My name is Vickie. These days, I’m pleased to report I have a good life and a good job. I’m a nurse clinician with a master’s degree in public health. But 10 years ago, I didn’t have any inkling how happy and bright my future would be.
My story with Sainte-Justine began in 2009. My parents were in the middle of a divorce. Sports and intense athletic training were my escape. As the pounds came off, my friends expressed their awe and admiration. For once in my life, somebody was paying attention to me, but I had mixed feelings about it. I was angry that they would actually praise me for losing weight. I knew deep down it wasn’t healthy. Shedding 45 pounds at 15 years old was anything but normal. The other girls would ask me for tips on how to get skinny, but I wouldn’t answer them. All I wanted to do was scream, “Something’s really wrong!” My closest friends grew worried about me, and I kept more and more to myself.
It was after I took a tumble from my bike in the summer of 2009 that my father contacted Sainte-Justine. I met Dr. Jean Wilkins for the first time in early fall. He cut an impressive figure, with his great big smile, blue eyes and easy-going manner. His approach was to bring this type of problem down to size for teenage girls and boys and their parents.
The diagnosis: anorexia nervosa. I started going in for monthly appointments. A few months later, on March 8, 2010, I was admitted to Sainte-Justine. My pulse was so thready they thought my heart might seize. I remember that morning, sitting at the table, trying to swallow something other than vegetables. Once again, I felt self-loathing for letting myself become so weak and I tried to fill myself up with love to feel better.
I can still see my mother leaving the hospital that night. The two of us were crying on the phone. I was angry. Being forced to check in to Sainte-Justine was upsetting. I hated the idea of having to eat what was on my tray and being told what to do.
It was like being a little kid again and having other people make decisions for me. It wasn’t easy but, thinking back on it now, it had to be done.
Things were pretty much back to normal by the time I hit the six-week mark. I was finishing up high school and getting ready to start CEGEP. My eating disorder was still there in the back of my mind, but I felt good and I was keeping up healthy habits.
Then WHAM. Three years after that, with university, stress, relationship issues and the questions that typically come up in any young adult’s mind… a bunch of things happened one after the other and put me on a path to bulimia. I’d have several episodes a day.
I was alone. I was ashamed. But I turned to the tools the team at Sainte-Justine had given me several years earlier and I took back control of my life. I contacted a therapist and called the Anorexie et boulimie Québec hotline for support.
It took me more than a year to tell my boyfriend and my parents that I was making myself throw up. I felt terrible that I was putting the people I loved through this hell again.
But it’s precisely when I opened up that I started to get better. I wasn’t alone anymore, wallowing in my darker emotions.
My stay at Sainte-Justine was rough. The emotions I experienced were extreme, sometimes contradictory. But I learned to identify them and talk about them. As hard as those weeks were for me, they were excruciating for the people around me, who didn’t understand what was going on. My parents didn’t recognize their daughter anymore. They felt responsible and powerless to do anything about the pain I was in. Sainte-Justine is there for parents, too, answering their questions and providing them with the support they need to help their child during these agonizing moments.
Over time, the adolescent medicine unit where most of the eating disorder cases were admitted evolved from a place of stress and anger to one of kindness and love, where I learned to take care of myself and understand what was going on.
The way I looked at Sainte-Justine became more and more positive. In fact, I felt very grateful. Grateful for all the professionals I saw and who made a difference (Dr. Wilkins, Paule, Jean and Sotherine, to name but a few).
Today, now that my plans to have a family of my own are within my grasp, I’d like to thank Sainte-Justine for giving me a break from my life back then and equipping me with the tools I needed to cope as a young adult. Thank you for being there for all the teen girls and boys who get lost in the muddle of modern life.
These days, I’m a proud CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation donor. I’m giving back to the institution that had a huge impact on my adolescence and thousands of other teens like me, through support for mental health projects and research at Sainte-Justine.