Hiding Anorexia for 14 years to Ambassador

Last year, approximately Oct 2016 (in the midst of writing my memoir), my editor and I realized something that I believe shocked us both: My struggles with anorexia as a child and teenager was not only a HUGE part of my past, but it had manifested itself in many ways that STILL affect me to this day.

It was something I could not hide any longer. When I decided to write my memoir, I originally thought my eating disorders were just going to be a teeny part of the book. Something that would be touched upon briefly, a few chapters at max. I guessed that most of my memoir would be about the recent past – emergency brain surgery, my stroke at 29, and my close (way too close!) encounter with death or potential paralysis.

As we delved into our book sessions each week, my editor and I realized that eating disorders would definitely be longer than a few chapters. I had hid my battle with anorexia for 14 years and it had taken a huge toll on me, mentally and emotionally (which I never realized) No one knew and I NEVER talked about it…….EVER! It was my “dirty little secret” that I kept safe-guarded. It was done and over with.

It was the first time in 14 years that I even managed to say the word “a-n-o-r-e-x-i-a.” I became acutely aware of how ashamed I was that I had eating disorders. How weak I felt. How mad I was at myself. How alone and isolated I felt from the rest of the world. These revelations were SO surprising to me. Not to mention the volume of tears that flowed everyday. I wasn’t used to these things called “feelings” and “emotions.”

My editor encouraged me to start volunteering at a centre for Eating Disorders (we both were not sure in what capacity or what I could do). The picture below is the day I met Deb at Sheena’s Place. It was also the day I felt 1000 bricks lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t realize I needed to FINALLY admit that I had eating disorder and not hide that part of my life.

   All I knew is that I wanted to do whatever I could to help others with eating disorders and their families. I felt very alone when I was anorexic and if I could help another person with support, hope and even just being a friendly ear, I’d be happy to do that.

Over the next few months, I had the opportunity to go to Sheena’s Place Winter Gala as well as participate in a fundraising event. I was able to speak with parents, caregivers, men and women with eating disorders and the different team members at Sheena’s Place. It became very evident to me that as a child, I NEEDED a place like this – I didn’t need to battle anorexia alone. I could have had a friend who was going through the same thing and who would understand the struggle. My parents needed Sheena’s Place as well so they could better understand the disease.

I started writing more on the topic of eating disorders and was touched by the positive warm responses. Some of the articles are here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/dina-pestonji/sharing-anorexia-story_b_13456258.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/dina-pestonji/eating-disorders-facts_b_14547990.html

I still remember an email I received from a woman who said, “Thank you for your article. Now I better understand what my little girl is feeling.” It was a short message but it made a HUGE difference to me. It made me think of my parents and sister who tried very hard to understand my disease when I was young.

Earlier this year, I caught up with Deb and she asked me to speak at Sheena’s Place Annual Gala Fundraiser and am now an Ambassador for them. I was stunned (!!) and honoured. How is it possible to go from hiding/feeling so much shame to becoming an Ambassador and feeling so proud/strong desire to speak out and end the stigma surrounding Eating Disorders? And that too, in barely 4 months.

It’s startling and quite baffling to me but I can say that embracing all parts of my life and being true to myself feels 1000 times better than hiding.

If you are in Toronto on Thurs June 8th, I invite you to join me at Sheena’s Place Annual Gala Event. Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shout-out-for-sheenas-place-tickets-31038517040

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