“I had to get lost along the way to try to put the building blocks back together.”
Colleen’s earliest recollections of eating-related challenges date back to when she was about 11 years old as a competitive dancer. She remembers being bullied about her lunches and found ways to not go out for recess or lunch to avoid having to deal with food. After changing schools, and stopping dance, things improved. However, when she got to university, the challenges re-emerged. Attending York University, in the Bachelors of Fine Arts program, Colleen struggled to manage everything that often accompanies significant life transitions.
She went from a small town to a large city, and “fell deep into her eating disorder”. She experienced multiple disappointments, creating a gap between her reality and her expectations. She was lonely, often experienced feeling unsafe, and her relationship with her partner was fraught. “York is a huge school and trying to get any mental health support is difficult when there are so many students and a lack of resources.” Colleen did make her way to the counselling centre, where an intake counsellor told her about Sheena’s Place. At first, she signed up for some groups but did not attend. She also tried counselling but felt that the clinician was not equipped to address an eating disorder and didn’t find the service helpful.
A moment that she believes was a breaking point was during a visit home over the Christmas holiday, where Colleen says she had a breakdown in the changing room of an H&M.
Over a year after first registering for a group, she finally made her way in to Sheena’s Place. “Walking through the doors was completely nerve-wracking. I almost turned around.” When she entered she found that, “The atmosphere was calm and welcoming. The group started and there was no pressure to participate right away”. Colleen appreciated the opportunity to take that first step of just “being there.” Then she immediately felt the benefit of hearing others share their perspectives. She was no longer alone in her experience.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Colleen has attended a Sheena’s Place group online. Before attending, she wondered if the group would feel as safe as it did in person. She was relieved to find that, “even online you are able to have that connection and that chunk of time that is a complete safe space to get support and hear stories and share. This pandemic is very difficult for so many and it’s made a lot of people’s mental health drop. Being able to access these groups and resources has given people a glimmer of hope.”
Colleen has participated in an Adult Support group and a Meal Preparation group. She speaks glowingly about the facilitators. “Sari and Corinne are amazing. All of the facilitators are very respectful. [The] best thing about Sheena’s is, the door is always open… there’s no judgement. The road to recovery is not linear, it ebbs and flows and takes time. Sheena’s Place is one of the safest places to be in terms of being able to speak about your experience in a safe way and not feeling triggered leaving. It feels like a second home.”