Asha Dahya from GirlTalkHQ.com interviews Cami Julaine for “We Are The Real Deal”
I first met Cami Julaine in the fall of 2011, at the X Factor USA premiere in Hollywood. We had initially connected on Twitter as we shared some common interests and knew we were both going to the event. Despite our huge age gap (I am 31, she is 18) we just clicked and hit it off right away. Cami knew I was a TV host and blogger, and initially I just thought she was a high school senior. The more I got to know her personally and hear what she had been through having an eating disorder, both her parents being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and taking a whole year off school to be in recovery, I realized hers was a story worth telling.
Over the past couple of years I have seen Cami go from strength to strength as a young woman, a survivor and an inspiration for her peers. Because of what she has been through she speaks with authenticity and authority about eating disorders and addiction.
The reason I wanted to share her story with We Are The Real Deal is because I know first hand how impactful Cami’s journey is, whether you have struggled with an eating disorder or not. I truly believe that the more we are vulnerable as human beings, the more we can identify with each other and be a source of light, love and encouragement. It is important we share our stories, as there is only so much we can get from the media.
Having just graduated high school in June this year, Cami has some wonderful advice and wisdom to share with sufferers, survivors and those around them.
To find out more about Cami please check out GirlTalkHQ.com, where she regularly contributes guest blog posts about health and body image. In the meantime, here is our interview below.
Tell me briefly about your history with eating disorders and how it started?
I was 8 years old when I started to feel insecure from a comment my Grandma made calling me “pregnant”. She would always tell me to suck my stomach in. I was also getting bullied, so from there, I never felt good enough. I would binge eat, and then go on crash diets. As I got older, both my parents were diagnosed with cancer within 2 months of each other, and I was severely anorexic, eating less than 300 calories a day. I went to a hospital and began the re-feeding process, and left feeling ashamed and disgusted with the weight I gained. I then was referred to a treatment center called Rebecca’s House from my mentor and friend Paula Abdul.
People talk about triggers when it comes to developing an ED, what were yours?
My triggers were definitely feeling “less than”, being left out in school, and struggling with maintaining that feeling of acceptance. Growing up into my teen years, I saw these triggers transform into how “popular” I was, or what people thought of me. I’ve always loved acting and singing, so I knew that if I wanted to join that industry, I would have to look a certain way.
Before going into treatment you spent time in hospital, explain why this wasn’t helpful for you?
The hospital had me on a re-feeding process of 5,000 calories a day. First off, the hospital itself was a very uneasy experience and made me feel like I was a criminal, rather than a real person with a mental illness. I felt scared everyday, because I was placed in a teen center with other people who dealt with other diseases I didn’t relate to (schizophrenia, homicide, suicide, etc). Although I connected well with the clients, I felt as if we were all treated as criminals. I had a flashlight check on my eyes every 15 minutes (regardless of whether was at night or not). The food was awful, it was all cafeteria food and a lot of it was processed. They didn’t have mirrors that went past our chest, so I had no idea what I looked like. When I left, I was in complete shock. I didn’t feel as if it was going to prepare me for when I left, and it didn’t. I left feeling awful. I had barely worked on myself at all, & I knew I wasn’t really in “recovery”.
You thought you would only spend a week in a treatment and ended up being at Rebecca’s House for a year and had to repeat a year of school. What was that experience like for you?
When I first got to Rebecca’s House, I was so afraid of going through my previous experience at the hospital. Once I settled in, I realized I needed to be there. I felt so comfortable. Everyone was so loving and accepting. I felt like I was actually wanted and they really cared about me. At that point, I was willing to do whatever it took to get help. It was very hard going back to school. But I KNEW that there was more to life than whatever was going on at school. My focus was on getting out of there- doing whatever it took, doing my best and remembering how good I would feel once school was over.
I’m sure that must’ve been tough for a teen girl. What were some of the key things you learned being in treatment?
It was definitely one of the hardest experiences I’ve been through. One thing that Paula told me the night before I went to Rebecca’s House was “Be the best student you can possibly be”. So I did. I took notes in every single class we had at RH, I wrote in my journal constantly, I was honest, I connected to my spirituality and I began to have friendships that I still keep in contact with today. Another key thing I learned was acceptance. Once we accept whatever is going on in our lives, we let go of the imaginary rules we create. We realize we are not in control. I know I’m not responsible for my eating disorder. I never was. But, I AM responsible for my recovery.
Can you explain the difference between rehab and treatment?
This is a tough question! Rehab to me is a place where you go to get “treated”. Rehab is basically something along the lines of: You get here screwed up, you work to get better, you’re cured… Whereas treatment is “Lets look at all aspects of your life. Let’s get to the core issues. Lets not only fix this, but help you plan for your future & find out your life purpose.” Treatment is knowing that every single day is a battle to fight, and it will always be like that. But the battle gets easier.
What are things that treatment centers do for patients that hospitals cannot?
Like I mentioned before, hospitals are more of the “come in, leave, never come back” atmosphere. I never felt comfortable in a hospital because it was not only short lived, but it felt like they were saying: “we have so many patients you need to hurry up and leave”. Treatment centers really give you the tools, a place to stay and mentors/staff members who don’t look at their job as a job, but a career. It’s a life choice that they’ve made to truly help the clients.
What are the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders that people need to be corrected on?
There are so many- I think the biggest part of eating disorders that need to be corrected is that it’s not a choice. We don’t choose to be anorexic or bulimic. It also doesn’t always have to do with the media (not letting media of the hook however, because they are not helping society at all, and they still play a big part in eating disorders), it’s things that have happened that we don’t know how to cope with, so we find whatever fix we can. Another misconception is that a person can only be anorexic, bulimic, or compulsive overeater. I struggled with all of them. Some people don’t understand that, or they also believe that anorexia means you HAVE to be super thin, when in reality, someone who’s overweight or at a normal weight could struggle with anorexia as well.
Your parents were mostly uneducated about EDs but learned along the way. What advice do you give to parents, partners, family members and friends who are looking after a ED patient but have no idea what to look for?
I recommend reading about it & instead of just focusing on how much they eat or how they handle food, look at how they handle their life. Are they insecure to the point of avoidance and isolation? Are they afraid of living? Are they always blaming themselves?
In your opinion, what role does the media, the diet industry, fashion, and advertising play in developing eating disorders in young people?
We look at the media as a higher power. We think that they are “successful”, so to be successful, we follow whatever they say or do.
After graduating high school and going through so much, you decided to return to the place you couldn’t wait to get out of! Can you tell me why?
Yes! I definitely was ready to leave. But looking back at my 5 years of high school, I realized how much the staff supported me and put up with everything I did (like ditching class to binging and purging water, going to the counselors office, failing classes because I just didn’t care, supporting me when I was gone in rehab, helping me stay successful when I came back with amazing grades and a new focus)… I felt as if it would be only right that I give back to my school. If I could help just one person, I can die happy.
What prompted you to pitch a class to your teachers where you educated students about eating disorders, addictions, depression etc?
We were doing senior projects, and one of the main qualifications we had to meet was leaving a legacy piece behind at our school… so I thought, what better way than to help other people!
What are some of the things you will be teaching?
I created a scheduled curriculum for the first semester of the high school, so there are 12 different subjects of each week. We have everything ranging from stress management, the future, career/professionalism, yoga/meditation, finances, mental health, college, nutrition, the media, etc.
Why is a class like this so important to teenagers?
As important as it is to learn the basics like math, English, science and history, I think it’s just as important to learn real life skills. Reality eventually hits and if we don’t have coping skills, we will end up going to whatever instant gratification we can find.
If there are any parents of teens out there who are totally in the dark and don’t know where to go to find good resources, where would you recommend they go?
I would honestly suggest going to Rebecca’s House. If not just for treatment, they will also just help the parents or whoever else learn about eating disorders and how they evolve. Also, do research. Educate by reading books, looking online, etc.
Now that you are in the recovery stage and getting your life back on track, do you still have bad days and setbacks?
I would be totally lying if I said I didn’t. Sometimes, I’ll have days that I feel like a hypocrite because I speak on these things but sometimes I slip up, too. I have to remind myself that I’m helping others when I am honest about my own recovery.
What are key triggers you have to be aware of for yourself?
Key triggers would be comparisons to other people, being too critical of myself, and caring too much about what other people think… and of course, just negative thoughts in general.
What helps when you are having a bad day or a weak moment?
I immediately call someone. I never keep anything in… We are only as sick as our secrets. I also remember that it will pass. I try to look at why I’m having a weak moment and ask myself what is really going on? What is the core problem?
There are celebs such as Zosia Mamet, Kesha, Nicole Scherzinger and Demi Lovato who have spoken publicly about their eating disorders, how can their stories help others?
I feel as if our society admires celebrities so much (which isn’t always good), but when it comes to celebs who are doing something good for society, I am so grateful they have come out and shared their story. Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul were huge inspirations for me to get better. I remember I used to always want to be just like Nicole Scherzinger because I always thought she was “perfect” (again, comparisons to other people). I remember the media had come out with her story right around the time that I was dealing with my issues. It made me respect her even more as an artist. I felt a connection with her, and I think everyone that can relate to celebrities who speak out on things like this just helps so much.
What can the rest of the public do to help anyone in their life who has an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are always tied with something else. There’s always core issues that are surrounding it. I suggest talking to the person who is struggling. If they are resistant, try to help them as much as possible. Educate yourself and educate them as well. Help them find other coping skills, help them find a person like a therapist and nutritionist. If that doesn’t work, I truly believe in finding a treatment center that you trust. Also, for me personally, spirituality was a huge part of how I got better.