Creating Awareness of Eating Disorders
By Robyn Hussa, Founder of NORMAL
Five years ago I left my work producing and performing in professional theatre in New York City because of a single musical – nor.mal:
Based on the true story of a family struggling with an eating disorder, this musical really hit home for me. I never struggled with an eating disorder or mental health concern myself, but I knew so many others who had.
Loved ones, friends and family members had struggled with things like depression, alcoholism and other mental health concerns -- I guess I saw our lives woven into the fabric of the story, too.
At the time I came in contact with the musical, I “had a feeling” it would empower more women and girls. Today – almost 6 years later – I am so glad I listed to that voice inside of my heart that said “go for it – see where this leads.”
Stepping Into The Void
Having avoided my instincts for the first 30 years of my life, I was now trying to listen to them. But, in the case of this project, it meant that I would have to leave everything that I loved in order to uncover the truth of the journey. I would have to leave the theatre company that I co-Founded, all of my friends, the “New York” lifestyle. I stepped into the frightening void of uncomfortability -- jumping off that cliff into a foggy abyss of self-reliance.
I had no idea where I’d land (or IF I’d land). I just knew that every fiber of my being was telling me that I had to try… for reasons I didn’t even understand.
Following instinct was a new and somewhat frightening concept: in the past, I had followed my heart or my “gut” and experienced heart break or disappointment. Would it happen again? Would I survive? Of course. I knew I would need to rely on a bit of faith – especially in myself – in order to see this through.
A True Story
nor.mal: the musical is a true story told from a mother’s perspective about her daughter’s anorexia. When I produced the musical in New York in 2005 at Transport Group Theatre Company, it led to many audience members coming forward to “claim” their eating disorders, seek treatment and heal.
In 2006 (one year later), I would find myself working in residence at a high school in the Midwest. One year after that, we would have created a national nonprofit organization to further the mission of educating about eating disorders, self-esteem and body image.
I would learn, during that time, that time that five of my closest friends and loved ones would enter therapy or treatment for an array of mental health illnesses or addictions – and I would have the privilege of meeting and working with hundreds of individuals and families who sought treatment as a result of the NORMAL In Schools program as well.
One of the students working on the NORMAL project in 2006, gave me an article published in SEVENTEEN magazine about a 20 year old teenaged girl named Alex DeVinny who lost her battle with anorexia in March of 2006. I posted the article above my desk and looked to her each day for strength.
About a year later, I happened to actually read the fine print at the bottom of the article. Her family lived in a town about 30 minutes away from me. Shortly thereafter, I met with them and learned the painful journey of Alex’s struggle and how they felt that the lack of proper medical training and research contributed to the death of their daughter.
The more I learned about the illness, the more I HAD to continue. The more families I spoke with that lived in shame because of this illness, the more I worked. Through the night. Without pay. I kept working.
Here are some of the facts I learned in the process:
I turned to my own savings and retirement accounts and saw the NORMAL national nonprofit through the financial crisis of 2008, working out of my own home to create arts-based learning programs that could serve as resources in schools, universities and in treatment hospitals. It was (and continues to be) the most humbling experience of my life.
This week, almost six years later, our organization launched a free film called “ED 101,” a 30-minute documentary that is the result of the five year journey and one that explores the four types of eating disorders through interviews, family testimonials and special performances by American Idol and Broadway performers.
If you know someone who could benefit, or who might like to share in a little bit of the journey, please pass along this link to a set of educational resources that can help ED sufferers.
Robyn Hussa (@RobynHussa) is Founder and President of @NORMALInSchools a US-based nonprofit. Prior to her work, she was a professional actress and co-Founder of the award-winning @TransportGrp theatre company. She lives in NYC where she runs NORMAL , and teaches arts and mindfulness workshops to individuals in recovery.