Finding Hope This Holiday Season
As we celebrate the holiday season of 2021, it is easy to remember the holiday season of 2020, our first holiday during the pandemic. When COVID-19 became an issue—a deadly issue—for our country and our clients, we were all aware of how many things in our lives turned upside down or stopped completely. All our daily lives have changed more than we ever could have imagined. Many have lost loved ones or had their own health significantly impacted.
For those of us who have survived the pandemic, we are aware of the 750,000 people who did not. And for all the people who have passed away, there are many more who have become ill and suffered in so many ways. COVID has brought physical pain, psychological pain, pain to families, and pain to friendships. It has created stress in our society and stress in the world, and for all of us, it has changed how we think about many, many things.
For those who have suffered through an eating disorder during this time of COVID, it has been extraordinarily hard. When our rituals and routines are disrupted, it is harder to eat. When we are isolated, it is harder to eat and easier to engage in eating disorder behaviors. When our stress is high, our urges are high. When our social contacts are low, our ability to get support is diminished. When the focus of our society, and indeed the world, is a deadly virus, it is easy to forget the other ways in which we suffer.
As we approach the holidays—holidays of giving thanks, holidays of renewal, holidays of celebration—we come to them with a significant amount of pain. This year was not a good year for people with eating disorders. The demand for eating disorder treatment has never been higher. More people have reached out for care than ever before. For families, maintaining compassion and a loving, supportive stance may have become more difficult. For our own staff, the last two years have been extremely trying. But despite all of this, we come to this holiday season with hope. Eating disorder treatment facilities, including our own, are looking for ways to expand care, to address how the pandemic has impacted the health of those with eating disorders, and to support families, clients, and communities of care. During the pandemic, we have also learned more about diversity, equity, and our responsibility to attend to everyone who suffers. Our compassion is high, and our openness and willingness to all work together is very strong.
As we look at this holiday season, it is with a somewhat confused and conflicted sense. On one hand, we know the pain of the last two years and we know many people are truly suffering. But as we look further, we can see progress. We can see that we did not idly stand by as a society. We took care of each other, we found treatments to help each other, and we have a true commitment to helping everyone who has suffered from an eating disorder have a much better year in 2022.
Holidays are often difficult for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. We hope that this year’s holidays represent a time of renewal for you. May it be a time when we can look forward to when things will be better, to when the suffering will be lessened, to when the resources everyone needs may be closer to them. When we get together with friends, family, our communities of choice, and all those who we care about and who care about us, may we give thanks for each other and look to a year of better health.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Warren, MD
Mark Warren is the Chief Medical Officer of Accanto Health, the parent company of The Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative. He is also one of the original founders of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders, which became The Emily Program – Cleveland in 2014. A Cleveland native, he is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School and completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He served as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Medical Director of University Hospital Health System’s Laurelwood Hospital. A past vice-chair for clinical affairs at the Case School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, he continues on the Clinical Faculty of the Medical School, teaching in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics. He is currently a faculty member and former chair of the Board of Governors at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Dr. Warren is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a two-time recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a winner of the Woodruff Award. He leads the Males and Eating Disorders special interest group for the Academy of Eating Disorders.