March 15th, 2019.
That was the last time I saw my good friend Sarah before she disappeared for months. I remember that last day. We were both in our high school choir, and we had a field trip to Meredith College to participate in our event of the year: Music Performance Assessment, otherwise known as MPA. The field trip and multiple bus rides gave us time to talk about our experiences as people of color, our opinions, and our experiences. Everything felt smooth and normal that day.
Sarah had to leave school early for a piano competition she had that evening. It was a Friday, so I told her to have a good weekend. I didn’t see her that following Monday or Tuesday. I assumed she had a cold or something similar. I called and texted her multiple times out of worry. Eventually, she replied. My worst fear was realized.
She told me to pray for her, and that she would be out of school for a while. However, I still didn’t know what was going on.
Our choir was set to perform at Carnegie Hall in two months. Sarah is a brilliant pianist, and she was set to accompany the choir at our biggest performance of the year. I knew things were serious when my choir teacher asked if anyone knew of another pianist that could play with us at Carnegie Hall. “What about Sarah?”, everyone asked.
The next day, our choir teacher told us that Sarah was going to be out of school due to health issues. She would not be able to join us at Carnegie Hall. He specifically told us we were not to gossip about her whereabouts, call her, text her, or speculate about her health issues. In order to give her and her family privacy, like my teacher requested, I didn’t contact Sarah for months on end.
Eventually, Sarah did come back to school! She came for half a day, however, instead of a full school day, to continue her treatment. Sarah is an incredible photographer, so we did a photoshoot for my EP in January of 2020, which is one of my favorite memories with her. At the time, I still didn’t know why Sarah had been out of school for so long. I was just glad she was back and okay.
Sarah was unfortunately admitted into the UNC hospital some time after, but she was discharged 10 weeks later. I had discovered her recovery Instagram account documenting her journey. I found out why she was out for so long: OCD, family trauma, depression, anxiety, and finally, her eating disorder. Each of these diagnoses fed into another.
Per the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders affect at least 9% of the worldwide population. Eating disorders are considered one of the deadliest mental illnesses, second to opioid overdoses. There is one death from an eating disorder every 52 minutes. In eating disorder treatment, there is inequality between white individuals and BIPOC individuals. BIPOC individuals are less likely than their white peers to be asked about eating disorder symptoms, and half as likely to be diagnosed and receive necessary treatment.
Sarah and I eventually discussed the journey she had to go through to be fully free from her eating disorder. Knowing a close friend of mine suffered from this illness made me research into eating disorders even more. I came across so much information on how our society encourages disordered eating through diet culture, making such symptoms accepted. I also learned how trauma can fuel disordered eating, as it did with Sarah.
In the video, Sarah’s art journal work is featured. These particular works express Sarah’s feelings during certain parts of her recovery. You can view Sarah’s other art journal works on her Instagram account @gentle.pages
Filming this short video with Sarah was a beautiful experience. Her inner light is so bright, and she is a joy to be around. I hope you enjoy the heart we put into this work and are inspired by Sarah’s story.
If you are suffering with an eating disorder and need help, please contact National Eating Disorder Association’s helpline: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline