Woman who battled eating disorders leaves legacy of words

One year after the death of a health communication professional who blogged about her eating disorder, Michelle Stewart’s family is hoping to spread her message further by turning her blog into a memoir and launching an awareness society in her name.

Going public with her eating disorder wasn’t an easy decision for Stewart, who died in May 2014 at 49.

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But on May 16, 2013, she blogged for the first time that her kidneys were failing as a result of her 32-year illness.

“Anorexic, bulimic — name a label — I’ve had them all. Words that represent to me profound shame — and worse, a lifetime of lost energy and opportunity that cannot be reclaimed,” Stewart wrote.

“Well-meaning people in my life have suggested I should buck up and fight it … and to them I gently say, I have been fighting my body for decades now and am beyond tired.”

Support poured in from friends, family and strangers. But more importantly to Stewart were the messages from others touched by the illness, who either struggled with it themselves or watched close friends or family members do so, her husband, Kirk Mason, said.

“Michelle got a lot of responses on her blog from people who have suffered in silence themselves, who just wanted to be able to get it out and tell someone,” he said.

Stewart, who was a radio journalist before she became director of communications for the Ministry of Health, also wrote with candour and humour about everything from politics to childhood memories on the blog, called Bess, I Am a Blogger Now.

An edited collection of Stewart’s blog posts will be published as a book, titled Shell: One Woman’s Final Year After a Lifelong Sruggle with Anorexia and Bulimia as early as this fall. The book, published by Vancouver-based LifeTree Media, will also include selected other writing by Stewart, including poetry.

Stewart had discussed the idea of publishing her blog in print before her death, Mason said.

“The thing about Michelle is, she was an avid reader. She read like nobody I ever met in my life and she always wanted to be a published author,” Mason said.

“I don’t think she ever envisioned the book to be this, but she’s a wonderful writer.”

In addition to the book, the family is also launching Michelle’s Voice: The Society for Eating Disorder Awareness and Education.

“There really are not that many programs for people suffering from this,” Mason said.

Throughout her journey, Stewart accessed support groups but could never see them through, Mason said.

“That’s the mental-health issue right there. It was so much a part of her psyche.”

He said Stewart was especially interested in reaching women like her, who were middle-aged and potentially facing a death sentence.

A fundraiser to support the society and book will be held June 6, from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. at the Da Vinci Centre. Tickets for the dance and silent auction are $20 and are available at eventbrite.ca or by emailing mvfundraisertickets@gmail.com.

Sharing her story was a transformative experience for Stewart, Mason said, and he hopes her legacy means others can do the same.

“She started letting people in. And when she did that, she found it very freeing. It was strange, she really, finally was able to let it all out there and sort of bask in the love that was all around her.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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