How vulnerability can normalize mental health disorders.
Despite the 2.7 million Canadians grappling with eating disorders, there remains a common misconception that such disorders are a choice rather than a serious mental illness.
As a high school student Chloe was a go-getter. “I was a very high achieving, perfectionist child and participated in a lot of extracurricular activities. I had extremely high expectations for myself in academics and, essentially, every aspect of my life.”
She was also on the gymnastics team. “That brought with it an increased focus on my body, and as a result, I developed low self-esteem. I was really unhappy with how I felt on the inside. And I was completely oblivious about any sort of disordered eating habits.”
While Chloe says some people believe it was gymnastics that caused her eating disorder, she feels it was the opposite. “Gymnastics saved me, because it was my coaches who intervened. I was in denial. Then my parents got involved, and our family doctor. And I got a referral to the McMaster Children’s Hospital program. And that’s really when my recovery started.”
Her journey continued as she pursued her BA in English Language and Literature at Queen's University, and later completed her Master of Media in Journalism and Communication at Western. Following graduation, Chloe got into the corporate communications industry and, at age 26, was working as a communications specialist when the pandemic triggered some troubling health issues in the spring of 2020 — over a decade after her original diagnosis.
“I was hit with a sudden dizzy spell,” she wrote in an essay published by CNN in 2022. “Intense gut pain sent me rushing to the bathroom of my small basement apartment. My heart pounded and sweat beads formed along my brow. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to vomit, cry or curl up in bed. The pain intensified. I broke down sobbing on the cold bathroom tiles.”
The reason? She was starting to experience a relapse of her eating disorder. Chloe sought professional help and began the recovery process as an adult. A year later, Chloe started writing, and she decided to use her skills as a communicator and her own experiences to help others by launching a mental health blog in early 2021.
Today, at age 30, she speaks to university and college students across Ontario and is an advisor on various health committees. She does one-on-one peer support work with people who have eating disorders and facilitates workshops.
But Chloe thinks advocacy is creating some light. “I was asked to speak to a Rotary Club group. I wasn’t sure how my message would sit with them because they weren’t my typical audience of university students. But they were so curious. It was incredible. And afterward, one of the organizers pulled me aside and told me there was a personal reason she invited me to speak – because she has an eating disorder. And then she paused and said, ‘I’ve never said that out loud.’ I felt privileged to be part of her journey of saying ‘eating disorder’ out loud without shame.”
Chloe finds the same dynamic when she’s working with other professionals, like teachers and medical clinicians – that her experience can enlighten them.