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Revelation at the Mall

By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director

My daughter’s eating disorder sucked all of the joy out of her life, but there was one place where it wasn’t the all-powerful satanic demon that destroyed her happiness, and that was at the mall.

My daughter loved shopping. I hated shopping with her, because for her, it wasn’t a means to an end. It wasn’t only about purchasing what she needed. Gavriella enjoyed the process; she savored moving between racks of clothing, going through each item, touching the garments, examining them, and then trying on whatever met with her approval. Whenever I picked out something that I thought she would like and asked her, “What do you think about this?” she would just roll her eyes at me, which became a joke between us. I don’t think she ever liked anything that I picked out. She would try on 20 shirts and only buy one. It drove me insane.

At the beginning of 2020, we went on a family trip to New York to attend my niece’s wedding. At first Gavriella didn’t want to come; but to our deep surprise, she changed her mind and travelled with us. There were times during the trip when I know she struggled. Her moods went up and down. My rule was that when on vacation, you eat what everyone else is eating, which forced her out of her safe space.

One day during that vacation, we were shopping at an outlet mall (the love of shopping must be genetic because American outlet malls are my very favorite happy place). Gavriella and her sister were excitedly going through the racks of clothing at Old Navy when she looked up at me with rare light in her beautiful blue eyes and exclaimed with utter jubilance, “I forgot how much fun this is!” It wasn’t just the shopping; it was the family vacation experience that has become much rarer now that everyone is older and two of my daughters have families of their own. It was the change of environment and the time spent with people who she loved. All of that gave my daughter the rare ability to escape the torture of her illness and just be in the moment, savoring the experience.

It was only one moment of joy in a sea of suffering, but it was so pure, so unexpected, so genuine, so passionate, and so beautiful. It was a moment of personal victory for me, and it’s the memory that makes me smile on the worst of days because it reminds me that my daughter was still able to experience unbridled happiness, that her eating disorder didn’t fully rob her of that.

It also affirms that my child was still in there, despite the eating disorder’s best efforts to subdue her. There were times when I felt like Gavriella was a hologram; I could see her, but I couldn’t touch her. I felt like I couldn’t reach her, no matter how hard I tried. At times, I doubted that my authentic child existed anymore, after so many years of being suffocated by her eating disorder.

All it took were 7 words—I forgot how much fun this is—to make me realize that my daughter wasn’t untouchable, as her eating disorder wanted me to believe. Those 7 beautiful words validated my endless efforts to get through to her, however I could. It meant that every hug I gave her was felt, even when there was no reaction. It meant that every time I said “I love you” she heard me, even when she didn’t respond. It meant that none of our efforts to connect with her, to engage her, to reach her, were futile, even when they were unacknowledged.

My advice to all of you is to keep doing things with your loved ones that you know their authentic selves would enjoy, even if you don’t get a response. Keep showing them love. Keep believing in their recovery. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, your child is still there, trying to find a way out. And if, like me, you only see snippets of happiness, stolen moments of joy, tiny bursts of exhilaration, grab them and hold them close to your heart. They are priceless.

Gavriella loved music as much as she loved shopping. When we would sit in the kitchen together during mealtimes, she would ask Alexa to play songs by Sia, and that became our jam. So I’ll end with the words of Sia, from the song “Never Give Up” that became our shared favorite and has become somewhat of a battle cry for me:

And I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh
I won’t let you get me down
I’ll keep gettin’ up when I hit the ground
Oh, never give up, no, never give up no, no, oh

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Alex Emmerich

    Such a lovely reminder, Judy. Thank you for sharing this. Those joyous times mean so much and we hold on to those memories. Your description of a hologram resonates with me – just there but distant at the same time.

  2. Mai Nguyen

    Thank you Judy for sharing a way of holding on to the person trapped inside the eating disorder, and to remind us that we must not give up on connecting to our loved ones.

  3. Martina

    I truly enjoy your stories, Judy, and your way of capturing value where we wouldn’t notice it otherwise in our exhausted state of mind.

  4. Elizabeth

    Super that you can keep trying, keep believing- Never give up…
    I’ll take your words and try harder even if it’s just a day at a time

  5. Jennifer Aviles

    Judy, everything about your post brought up such memories of my daughter for me. She had a very particular style of dress and like your daughter, everything I picked out was met with that “look”. I so agree it’s important to remember one’s daughter or son is still in there and to continue to say how much you love her or him.
    Yesterday one of my daughter’s closest friends called and we spent about an hour on the phone reminding each other of our memories. During our conversation I said it was “like the sun would come out” when she would emerge from the shadow of her ED.

    Thank you

  6. Blair

    Judy, this was so moving and beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for all you have done to support parents and advocate for better treatments and access.

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