By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — At 71 years old, Janice Blakely doesn’t feel the shame or the guilt that she once felt. Now, this vibrant redhead feels the power behind her recovery.
At the tender age of 9, Blakely started hiding her secret. It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she revealed to anyone that she suffered from an eating disorder.
“It was only through sheer will that I’m blessed to be alive,” Blakely said.
Now, especially during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Blakely wants to tell her story.
“I need to help people like me. Because it’s an overwhelming and debilitating, destructive illness. Oftentimes, it’s not conceived as an illness. It is not a choice. People do not choose to have this infliction. I want to forgive myself. And thirdly, I don’t want to hide it anymore.
Keeping it a secret won’t help anybody,” Blakely said.
During her lifetime, Blakely has battled anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
“I’ve done everything and anything that eating disorders develop. If you can imagine it, I’ve done it. And there are things that you can’t probably even imagine,” Blakely said.
It all started when Blakely would sneak food out of the family’s kitchen pantry. She would eat until her stomach was so full that it hurt.
“I discovered you can eat and throw up. It became a way of life,” Blakely said. “Food was so important to me that I sneaked it, I hid it, stole it. I stole money to buy it. I’d consume it and then I purge. Then I learned about not eating at all. I lost so much weight that at a certain point your body can no longer operate.”
Blakely thinks that her illness came from a self-imposed image of her own body.
“I was not fat. My brother was very skinny. My parents never compared us, but I think I compared us. My best friend in first grade was the tiniest person in the class, and I think I was jealous of her, too. Why it was an overwhelming thing and why it took over, I don’t know,” Blakely said.
All through elementary school, high school and even college, Blakely managed to hide her illness from her family and friends.
“My best friend never knew,” Blakely said.
It wasn’t until she was around 40 that Blakely made an offhand remark to a doctor that her recovery process began.
“It wasn’t a conscience decision to reveal my secret,” Blakely said.
It was then that her doctor told her she needed to talk to a psychiatrist.
“So I did and I went to this doctor and this doctor said, ‘You have an eating disorder.’ I said ‘No I don’t,’” Blakely said.
Eventually, Blakely’s doctor encouraged her to attend a meeting with an area support group. It was at that group Blakely met a person who became her best friend.
“By that time, I had a wall built so high that no one was going to get through that wall. And she came over and gave me a hug and I wouldn’t. Eventually, she got to me. One day she came to me and said, ‘Jan, you need to go to the hospital or you’re going to die.’ That’s when it was a wake up call,” Blakely said.
In the early stages of Blakely’s illness, she said that there was no information about eating disorders.
“It wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon that there was such a thing as eating disorders,” Blakely said.
At one point in her life, Blakely was living on a diet of coffee and celery sticks and walking four miles a day or riding her bicycle.
“I spent whatever time I wasn’t at work exercising,” Blakely said. “The amount of time that I’ve spent binging, purging, exercising, are probably years put together.”
Hospitalized four times for her illness over the years, Blakely doesn’t say that she’s cured. Instead, she’s in recovery.
“I don’t feel recovered because I still have food on my mind. When I get up in the morning, what am I going to eat? It’s not like it was, it’s not all that I think about. I don’t dwell on it,” Blakely said.
Adding that she takes her eating disorder day by day, Blakely works closely with a certified dietitian.
“It’s not a straight path, it’s a winding path. It’s not a miracle or anything. You have to just keep moving forward. That’s what I do right now. I’m successful at it at this point. I think I have more resolve and more confidence than I ever have before,” Blakely said. “One thing that is pervasive that torments me the most is the fact that I can’t really enjoy or even feel comfortable with the simple daily act of eating. I’ll always be counting the numbers, estimating the calories, mentally measuring the amount and visually feeling my body grossly expanding with each bite I take. At least that’s what I feel today. And when I’m able to over come that, then I’ll be able to tell myself that maybe I really have recovered.”
When she was younger, Blakely’s fear of coming out in the open with her eating disorder made her fear losing everything she held dear.
“For a long time I didn’t tell anyone because I felt shame for it and because if they knew, they wouldn’t like me any more. Then I also thought it would inhibit my career. Now, I’m 71 years old. I’m retired. I have friends and I have a whole group of people that support me. Its time to give back. Anyone that doesn’t accept me, they are not my friend,” Blakely said.
One of the toughest things about eating disorders, Blakely said, was the harsh reality of the illness.
“I’ve had friends that have died. This is the tragedy of this, people die. Friends die. Relatives die. You know someone that has an eating disorder, you do. You may not know who they are, but everyone knows somebody that has an eating disorder. More people have it than can be estimated,” Blakely said.
Blakely added, eating disorders are not strictly seen in women.
“Boys start out trying to make weight for wrestling,” Blakely said. “The most important thing is that people get help, that they are not alone.”
According to Blakely, there are approximately 34 health issues that are associated with eating disorders — depression, acid reflux, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, high cholesterol, hair loss and balding, anxiety and OCD — are just a few.
“I went though and started checking off the list. Of those, I had all but three that had occurred to me over my lifetime,” Blakely said.
Now, Blakely writes poetry and stories about her eating disorder and plans to eventually write a book. A registered volunteer speaker with National Eating Disorders Association, Blakely is available to speak to any interested group. And she urges people in the community with an eating disorder to reach out to her.
“Talk about it with someone,” Blakely said. “Yes, I am passionate about this cause. I want girls and boys, men and women like me to find an early way out. I want them to know – I want to tell them.”
Blakely can be reached by phone, 922-9530, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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