March 22, 2019

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Opinion

Getting rid of ED: Battling eating disorder a financial and emotional strain

Kendra Fifi has battled an eating disorder for years. She now has to take a leave of absence from her work to attend a day program at Health Sciences Centre.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kendra Fifi has battled an eating disorder for years. She now has to take a leave of absence from her work to attend a day program at Health Sciences Centre.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2015 (1413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Her name is Kendra Fifi. She is 27. For almost half her life, she has kept a secret about a stalker who is trying to kill her.

Actually, it's a something rather than someone, but she's personified it as a way of fighting back.

She calls him "ED."

As in eating disorder. As in bulimia nervosa and the binging and purging that characterize the mental-health disorder.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2015 (1413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Her name is Kendra Fifi. She is 27. For almost half her life, she has kept a secret about a stalker who is trying to kill her.

Actually, it's a something rather than someone, but she's personified it as a way of fighting back.

She calls him "ED."

As in eating disorder. As in bulimia nervosa and the binging and purging that characterize the mental-health disorder.

So it was that a few months ago Kendra finally shared her secret in a YouTube video, where she interviewed herself about her constant, unwelcome companion.

"It's all about staying positive and opening up to everybody," she says near the end of her video.

But it's about more than that, of course. As I learned when she reached out and invited me to do a Q&A.

-

Kendra earns little more than minimum wage at a call centre, taking complaints from people across North America about restaurant service.

And food. The irony is obvious. But she needs a steady job and the benefits the employer offers. It was after work at the call centre early last month when I first met Kendra.

"Do you want to get something to eat?" I asked when she got into the car.

"I could eat a little," she said. "I haven't really eaten anything today. But it's getting better," she added, assuming I knew she was talking about her struggle. "Slowly."

No, it's not.

That's another reason Kendra made the video. In the spring of 2012, at the urging of her then-boyfriend, Kendra voluntarily admitted herself into the eating disorders program at Health Sciences Centre, which has three dedicated beds in the general psychiatric ward for others like her who are trying to fight off ED. Two months after she was discharged, Kendra relapsed and tried to get back in. It was just stress, she recalled being told. Three years later, after six months on the wait list, she is scheduled next month to go into the outpatient day program at HSC. Why did she try again?

"I need to get healthy," she recalled thinking about why she reapplied, "or else I'm going to die."

But attending the day program means Kendra has to take a leave from work and worry about how she is going to pay for rent and other expenses on meagre employment insurance payments. Her parents and maybe a few friends will help as much as they can. But her concern is the anxiety and depression that underlies her binging, purging and restricting will spike with the financial uncertainty. It already has.

My concern is if there's not enough money coming in, and no one there when she gets home at night, she could relapse, even as she's struggling to recover.

The promised Q&A with Kendra had already revealed much of that on the drive to Stella's Café on Sherbrook Street.

That and how she began going steady with ED. Kendra grew up in Elm Creek with her mother and stepfather. It was at school there that boys began picking on her.

"I never really fit in."

She loved metal and rock music, which might explain the tiny music notes tattooed on her right wrist. Most of the other people at her school were into country music. Some of the boys began calling her names.

"I used to be bullied, called 'fat-ass' 'ugly,' the 'b-word' and told to throw my food out at school, that I shouldn't be eating it because I was too fat."

She was 14. And the bullying only added to the chronic depression she was already experiencing and now treats with medication. By 17, she had left for Winnipeg in an attempt to leave the bullies behind. But ED followed her.

At Stella's, Kendra was enjoying a glass of white wine and her favourite menu item - an egg-salad sandwich - when she offered a glimpse into her relationship with her eating disorder.

"ED, for a lot of people, is a control thing," she said, "something they can control when they can't control anything in their life."

Yes, but from the way Kendra describes him, ED is the controlling one.

"So when you're looking in the mirror," she explained, "ED will be telling you things like, 'You're not skinny enough.' Or, 'You're not good enough.' Self-worth things like that. I consider it a male figure, and it sort of helps with the course of recovery when you're seeing it as someone separate. Other than who you are as a person, because that's not who you are. If you separate ED from being something different from you, it's easier to fight."

ED, I suggest, is like the school boys who bullied her in Elm Creek.

"Yeah," Kendra said, "that's almost exactly what it is."

It was late in our conversation, as she's preparing to take the other half of the sandwich home, when Kendra added this.

"It's not fun waking up every day, making breakfast and having to tell yourself that you're not going to get sick. But then it ends up happening anyways. I just want to wake up in the morning and smile and go for a bike ride and enjoy life."

To me, those last words sounded hopeful, like a prayer to herself that one day she will stop eating her heart out over ED. And see only her bright, beautiful self in the mirror.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

You can read Kendra's blog here.

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