By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director
I did a podcast recently for ED Matters sharing my personal and tragic experience with suicidality in eating disorders. I was given an opportunity to speak about the loss of my daughter, Gavriella, to anorexia and suicide, to tell people a little about who my daughter was, and to send a message to those listening about suicidality. It was a great opportunity, and I grabbed it.
To be completely honest, I was really nervous about doing the podcast, for a variety of reasons. I am no longer “Judy Krasna, parent advocate”, I am “Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director”, and that role puts responsibility and pressure on me when I speak publicly. Suicidality in eating disorders is intensely personal for me, which is why I find it so important to discuss, but my raw connection to this topic makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to maintain my composure while speaking about my own loss. It takes a lot out of me.
As soon as we stopped recording, the interviewer, who was extremely gracious, empathetic, and kind, said to me, “Wow, you’re tough.” I know that she meant it in a positive way, but that comment has been bouncing around in my brain and nagging me ever since.
I never aspired to be a tough person. I want to be a kind person, I want to be a gracious person, I want to be a patient person, I want to be a tolerant person, I want to be a good person, I want to be a strong person. But a tough person? No, I never set out to be that.
I have been thinking about whether I have always been a tough person or whether life made me that way. My father died of a sudden heart attack when I was 13. My mother died of ALS when I was 27. My daughter developed a raging eating disorder; I spent 13 years ferociously fighting for her life, and I lost.
They call people who have lost a loved one to suicide “survivors” and I have always had a hard time with that term. I feel like a survivor is someone who fought to live, like a Holocaust survivor or a cancer survivor or someone who survived a horrible accident. I, on the other hand, feel like I am a survivor by default. My daughter’s eating disorder and suicide happened to me.
But then I started thinking that maybe I am a survivor; not because my daughter died by suicide and I am left here without her, but because of what I do with that experience.
Through my work at F.E.A.S.T., I am trying to make my daughter’s life, and death, mean something. I am trying to use my lived experience to help other families and to prevent them from having to go through the same loss that we are facing. The way that I see it, I am going another round against my daughter’s eating disorder; because while she is no longer here, I am still standing and still up for the fight. And I don’t know, maybe that makes me a survivor.
I have had these thoughts running through my head and I wanted to reconcile them somehow. I was curious about whether the negative connotation that I have with the word “tough” is a real thing, or whether it is in my own head, so I went to the dictionary and found the following definitions for “tough”:
strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.
able to endure hardship or pain.
And I immediately thought, “Yep, that’s me.” And then I thought that, actually, that is all of us. We are all tough.
When your child has an eating disorder, you need to withstand extremely adverse conditions. The eating disorder makes sure that all parents get rough or careless handling. We are all forced to endure hardship and pain.
We don’t choose to be tough, but we are tough. We are a tough community, but we are also a kind community. We are a compassionate community. We are a strong community. We are a gracious community. We are an extraordinary community.
The fact that we endure hardship and pain, we survive it, and then we walk right back into it to help other people out is what makes F.E.A.S.T. so remarkable. It’s what makes our parent support volunteers so outstanding. It’s what gives our organization its strength and its soul.
So yes, I’m tough. I’m a survivor. I think I’m ready to own that now.