Tag Archives: Virginia

…We Now Face Death

Join me in saying goodbye to one of my favorite professors, who unknowingly had a profound impact on my recovery and my life.

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“Having been born in this life as we have been,
we now face death.”

Perdue1

Dr. Daniel Perdue, 1950-2013

That was the very first statement Dr. Dan Perdue made to the religious studies classes he taught. He would go on to explain that, no matter the differences between the many religions of the world, what they all have in common is that they are concerned with what happens to us when we die. His specialty was Tibetan Buddhism, but he also taught general survey classes on eastern religion. He was one of the most interesting, wise, and challenging professors I ever had, and though he never knew it, his classes had an indelible impact on my life and played an important role in my recovery.

When I heard that Dr. Perdue had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, I and many others wondered how he would face his death. Though he had devoted his academic career and spiritual practice to such questions, no one wants a fatal diagnosis, especially at the age of only 63. As a man who had taught classes the world over and developed many close friendships here in Richmond, he sent out mass emails in August to update everyone on his condition. A friend forwarded me the first one, and I mistakenly thought I had gotten on the mailing list for future emails.

Following his passing on November 18, I re-read the first email and realized he had stated he would send out another. And so it happened that I didn’t read his second email until the day before his memorial service, billed as a Celebration of Life.

I was surprised and touched by what I read. The jovial man whom we all thought incapable of anything but a gentle, happy disposition shared that, in his late twenties and early thirties, he had struggled with substance abuse and depression. In August 2013, he wrote:

I think I did not adequately value my life. I reckon that I wasted nearly a third of it/about 20 years… On many days, especially between the ages of about 27 to 33, I thought of suicide… In time, I gave up on the idea of suicide, but I sort of symbolically threw myself against the wall, drinking and smoking too much and practicing unhealthy habits. Perhaps seeing the scope of what was to come for me, one day completely out of the blue, Kensur Yeshi Thupten said to me, “Toenyoe, happy people don’t drink and take drugs.” But I did. It was a sort of petit suicide, day by day for years.

During his service, someone shared what many of us had all thought at one time or another – a suspicion that Dr. Perdue was actually a bodhisattva, so committed he was to teaching, to the Dharma, and how he built friendships everywhere he went. His apparent struggles with depression and substance abuse made the accomplishments of the second half of his life, as well as his demeanor and attitude, all the more impressive.

Yet I was touched on a much more personal level to hear of the suffering my professor endured, because when I took my first class with him in early 2004, I was suffering immensely.

My eating disorder was arguably at its worst. Truly, I probably should have been in a hospital instead of a dormitory. I was near my lowest weight. I wasn’t sleeping well, and it was in those quiet moments trying to fall asleep at night that the mental chaos and physical pain anorexia had wrought was hardest to escape or ignore. I was miserable, unable to think or function well from the malnourishment. I often thought of suicide. This is not something I have often shared publicly, but in the wake of Dr. Perdue’s last testament, I see no reason to censor this fact.

And so it was that as he began his lecture on eastern religion and the nature of suffering as he always did, there is no way that Dr. Perdue could have known about the Hell I was living in.

“Having been born in this life as we have been, we now face death.”

As he began the introduction to Buddhism, he started with the first of the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, or dukka (dukka is also translated to mean anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction, among others). The truth of suffering is that we all suffer.

We all endure hardship.
We all get sick.
We all experience loss.
We will all eventually die.

It’s in our nature to try and minimize displeasure and to maximize comfort – human nature is hedonistic on a very basic level. We all put on coats to avoid the discomfort of being cold, for example. If there is one thing that every living thing has in common, it is our capacity to experience suffering.

Perdue went on to explain that, as Buddhism understands the world, there is nothing in our fragile lives that cannot result in suffering – even things that we enjoy or are inherently pleasurable. He offered the examples of ice cream or even sex. Even things that bring us pleasure, done in extreme excess, may result in some mental or physical pain.

I was intrigued. I had never contemplated the world in this way, and one of the support groups I had started attending had a spiritual component that had become a giant roadblock. Others in the group who had a belief in God sailed through it, but my agonistic and at times atheistic disposition seemed incompatible.

Contemplating Dr. Perdue’s words, I slowly began to wonder if there was anything that we could experience in this life, in this world, that we could indulge in that would never result in suffering. If it could be identified, then maybe it could offer me some direction – something bigger, greater than myself that I could take refuge in.

I continued going to the group and attending his classes. Buddhist teaching and recovery programs were not so different: both emphasize, in varying capacities, the practice of compassion towards oneself. While I can only speak for myself, as far as I am concerned, without loving and forgiving oneself, there is no recovery. And self-forgiveness requires that we love ourselves unconditionally. Similarly, a central part of Buddhist practice is learning that compassion, practicing it inward, and then turning it outward. One day, it hit me so hard that I wondered how I never saw it before. I realized that there was something we’re all capable of experiencing and indulging in that will never cause us to suffer.

Unconditional love. Or, to put it another way, love without condition. This means we love others without wanting or expecting anything, including love, in return. This initially feels contrary to human nature, since there isn’t always an immediate or obvious benefit. Sometimes people mistake this idea of love without condition as a circumstance which might allow or encourage someone to stay in an abusive relationship, or to be taken advantage of. This is not the case.

Rather, it allows us to approach individuals and situations with the compassionate understanding that we all suffer. Just as Dr. Perdue had no idea the immense suffering I was experiencing in that first class with him, any person you encounter has their own burden. The positive regard he had for every one he encountered, though, created a circumstance where his compassion and love of life was infectious. He once said that, while he had never had any children of his own, the university gave him more children every semester.

After describing his substance abuse as a petit suicide, Dr. Perdue concluded his email with the following:

…Let me just say what I say at the beginning of the Asian Medical Systems course, “Don’t do as I do. Be smarter than me.” I have never been a model of health or how one should use a good life.

So, please use your life well. It truly is like having a bucket of gold dust with a little hole in the bottom. I know that we tend to see the value in something more, when we are about to lose it. Maybe that’s why I’m saying this stuff to you. But, I have understood the truth of the value of life for a few years now. When I look back over my life now, I see it as one of extraordinary value… How lucky I was! … It will be hard to equal the value of this life.

I cannot help but get a little choked up every time I read that last sentence. If it was not for Dr. Perdue’s class, it’s impossible to say how my recovery would have gone. Ten years since that first class, I only wish now that I could express my gratitude to him.

Despite many hardships, I find myself agreeing with his final sentiment. Though I (hopefully) still have many years, it truly will be hard to equal the value of this life.

Thank you, Dr. Perdue. I’ll see you on the other shore.

You can read Dan Perdue’s full obituary here.

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It’s Already October??

Currently Listening: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Currently Reading: There is No God & He Is Always with You by Brad Warner

Busy, busy, busy! I feel like it’s still May, but apparently it’s already October? I haven’t had much time to do a post, so I thought I’d let everyone know what I’ve been up to and some of the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with lately.

In September I spent a long weekend in New York City, and in addition to providing a much needed change of scenery, it afforded me the opportunity to finally meet up with some wonderful friends I’ve been in touch with and/or collaborated with online.

NYC 9-2013

From left to right: Caroline Rothstein, Claire Mysko, my friend Kenny, me, Jenn Friedman, & Kendra Sebelius

If you don’t already know who they are, you should check out their work!

Caroline Rothstein and I had been meaning to try and meet up for awhile now. She’s one of the strongest and most unique voices in eating disorder advocacy I know, turning her own experience with recovery and body acceptance into some powerful work. From writing to blogging to slam poetry, Caroline is a force to be reckoned with. Check out her poem, “Fat” and see for yourself:

Claire Mysko and I were on a segment together on The Stream earlier this year. Claire has made quite a name for herself, getting international attention for her work on body image and body acceptance. An accomplished author, speaker, and consultant, she has served as the director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association and has held senior positions at SmartGirl and Girls Incorporated. Check out http://clairemysko.com/ to learn more about her work, and definitely check out her recent (and excellent) editorial on The Frisky, The Wolf in the Cereal Bowl.

Jenn Friedman is a musician and eating disorder recovery advocate. She’s been busy working to combine those two passions in a project called “Eating Disorders On the Wire: Music and Metaphor as Pathways to Recovery,” which is supposed to come out really soon!

Kendra Sebelius runs Voice in Recovery, where she focuses on recovery not just from eating disorders, but from substance abuse and addiction as well. Kendra’s own efforts to get sober and recover inform her advocacy work with eating disorders, body image struggles, mental health issues, substance abuse and self harm. She’s also a fellow Junior Board member with the Eating Disorders Coalition.

By the way, we were at TeaNY, one of my favorite NYC spots. All their food is wonderful and the cheesecake is almost worth the trip alone.

Stay tuned for updates from Lobby Day last month, and the NEDA conference!

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Interviews with Eating Disorder Advocates – The Kari Adams Show 4/17/13

This past Lobby Day with the Eating Disorders Coalition, Kari Adams of The Kari Adams Show joined us to check out the policy side of the fight against eating disorders. Already a big advocate for positive body image and self-acceptance, Kari was a great fit w/ the EDC. She interviewed a few advocates that were in town, including EDC President Johanna Kandel. Check out the videos below to get a feel for what drives EDC volunteers, why we’re passionate about eating disorders, and what keeps us coming back to Capitol Hill to promote change:


Johanna Kandel is the current President of the Eating Disorders Coalition, founder of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, and author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder.


Suzanne Lewandowski is the founder of the Eating Disorders Collaborative of Massachusetts and a current Junior Board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition.


Seda is the founder of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, which offers a spectrum of recovery services including residential and outpatient programs.


Gail is recovered from an eating disorder and the founder of the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation, a fundraiser for treatment scholarships. You can read more about Gail and the foundation here.


We actually don’t know who this guy is. I hear they found him wandering aimlessly around the House of Representatives, clearly sleep-deprived and mumbling something about locating the nearest Metro stop.

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Anorexia in Men on the Rise – Huffington Post Live Interview

Happy Eating Disorder Awareness Week! I had the pleasure of participating in a discussion on Huffington Post Live on eating disorders in men this past Thursday. I’m excited that they chose to highlight this subject during awareness week, and appreciate the thoughtful questions they had for everyone on the segment.

You can watch the full segment below, which includes a young man named Alberto De Leon in Chicago who is currently in recovery from an eating disorder; Margaret Johnson, the editor for HuffPost Women; Amanda Webster, an Australian mother who’s son developed anorexia in childhood; and Dr. Gregory Jantz, an eating disorder specialist in Seattle. You can watch the full video below:

You may notice that the title on the video says, “Manorexia on the Rise.” Well, I don’t care for that term one bit, and I’m happy to report that when I emailed my contact on the production team, they changed it on the main video page and wherever else it was possible. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to edit out of the video stream, but I want to extend my gratitude for the quick response they had in changing it where they could.

I’ve written about my disdain for that term in the past:

If you’ve been keeping up with me on here, you have probably heard me talk about “gender inclusivity.” I believe for ED treatment, research, and prevention to advance, it has to be fully inclusive and not just catered to the majority. I almost slipped through the cracks of the resources available to me during my own recovery because it was all designed for women, and I mourn for other boys and men who find themselves in similar circumstances.

I grimaced at the original title because taking a word like “anorexia” and altering it to reference EDs in men carries the implication that men experience it differently in some way – otherwise, they would just call it anorexia, right? …In short, it by default is not gender inclusive.

It won’t do us any good to take notice of how our recovery culture is feminized if we just turn around and make it gendered in the opposite direction. Eating disorders are, more than anything, a matter of public health concern.

Thanks again to Huffington Post Live for having me, and for responding to my request regarding the segment title so quickly. If more media outlets handled this issue with the same level of care, we’d all be the better for it.

Like this post? Stay up to date by ‘Liking’ my blog on Facebook, following me on Twitter or Tumblr, subscribe via email, or just leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

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Reasons For Recovery Blog Series – Part 2 (My Turn!)

Today it’s my turn to talk about reasons for recovery! In case you didn’t know, I’m collaborating with some other writers in a blog series for the entire month of February. The theme is simple enough: reasons to recover. Special shout-out to Anne-Sophie over at Fighting Anorexia for starting the conversation that turned into this little project and for doing most of the organizing.

Beyond the guilt, shame, and self-hatred of any eating disorder is a person who is entirely capable and worthy of giving and receiving love, and fully capable of recovery. The eating disorder tries to convince you otherwise, and will do anything it can to stick around. It poses as your best friend, but in truth, it wants to kill you. In fact, eating disorders result in more deaths than any other mental health condition due to the physical effects they have on the body. Usually when someone enters recovery, there are a myriad of excuses, barriers, and reasons (some real, some exaggerated, some fabricated) which stand in their way. Let’s say someone had to go into a sixty day inpatient treatment program, how do you think that someone would react to such news? Most people do not respond with enthusiasm.

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NEDA 2012 Winter Lobby Day – Richmond, VA 1/18/12

Did you know that, at present, there are no procedures implemented on the state or federal level to screen for eating disorders among adolescents?

The most recent data provided by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) shows that in American high schools, 30% of girls and 16% of boys suffer from disordered eating, which includes bingeing, vomiting, fasting, abuse of laxatives and diet pills, and compulsive exercise.

It gets worse.

Females between the ages of 15-24 suffering from anorexia have a mortality rate twelve times higher than that of their peers, a statistic that translates into anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Unfortunately, even though eating disorders are preventable and effective treatment exists, they are on the rise.

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Smash Your Scale (And Anything Else Holding You Back)!

Note: this post keeps things vague, but still references eating and weighing a lot. If that kind of thing is triggering, please take care of you and use your own discretion. Also, I’m on Tumblr now, so there are even more ways to stay up to date on posts!

Most people probably don’t realize this, but the avatar on my blog of the smashed scale isn’t some stock photo I found on the internet. It’s a picture of the actual scale I actually smashed seven years ago in the alley behind my first apartment while I was still in college – February 2005, to be exact.

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Virginia Lobby Day with the National Eating Disorders Association

Just a quick post to let everyone know that the National Eating Disorders Association will be hosting it’s second state-level Lobby Day with the VA General Assembly on Wednesday, January 18. If you’re a Virginia resident, please consider attending.

Last year, we met with members of the General Assembly and were instrumental in educating them about the importance of a bill being introduced by Senator Puller to study eating disorder prevalence in VA. As a result of the advocacy and lobby work, the bill passed unanimously! You can read the follow-up with a link to the study results here.

Myself (2nd to left) with other advocates and Senator Puller in 2011.

There’s still work to do, though. Even if you can’t attend, you can write or call your state representatives and ask them to support NEDA’s work. We know for a fact that phone calls and emails were also influential in some representatives considering this cause. You can find the full press release here complete with contact info to RSVP. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s an opportunity to make a difference for everyone effected by eating disorders in Virginia.

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