Years ago, I was in an emergency care unit, on the brink of death. Today, I can look back, grateful I had been given another chance at life.
I reflect on my rough past on this special day: February 2nd, 2021, as it marks the release of my film GAIN, a story on the effects of suffering with anorexia nervosa.
There were many reasons I chose to take on a project and share my experience with anorexia to the world. Many of them are obvious: I, along with my friend Tegan Duncan, wished to spread awareness on the true nature of anorexia nervosa, a disease with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. We wanted to address the misconceptions, one of them being that anorexia nervosa is a frivolous disease that only inflicts women concerned with their appearance and weight.
In fact, the main characters of the film GAIN come from starkly different upbringings and backgrounds. One, Duncan, 23, lived in Canada and played hockey. Another, Beidas, 20, lived in Saudi Arabia and fasted Ramadan every year with her family.
But the less obvious reason I took on this film comes from my own unique experience. I suffered several misdiagnoses (e.g., colon cancer). Doctors believed there was a physical abnormality to my gastrointestinal complications when there was not. My physical complications were a direct result of starvation. I knew that. They did not.
Anorexia was seen as nothing more than girls trying to look a certain way. According to the doctors I consulted, anorexia was not and could not be a legitimate disorder in the clinical realm.
On top of that, I was shamed and stigmatized for my refusal to eat, scolded by my psychiatrist for “bringing myself to death,” and later dismissed from her office with a smile and a “just eat a jar of nutella, and you will be fine” statement.
Added to the pain of living with an eating disorder was the pain of suffering from shame, stigma, and the lack of a support system. I do not wish the former kind of pain, let alone the latter, on any human being. But I thought maybe, when presented in light of what it truly is, anorexia nervosa will no longer be viewed as a choice, but rather as a serious, biologically-based illness.
Perhaps by making this documentary, I can help sufferers avoid the two-fold painful experience that I went through.
Anorexia is painful enough. If anything, sufferers need compassion, support, and understanding.
The film GAIN may either be something that hits home for you, either because you or someone you love suffered this illness, or it could be simply be an informative watch—the latter is what I hope for most of you. Maybe you are a teacher, clinician, parent, older sibling—responsible for raising, treating, or mentoring young children.
But regardless of whether you can relate to this film, regardless of who you are, this film could take you on a beautiful journey of realization into the lives of individuals suffering with anorexia nervosa. A story of suffering—raw and heartfelt—and imbued with science, the antidote to the present era of misinformation and stigma.
Together, we can learn the etiology, nature, and symptomatology of the disease. Together, we can learn, grow, and, most importantly, expand our compassion to others in hope of making this world a better place.