Monday, February 15, 2016

Carlene's Story - True Friendship Never Dies

Hey everyone! This week I decided I wanted to take a different take on a guest writer, so I asked my best friend Carlene to write a post for me! We've been through a lot together, and I'm touched by the beautiful post she wrote! Show Carlene your support and like, comment, and share this post! :) 

About 16 years ago, I was in Grade 1. As many people know, this can be a challenging transition for many children as they begin school for the first time. In my class, our teacher had something she called, “Carpet Time.” This was where she would read from a book for the entire class to enjoy, and luckily for me, this is where Courtney and I met. To say we were inseparable would be an understatement! We instantly became friends and did everything together. We would have playdates at one another’s houses, sing and dance in our made up band. We’d go puddle jumping and get soaked from head to toe. We spent lots time at the park and in the winter, we went tobogganing on the huge hill (which no longer looks that big!) at our school. The two of us were friends with many others, but throughout elementary school we vowed to remain best friends.

As we entered middle school, we were both very nervous yet excited to start a new chapter. Grade six had its new perks like getting lockers and meeting new people. The school dances were always a highlight for us, and we always attended them together if neither of us got asked by a boy! It wasn’t until Grade 7 that Courtney started to have numerous doctors’ appointments. I remember her having a large plexiform neurofibroma on her lower back (which I thought was just an abnormal birthmark) that she had removed that year. Coincidentally, I had a mole removed from my back close to the same time so I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until she started missing school for appointments that she had out of town that I started to realize that perhaps there was more going on than I had first thought. She had me tell people that she was sick or had a family emergency on days that she had to miss school, and I never questioned it because that’s what friends do, they cover for one another.

The summer after Grade 8 had ended was one of the scariest times in my life. I started to notice that Courtney had significantly started to decrease the amount of food that she was eating. I noticed that she was becoming very skinny, very fast, and I remember to this day when it dawned on me that Courtney was not eating healthily. I was so scared, and in a way I tried to mask the truth by telling myself excuses like, “She must have eaten a big breakfast and just isn’t that hungry.” I was scared that if I asked her about it or talked to her about it, it would become a reality and I wanted to believe that my friend wasn’t suffering.

It was shortly after Courtney started getting help for her anorexia that she told me what was going on. She told me all about Neurofibromatosis and how it had been affecting her. I distinctly remember her telling me, “I owe you an explanation….,” and on that day I feel like our friendship became even stronger. There was so much raw emotion and honesty that came of that moment, and it was one that I will never forget.

After that, Courtney was straightforward with me about all her appointments and follow-ups. She told me all about her lumbar puncture, and how excruciating the pain was after she woke up from the procedure. I remember going to visit her at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in            Edmonton when she was receiving IV infusions, and I was so happy just to be there and talk to her, even if it was just for a little while. I watched her when she had to inject herself with growth hormone. One time she even let me push the button to inject it. She fake cried when it punctured her skin, which then of course freaked me out and she started cackling away, and said I wasn’t the first person she had scared! What a turkey! She told me all about her MRI appointments, ultrasounds, x-rays, and her Botox injections for her headaches.

I remember Courtney meeting Reggie Bibbs in 2011, and how it changed her life. She decided that she didn’t want to hide who she was anymore. She went to the Mayo Clinic during that summer and when we went back to high school for our Grade 12 year, she started to open up to people about her condition. She became an advocate for finding a cure for NF, and I could see this was something she was very passionate about! Most of our friends stuck by and supported her, and would ask how her appointments went. Courtney even organized 2 fundraisers that were hugely successful in raising funds for the Friedman Lab in B.C., which is actively working on finding the cure for NF.

Courtney has continued to experience medical problems since high school, such as a suspected ruptured ovarian cyst and an increase in blood pressure resulting in having to wear a Holter monitor temporarily (the increased blood pressure ended up being a complication from one of her medications). Ultimately though, throughout this rollercoaster of emotions she has constantly been on for all these years, her contagious smile and positive attitude still manages to shine through and spreads to those around her. She truly is one of my role models in life, and I am so proud of what she has accomplished, and I’m honored to call her my best friend.

By having the passion to help others, the two of us have braved the struggles of nursing school together, and have added another best friend to our twosome. Her name is Casey, and she too has been touched by Courtney’s attitude and efforts for the NF cause. Together, I know the three of us will continue to help each other through the difficult times of life, and we’ll come out smiling because we’ll know that we have each other’s support, no matter what comes our way.

- Carlene 

Monday, February 1, 2016

My Anorexia Journey

I've mentioned it a few times here and there, I've thrown out the words, and I've been vocal about my struggles... but I think it's time I'm "real" about my past history with anorexia. I've debated about posting this blog, as much of the content stems from a very personal place, and there is still an element of shame of this part of my past. However, I feel like sharing this part of my story will not only help me let go of this part of my past, but it might also encourage others to do so as well.

I remember sitting on the floor of my living room one evening when I was 11 years old watching Oprah with my mom, and a very young girl who was maybe 80 pounds and in the thralls of anorexia was being interviewed. I watched, in complete awe.... "How could someone do this to themselves?" I was thinking. I looked over at my Mom and said "Well, this is something you will never have to worry about with me. I promise!!!" I believe I even went and got myself a bowl of ice cream at this point in time, just to prove a point. I loved food, I couldn't imagine that someone would just choose to not eat because they thought they were "fat" or wanted to loose weight. 

Sadly enough, about 4 years later I broke this promise with my Mom, and ended up turning my life upside down. 

Before I go any further, I want to be straight up here. The core of my anorexia was not about weight loss. The cause stemmed from a much deeper place: depression, anxiety, insecurity, the wish for control. For myself specifically, everything about my eating disorder was about control.

I remember sitting on my bed one night when I was about 15, crying. Within the last year and a half I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, scoliosis and chronic daily headaches. My uncle, whom I was very close to, received a palliative diagnosis. I lost an important friendship and I was about to change schools (as I was headed to high school). I was in the midst of extensive tests trying to figure out why my hormones were so wacky, and I just felt like my life was completely out of my control. I kept a running tally in my head of things that I could control, and it looked something like this: 

My health: NO 
My friends: NO
My family: NO
School: NO
Food: YES

It was almost like a revelation, I DID have control over something. I could control what I put in my body. I could control what I ate, when I ate it, and how I ate it. After this I felt...enlightened! Something in me changed, because I finally felt like I might have some element of control over my life. I went to bed that night feeling like a different person.... feeling like I might be able to get my life back. 

Months later my obsession for control began to spiral out of control. I was no longer controlling my diet in a healthy way, I was becoming dangerously thin, extremely fast. I however, didn't see this. Each time I stepped on that scale and saw the numbers drop I was ecstatic... my exertion of control was WORKING! I felt exhilarated, even when half a pound was lost. This feeling became so intoxicating to me that I began to significantly restrict my eating, just so I could see those numbers drop faster. Watching the numbers fall on the scale distracted me from my Neurofibromatosis. It gave me something else to think about. 

Pretty soon, eating caused me anxiety. I was afraid of food. I became so obsessed that I wouldn't go out in public if I even thought there was a chance I would have to eat. I avoided birthday parties, going to friends houses, and family events. I made excuses all the time for why I wouldn't go out. All I could think about was what people would think when I sat there with an empty plate. I knew people would judge me, ask me questions. I was afraid. People didn't get it, they would tell me to "eat more" or "go get a cheeseburger", but I just couldn't. The thought of giving up the one thing I could control frightened me so much. 

I remember going to a friends house one night, and someone I knew came up to me and asked "Wow, are your parents feeding you these days?" I instantly felt ashamed, I knew people were talking, I knew people were calling me names such as "anorexic" and it hurt. All I could think about was how nobody understood, nobody knew the true reason I was doing what I was doing. Nobody lived my life, therefore in my mind, nobody could judge me. People would tell me to "eat a cheeseburger" and their words cut me like a knife. 

The numbers on the scale continued to drop until I reached a dangerous 84 pounds.  At this time, I was actually afraid to drink water because I didn't want to look bloated. I searched Google to see if lip chap had calories, because if it did there was no way I was going to use it. I looked up ways to burn 1 calorie so that piece of gum I just ate wouldn`t make me gain weight. I cut out all foods with added sugar or fat, and soon my diet was limited to chicken and some fruits/vegetables. It felt like anorexia was at the core of my own personal being. The more I exerted control over my eating habits, the more depressed I became, and the more depressed I became the more control I wanted over my life. 

I wouldn't even be able to tell you at what point in time I decided I needed to make a life change. It sure wasn't when I was seeing an eating disorder specialist, because I  flat out lied to her because I thought she didn't understand... how could she when she wasn't battling NF and an eating disorder?! She pressed me to share why I had the eating habits I had, and I just wasn`t ready to give that little secret up quite yet. 

I remember at one point deciding that if I ever wanted to be a true, happy and authentic version of myself I needed to change. I slowly began making changes to my diet, just like I did when I started this whole "journey". I added in a few snacks in the day here and there. I stopped doing jumping jacks in my room, or excessively exercising on our Wii Fit. I would eat meals before going to bed, which used to be a forbidden activity. I started drinking liquids that weren't water. Before I knew it, I started having food cravings again and I slowly allowed myself to enjoy food.

Sometimes I hear people talk about anorexia and other eating disorders in such a negative manner. People think it's a choice, and I'm here to tell you it isn't. Anorexia is no different than having depression, or asthma for that matter. It's a mental illness, and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. All I ask is that if any of you, right now, are facing an eating disorder PLEASE go get help. It was so enlightening when I freed myself from the burden of anorexia, I want nothing more than for others to feel the same way.

Being a perfectionist I used to compare myself to what I thought was the perfect body type, but what I've come to realize is that there isn't one. I still struggle with body image issues, don't get me wrong. I compare myself to others, I wish that my hips were smaller and that my cheekbones weren't as wide. I pick all my pictures apart wishing I looked differently, but these struggles remind me that I am human, and that I am not perfect. I've been given this life to live and I'm darn well going to live it, with my perfectly imperfect body. 

- Court 


** The picture on the left was taken when I was at my lowest weight and most depressed. The one on the right was taken last summer... fully weight restored and healthy :) **