Some of what you are about to read may be hard. It may be surprising, vague, troubling and sad. But it is also true. It is also beautiful and it is, part of my story….
I remember driving home, in the rain, dark and the roads reflective when I realized she was back. As dread filled my body, I also felt comforted by this acknowledgement. I felt the hair on my body stand on end. Not unlike a lot of relationships, this one was toxic. If not fatal.
For many years, in fact half of my adolescence, I wavered between prodigy and pawn. Excelling in some areas of my life and collapsing in others. The thing is, when a star is rising, it’s hard to notice the shadows. It’s uncomfortable to see the edges, so you shine on. I spent almost 10 years of my life wagering with the higher powers, testing my limits, pushing myself and living somewhere between life and death. In constant purgatory.
You see, I was a ballerina. I wasn’t just in ballet, IT was in me. I fundamentally had a gift which I recognize now as very rare and which combined with my compulsive work ethic was the perfect storm for angst, torment and also exceptional talent. I was good. At all of it. The bad and the good. Scholarships to anywhere, New York, Kirov, Pennsylvania you name it. If I wasn’t going to the National Ballet School, I was on my way to ABT. And if it wasn’t ABT it was SAB. My light flickering as it grew closer to the sun, but not unlike Icarus when you dance too close to the sun, you eventually get burned.
I can remember at the age of 9, a school teacher taking my Parents aside and saying, “I think your daughter has anorexia” I was intrigued. No one quite believed her. I was “healthy”, thriving in fact, just picky with food and small in stature. But for as long as I can remember, I would punish myself with what I didn’t put in my body. Instinctually. I know what you are thinking..,. Oh it’s the ballet. No. You know what, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the modelling that came later either, or the magazines…but that’s a whole different topic. It was my unhappiness, and the pain that I felt. Sure, you look at your body all day and you tear it apart. That is not unlike the female experience altogether, which does not discount it but is altogether unfortunate and very very different. I was even considered always to be “thin”, never had to even contemplate losing weight. But it was something I always had to do. Needed to do. This was not about vanity, this was about survival. I wanted to know how to disappear completely.
During my adolescence I fluctuated between healthy enough, and progressively unhealthy. By the time my days could be spent at Lincoln Center studying with the School of American ballet and primed for a career with the New York City ballet, I was purposefully disappearing into oblivion. Into thin air. Gasping at any straw to fuel my life force that was dying. I remember walking down the steps at Lincoln centre for that very last time.
From that time on I would spend the next 5 or so years in and out of the hospitals. 30 plus hospitalizations, organ failure, seizures, heart problems and feeding tubes. I was held in the ether. In and out. In and out. Consciously slipping into the unconscious. I was committed, restrained and forced. I was being forced to live while my brain told me to go away. To let go. To step out of limbo. Dissolve.I was empty, dark, and angry. I was pain. I was not enough, and without hope. Everything I ever was I left behind but this new friend could always comfort me. Make me safe when the many moments that were involved in my life pained me and seemed out of control. I could have that. That was mine. Laying in a ward with little left of living around me or within me, the highlight of my day would be hearing an elevator ding an arrival to the floor in hopes it would be someone for me. My family.
I remember one of those days more vividly than the rest . A lot I do not remember for various reasons. But, I started to wake. I remember having a dream, although I do not recall the dream, I remember knowing it had been some time since I had had one. My brain was starting to function. I had more nourishment. More calories. More weight than I had previously ever been able to put on by drastic measures, and now my brain, in its remarkable glory started to think differently, negotiate after years in slumber.
I was tired. The lightest of weight carrying around a 10 ton suit. Despite a few key individuals, I remember them saying not long before this time, that they had tried everything and there were no more options for me. I remember knowing that I was the only one who could make that decision, and so I did.
I started new and fresh. I built a life I had no idea how to live but I did anyways. Blindly. I kissed boys, I danced until 3 in the am. I smoked. I fucking loved to smoke. But most importantly I became well. I strayed from the protocol and got back to me. The me I had yet to discover. I beat the odds that were not only not in my favour, but by the time I got there, they were really against me. But I did. And I thought, If I could do this, than so can others. The sick, the well, and the hopeless.
I spent the next few years in school while working jobs on jobs, to get my counselling degree, I knew what I had to do. The brain fascinated me as I picked it apart, explored the darkest territories with time and thought. My beautiful mind. I had to help others. There was nothing out there. I also busied myself and made something out of thin air. It was beautiful but young, and I suppose in many ways very normal.
My career took different paths than that of counselling. From modelling and acting to fashion and design. I felt as though these careers I naturally fell into were perhaps indeed exactly what I needed. An artistic outlet with a lightness. I did after all, spend a large majority of my young life already in some of the darkest places of the spirit. So I kept on. Not fulfilled perhaps, but not unhappy. And so I spent the next 7 years or so.
I bought a beautiful home, and filled it with love. I started my own business and…
I fell in love. I never expected that. At least not a love like this. It was bright and full and real and smart and fun and fucking everything. I felt love and I loved so hard in turn. This love was like no other I could have imagined.
In stark contrast, I also started to become sick. I was diagnosed with celiac disease after a few years of stomach distress and complaints. A relief to know that this was all, and so I gladly eliminated my beloved gluten. But in the process of restoring my “health” I also started to lose weight. Wait….Take a breath. Yup, I lost weight and I got on a scale. I saw numbers that I never would have looked at months or years prior and in my gut I knew something was terribly wrong. “Just a few more” I said. Nothing wrong with that. I look great, feel great. This is so different. Everyone has diets. Why can’t I now as well?
I remember driving home that night, in the rain, and knowing she was riding with me. She wasn’t going anywhere fast and she grabbed the wheel and steered. The illness I never had imagined would rock my world again was back in business and she had me in her horrible, beautiful, gentle and evil embrace. I liked her and she terrified me. With her though, I was ok.
There are lots of things that transpired over the years that brought along this process, it wasn’t just a switch, but this was part of the impetus. The impetus that turned on countless neuropathways that knew exactly what to do and where to go again. Simultaneously, the health of my family seemed to be failing as it so often did in the past, and so I amongst other reasons…too many to list, lol, I would cling to dis health to safeguard myself from feeling. For providing control. Security.Freedom in my imprisonment.
But I was a woman in love and about to be married. I had a successful business. Why the fuck should I go and screw this all up? Was what people would say. When they noticed the veil of weight behind me. How could this be happening? How does this happen? Shouldn’t I have a say? But my mind didn’t even if my soul did.
I married the man of my dreams while he prayed at night that I would wake up after the I do’s. We wandered the streets of Europe, where at times I felt my soul leaving this world. I’ll never be able to shake that feeling. I did not crumble, I shattered, into a million little pieces that I had no idea how to sweep up nor did anyone else. I diminished. I disappeared. I did not leave home. I was dying. Spiritually, mentally and absolutely, physically and only a few people bare witness to the depths I would reach during this time and who helplessly watched on hoping for a miracle.
After being admitted yet again to the same locked Ward I’d spent much time previously, my body surrendered. The feeding tubes, the iv sites and central lines. They kept me going when I refused to go on when my 9th life was almost up. My body didn’t even want to accept food now. It went into shock. It protested. Mind body both working against me.
Many weeks later, when I was able to discharge myself, I did. Anorexia wanted the reigns. Not anyone else and so the helm was for the taking. I wanted to get better but had no idea how to get there again. I remember struggling more than ever in those days. Good vs evil. David vs Goliath. I wanted control but I could not steer. I wanted my life back and I wanted happiness. Fuuuuuckkk! I wanted to be happpy!! Fuck the food I just wanted to smile again. The darkness of depression that followed suit in the wake of malnutrition and brain degeneration was unlike any rabbit hole I knew previous. And so, I surrendered myself helpless once again and asked for more help, but not unlike the last time, I was told again that there was nothing left for them to do. I could be provided for medically, but therapeutically I would not be accepted to treatment. Too physically sick, non compliant, chronic. I want to be certain, I do not see blame or fault in the “help” there is/was available, though there are major flaws that could be devastating and almost were, there were some incredible people who have always been in my corner, they know who they are and I absolutely adore them and their guidance. Unfortunately there is a complete lack of options, resources and creative options…that I am certain of . That horrible day though, where my vulnerability shined and was denied, was the day before the hardest. When those million little pieces. Fragments of my former life swirled like a tornado and collapsing in a blink of an eye…stripped me bare. It was the darkest day of my life. I felt and saw smoke in my head and in my body. It’s the only way I can describe it. If my body wasn’t ready to break down, my mind decided that day that it was. It is still to painful at times to consider this feeling, but I remember saying that if I could make it through that day, I would make it through the next and nothing would ever be as hard as that. I checked myself in to St. Paul’s psychiatry, and they discharged me with two bottles of heavy psycho-pharmaceuticals. I ditched the pills for my own safety and I knew then that I was 1. Meant to be here and 2. I used up my 9th life so let’s get this bitch good 3. I’m going to become my best experiment and 4. I’ve got a lot of people to help.
In all seriousness, that list more looked like getting through this very minute for a long while. And that was totally fine with me. But gradually and intuitively, it became that and so much more. This would be the most rewarding and intuitive approach.
I dragged myself up to the surface. I Breathed. I Waded. I Walked and I began to create. To create life from the ground up, with new meaning, purpose, direction, love, intelligence, grace and strength. All of it. I danced.
I knew when she came back there was a battle of extraordinary proportions to be had. I could not have bet it would almost cost me everything and in the 11th hour, give me everything I could ever hope for.
I used my lessons learned years prior as gift. I dove into getting back to me. Not the sick getting better, me, the recovering, me. But the me, me. So often this is lacking in therapeutic approaches. I intuitively brought life back into my body in so many capacities that lead to beautiful discoveries, and maybe for once, a deep fulfillment and satisfaction with my abilities.
I believe that change got me here, I believe in the exceptional, beautiful, loving, profound powers of real food, and I believe movement will carry us through. My 3 steps of wellness.
This is the brief, verrrrry brief synopsis of what has transpired over many years and many tears. There is much to share, some dark some light. Some sad and also hysterical. We all can laugh at ourselves. What a gift. Maybe I’ll write a book. Many have encouraged. It won’t be pretty but I tend to not like pretty anyhow.
One of my goals is to change how we look at and treat eating disorders and mental health. I am living, breathing and thriving proof of not only the powers of the human body and its resilience, but also of individualized and holistic healing and what we call recovery. We look at disorders, addictions, and mental health as something to cope with. But why cope with something you can die from. We are very literally doing a disservice by trying to imply this is the way life is to look. The goal is to get back to them, not the sick more well version of their sick self. It doesn’t make sense and we perpetuate this sick cycle of disease for our tolerance of, our lack of authentic connection, and our fear from looking at the darkest parts within ourselves.
I know my purpose. I was always an artist. Through movement, through words, design, and now food. My most beautiful creation will now and forever be creating health and wellness and enjoyment through food for those with similar battles and those without.
This is not to say the sole focus of my practice will be based on Eating Disorders and mental health, but if I can be of service, I will be. I find meaning and great fulfillment from providing healthy lifestyles to all of those looking for a better life be it a big change or small, an illness or a goal. What a beautiful thing that I now may have the opportunity to ride along with you on a journey with understanding, patience, commitment, and inspiration of health can look like. A beautiful balance.
Anorexia Nervosa is not a diet, it is a disease. It hunts and kills for keeps not likes. Eating disorders and mental health affects people of all ages, sizes, social status, ability and personality. You do not have to be size blank to suffer, nor depressed because you have the blues. We treat our bodies, well hopefully, like our temples, and yet our mind somehow is disconnected from this. Here’s to inspiration to change that. Because if there is inspiration, a flame ignites, and change can happen.
I refuse to define myself as the anorexic, or the recovered anorexic. Identity in either is dangerous and missing the point.
I was if anything and always will be, the phoenix born into Kate
To movement, to food, and to change and the opportunity of a new day
images by Elena Kalis