“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising up every time we fall.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Author
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Forty years ago, cancer was that dirty little secret never discussed in polite company. It may have been heard in whispered conversations. And, when it was discussed, more often than not the topic involved how cancer had claimed another life. Today, cancer is discussed openly. And when we discuss cancer, more often than not, the topic is how a person “beat” cancer, how they are not just a survivor, but are thriving. Stories of strength and inspiration.
Some attribute that change in attitude and perception in part to that stirring, inspirational speech given by former North Carolina State basketball coach, Jim Valvano in March 1993 when he was in the grip of cancer. His talk on an ESPN Awards Show kick started the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research and its motto, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up,” became a message of hope for those suffering from cancer.
Today, mental illness, particularly eating disorders is that “dirty little family secret” not talked about in polite company. Shame casts a dark pall over it. It is not talked about at dinner parties and when discussed, it is usually to mourn the loss of a loved one. And yet, success stories do exist.
Kristina Saffron and Liana Rosenman met while in treatment. As part of their recovery journey, they started Project HEAL. They are building Project HEAL into an industry giant as it is rapidly becoming an expanding, powerful entity in the eating disorder industry.
Brian Cuban is another inspirational story of recovery and redemption. From an early life of bulimia to alcohol and cocaine addiction, Brian now leads a life of sobriety, is a respected author and speaker and inspires so many through his stories of hope and resiliency.
Then there are the many others who do not seek, nor receive the spotlight. Their stories too would undoubtedly inspire and give courage, hope and strength to those who still suffer from this insidious disease. And as such, with their permission, I am going to briefly highlight two of these Warriors.
I first met Manda Welch in April 2017 at an event the Morgan Foundation organized called, “Night with the Experts.” Dr. Stephanie Setliff of ERC Plano, Dr. Carrie McAdams of UT Southwestern and Dr. Dana Rubin-Remer of Girls to Women Health and Wellness Clinic appeared for two hours to speak to a crowd of people discussing eating disorders.
A frail, young woman sat in the front row, her leg tapping up and down in a way indicating anxiety, fear or simply not being aware of her own body. We spoke of my daughter Morgan. Manda indicated she was still struggling. Being in the midst of depression over my daughter being taken, I tried to talk of inspiration, strength and hope. But, even to my own ears, my words sounded hollow.
Manda and I kept in touch on Facebook through messaging. She was very open about her on-going struggles. And then, heroin entered her life and I grieved, fearing that these two demons combined would surely take her life. She would drop off of social media for awhile and then resurface. She applied for a scholarship to pay for treatment from Project HEAL. She applied for Medicaid and was denied. She lost her employment and unemployment benefits were denied. She finally checked herself into a detox clinic operated by the State of Texas.
Months elapsed. Then, fate brought us back together. Manda was going to be featured on a news story to be broadcast by the local CBS affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth. This was being filmed at the offices of a very dear friend, Patti Geolat and the Something for Kelly Foundation. I showed up and was overjoyed to see Manda was the subject of this news story. And for the first time, I saw “life” in her eyes. And tears in mine.
We naturally hugged and Manda filled me in on her life. After surviving a heroin overdose, the fog was lifted from her. She has now been sober for fourteen (14) months. Her eating disorder demons were under control. And although there may be the occasional rare lapse, her life of sobriety and personal insight has put the demon back into the cage. She is employed and has a strong support group around her on a daily basis. And she has a future.
The Channel 11 news story happened and will be the subject of my next posting.
Most people in the eating disorder industry will never meet nor even know Manda. But Manda, survived and is beginning to thrive. The industry talks about people and that they can beat this disease. We know of those persons when they write books, or go on speaking tours or become spokespersons. And surely, society needs those people to put a “face” on this disease. But for every one of them, there are thousands of Mandas. A young woman who struggled. Whose life was almost claimed. Who survived. And for those of us who know her, we are inspired by her courage and perseverance.
Ariana Max is a young woman residing in Houston, Texas. She found the Morgan Foundation through social media and reached out to me. When Ariana found me, I felt and feared that she was near the end of her rope.
She had been in a number of treatment centers. She left some. She was asked to leave others. None resonated with her recovery. Her physical health continued to deteriorate. Finally, when she was receiving treatment in Oklahoma, her body betrayed her. Her condition became dangerously acute and she was care flighted to the Children’s Hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. After partially stabilizing, she was discharged although still in a precarious medical condition.
She was fearful of emergency rooms, of being over-hydrated and having her electrolytes become unstable again. Her weight plummeted to the lowest in years, her insurance had lapsed and she could only afford to pay for one, 45 minute counseling session every week. She explored holistic options, acupuncture and polychromatic light therapy treatments. The world seemed dark and the demon was winning its fatal, dark game.
She had a falling out with her therapist and even her family felt hopeless. And then, just like Manda, she awoke from her fog.
She wrote these powerful words to me: “My body has defied science for 12 years, and it’s define science and logic right now. This is a sign for me that I am obviously here for a reason, and I do not want to waste that. I honestly feel like I am here for a reason. My body has defied science for 12 years, and it’s defining science and logic right now. This is a sign for me that I am obviously here for a reason, and I do not want to waste that. I spent a lot of time over the last several weeks putting the pieces to my puzzle together, and although it’s been very difficult as I do most of that on my own as I cannot afford the appropriate therapy, I am finding that I can be powerful and my voice does matter. I truly believe that I hold a very important key and it took all of the suffering and pain to figure it out.”
“I am Ariana and Ariana matters and I’m not going to stop fighting for that. I am done being told I can’t, I’m done being told people do not believe in me. I am done being defined by mental illness. I’m Ariana and Ariana matters and I’m not going to stop fighting for that. At this point I’m willing to get up in front of millions of people and tell my story because I truly believe it needs to be heard. I cannot stay silent on an issue anymore that is affecting so many people in this country that is killing so many innocent souls.”
Some time went by and then, she again contacted me. And what I saw overwhelmed me. She had found … salvation? She was physically, mentally and emotionally strong. She had found her voice and her voice had found her. On Facebook she posted photos of her doing one-handed, hand stands, walking on her hands, exhibiting strength, poise and grace. And she had rediscovered her gift of art. She custom paints jackets, jeans, artwork. If you go to a website featuring her recovery and art, you will see that strength, that creativity, that passion of the soul.
We are Lifted Up
Both Manda and Ariana have told me that I am a “hero” to them, that I inspire them. To them and everyone, I say, I am no hero. I am an incredibly flawed man whose heart was ripped away. Yes, I have a gift of being able to use words reasonably well. But, Manda, Ariana and all of the silent Army of Survivors in our midst, YOU are the true heroes. YOU inspire me. YOU inspire those doctors, counselors and dieticians toiling in the industry. YOUR heroic victory over pain, over anguish, over almost losing your very soul is what the eating disorder industry is really about.
Manda and Ariana, you are our true Heroes! And it is heroes like you, and the Army of Survivors, who inspire us to continue working, to continue pushing, to continue to change the status quo which can only lead to a better tomorrow.
Manda and Ariana, you make it possible for us to continue to “Save Lives … One Precious Life at a Time.”