young girls and boys that do not meet the one-size-fits-all threshold are shamed and labeled.  Below is an excerpt from the National Eating Disorder Association blog on the topic:

“The BMI and other such indicators are notoriously inadequate measures of an individual’s overall health and fitness. As such, the controversy over the practice of schools sending home so-called ‘fat letters’ to parents is well-founded in a concern that these reports are misleading (at best) and dangerous (at worst). Yet schools in at least 19 states are required to screen kids for obesity and report BMI scores to parents.

The danger here lies in that fact that these reports send confusing messages to parents and children about weight, which may inadvertently serve to promote unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about size and open the doors for eating disorders in an age-group that is already at risk.”

I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with Dr. Paster, on the issue.  I am confident that he has the best of intentions to improve the health of everyone: including those who are being harmed by the pervasive use of BMI measures.

I also encourage Dr. Paster to consider supporting the  2016 Madison NEDA Walk.  Our purpose is to raise funds and awareness in the fight against eating disorders.