By Annelies Heni, NU Nursing student, Class of 2017
This September, the School of Nursing partnered with Kingdom County Productions to raise awareness about eating disorders through the screening of the documentary “All of Me,” directed by Bess O’Brien. “All of Me”focuses on the lives of women, boys and girls who are caught in the downward spiral of eating disorders and their struggle to regain self-compassion and healing. A series of interviews with different people who have struggled with the illness, the film is influential and powerful; each person shares a different story about how and why their eating disorder developed. No two stories are exactly the same. Unfortunately, eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, restricted eating, and binge eating can be a hidden form of addiction and disease.
Hearing the stories allowed students to see the perspective of each person with an eating disorder and what they face along the way. Many times individuals feel self-conscious about the way their body looks based on comments from others or the way society portrays what a beautiful person should look like. As a future nurse, these stories allowed me to reflect on my own actions and words. What I say and do, and how I interact with patients’ families can have a great impact on patients themselves. The film reinforced that interactions I have with my patients must be encouraging in order to build a positive environment where patients feel comfortable.
The film was eye-opening and helped me to better understand the struggle of those with an eating disorder. Finding satisfaction and fulfillment in not eating explains why one may choose not to eat or purge after they have eaten. The documentary included interviews with parents and families as well. From a parent’s perspective it is often difficult to recognize that a child has an eating disorder, and parents spoke about not seeing the earlier signs. Educating parents about the disorder and helping them find ways to cope with feelings of helplessness, guilt and anger is very important so that they can support their child and promote healing. It is helpful if they themselves can relate or have some understanding of what the child is going through. As nurses, it is also important to be sensitive and understanding with patients and their families.
In the documentary, one woman spoke about her experience of stepping on a scale and how traumatizing it still is for her, even after she has recovered from her eating disorder. This situation made me reflect on the routine requests nurses make every day, and how we may be more sensitive to patients. Being made more self-aware, it is important to get to know the people around you and to make efforts to understand their story. As nurses, using therapeutic communication helps us provide high quality care to these patients. I believe it is important to raise awareness nationally about eating disorders, and that we should look for better ways to help with this struggle.
Following the film, Bess O’Brien and several of the film’s participants (not actors) held a question and answer session. They stressed education as a key and making this issue known to society as important. They also emphasized that eating disorders are often lifelong and difficult to treat – they do not just vanish overnight. Even when patients recover from the disorder, every day at least three times a day there is a new battle. “All of Me” is able to communicate the suffering of eating disorders and encourages others to become advocates for those who suffer. Now it is up to us to listen, learn, share our knowledge, and be advocates for the people who live with an eating disorder.