Scroll back two months. Many of us were scheduled to meet in Australia, for the Academy for Eating Disorders annual conference in June, when our world spun out of control. Suddenly, we could not fly, shake hands, meet our patients in person and even worse, here in New York, we all knew people who were being hospitalized and potentially dying. All our usual and important ways of relating and connecting were lost, at least temporarily. It was rattling and hard to come to terms with the reality that the connections we counted on, perhaps even took for granted, were slowly being taken away from us.
Nothing for the Patients
At the start of this pandemic, as a means of connection and a way to not feel alone, treatment went online. The world started shifting to Zoom and I saw music concerts and everything else going virtual. There was immediately lots of training offered to professionals in the eating disorder field, however, there was nothing for the patients. As more and more treatment programs switched to virtual many patients reached back to their eating disorder symptoms misguidedly for support. Daily, I watched as patients who regularly struggle with uncertainty, anxiety or impulsivity were feeling even more desperate and scared.
I wanted to do something to help these patients. My mind and heart struggled to find some solution in this uncharted territory. Several old ideas came back to me.
- First idea: I had long wanted to create a place called the Living Room where patients could come and hang out: where there might be books and resources and couches, providing a neutral sense of comfort and safety. A place to just “be”. I talked about it 15 years ago and even called it “The Living Room”.
- Second idea: When I was president of the NEDA-LI, I always wanted to bring my revered and respected colleagues to New York to speak at our informal chat workshops, held for the public. Many colleagues who I had spoken to, gave assurance they would join me. However, for most, finances, treatment responsibilities and logistics often thwarted our mutual desire.
- Third idea: I have been longing to offer the public a gift that would honor my dear late friend Lynn Grefe, the CEO of NEDA 2003-2015, who fought for eating disorder awareness and was an advocate for families and sufferers. Lynn shifted the nation’s awareness of eating disorders and worked endlessly for those struggling.
Light Bulb Moment
A light bulb went off. This unpredicted and devastating crisis was suddenly presenting the opportunity to do all the above, just virtually. This was an opportunity for me to create something amazing and utilize my network of friends and colleagues. The introduction of virtual sessions in this changing world allowed me to create the online Living Room, stay connected with my colleagues and friends, provide support for patients and honor Lynn. My mind was excited, and I was eager to make this happen.
The only problem was that I happen to be the most technologically challenged human in the universe. However, encouraged by my friends and doing what we teach our patients, I was willing to take the risk, share my ideas with these amazing professionals and get the support I needed. I am grateful for all I have learned and the team of young social media gurus who have helped bring this to fruition (Emma, Emma G and Julia, my new BFF’s).
I put out an email to my tribe – a group of esteemed colleagues and field trailblazers including but not limited to: Margo Maine, Craig Johnson, Carolyn Costin, Adrienne Ressler, Beth McGilley, and Ovidio Bermudez, the list is long. They all jumped in quickly. All I asked was that this be a completely collegial, non-promotional effort aimed at supporting our patients. I thought I would get a few friends to connect and play with me, however, the response was huge and heartwarming.
Safe Place to Meet
Zoom, and the ability to virtually connect as a group in the Living Room, has swept away the past obstacles – money, travel, logistics and scheduling. It has offered us all a way to connect, a place to honor our patients and a way to contribute. I am hopeful that for the patients it offers a safe place, a sense of being cared about and the comfort of knowing they are not alone.
At this early point, the project has fulfilled many objectives for me, my colleagues and patients. In the face of this adversity, we are making a difference. I do not think this would have happened in the world two months ago.
Each week we have new ideas, other colleagues enroll, more organizations offer support, new participants sign on and we are creating new ways to support and connect with each other. We all benefit. It is a win-win. As a bonus, I am learning about social media and technology. I look forward to all that will happen in the virtual “Chats in the Living Room” as a result of the connection between the participants, my colleagues, my friends and myself. So grateful to all who are joining me.
To view the invitation to “Chats in the Living Room”, click here. The invitation contains the schedule and information about all guest speakers, as well as the Google form sign up link for participants to receive the meeting information.
To RSVP, click the button on the invitation or click here. This link is updated weekly.
Here are a few lines from one of my handouts about challenge:
- Life is a challenge like mountain climbing
- It is an ongoing learning, healing, and growing process… which creates strength
- It requires, patience, persistence, and direction… which develops skills
- You work hard to get to the top of each mountain to reap the reward of coming down the other side… which provides the pride and accomplishment
- Although coming down the mountain also requires awareness and skill… which develops the power of presence
- And, just as you reach the base of the mountain, life presents the next challenge and mountain to climb… which offers the continued challenge and learning!
- Enjoy the journey
Please share this virtual support service with any clients you feel can benefit from these virtual sessions. Here is the RSVP form once again to share with clients.
Sondra is a seasoned nutrition therapist and recognized leader in the field of eating disorders. Founder, Executive Director, Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative, FEED, IOP Connect and Concierge programs in NY. Specializes in the treatment and training of the collaborative approach to eating disorders. She is a founding member and past Board Trustee of NEDA. She is an IAEDP certification core course facilitator and certified supervisor. Sondra is the author of the Comprehensive Learning/Teaching Handout Series Manual for Eating Disorders and contributing author to Eating Disorders in Special Populations. She has been awarded the NEDA Excellence in Practice Award, IAEDP Certified Eating Disorder Specialists Award and NEDA’s first Legacy Award. She is a national speaker, treatment consultant and media spokesperson. In her work, she helps patients learn to care for themselves nutritionally, physically, emotionally, and behaviorally while finding value in their uniqueness. Sondra is passionate about helping people learn to nourish their minds and bodies in order to reclaim their lives and thrive. She loves animals, the outdoors, and the magnificence of watching orchids bloom and grow. She can be reached at eatingdisordertreatmentspecialists.com