A crowd of friends, family and guests stood in line at the Montclair Art Museum Sunday afternoon to await the chance to see a screening of the documentary “Someday Melissa,” a film recounting the life of Melissa Avrin, a former Montville resident who lost her struggle with bulimia at the age of 19.
Melissa’s mother, Judy, decided to make a film about her daughter after discovering her writings. “After going through her journals and seeing what kind of pain she was in,” Avrin said to the audience of nearly 300 people, “I knew we had to tell Melissa’s story. I knew that lots of other teens could relate to her struggles.” Avrin herself struggled with bulimia for 20 years.
Since the film was completed, she has gotten emails from around the world thanking her for “having the courage to break through the veil of secrecy about bulimia.”
Melissa’s battle with the disease is believed to have begun when she was 14.
A talented and vibrant teen, her symptoms were similar to those of others who battle eating disorders. Common symptoms of bulimia include abnormal bowel functions, depression, anxiety, excessive exercising, bingeing, and purging.
Produced by Livingston psychotherapist Danna Markson, who also suffered from bulimia as a teen, the heartbreaking film gives a close-up view of Melissa’s personality through home movies, poetry from her journal, and interviews with family, childhood friends and medical professionals.
“Many people don’t understand that it’s an addictive behavior,” Markson said in the film. “It becomes normal for them.”
Markson also noted many of her patients aren’t completely honest with her or other doctors about their behaviors. “I often find out from the family what’s really going on,” she continued. “The bulimic clutches onto the eating disorder. They need it.”
For five years, Melissa’s bulimia caused her to go from a happy-go-lucky youngster to a depressed teenager who didn’t want to leave the house. An aspiring filmmaker, she was also a talented writer who eventually began hanging out with the wrong crowd. Melissa binged so frequently that her parents couldn’t keep the house stocked with food and had to padlock the refrigerator and cabinets.
In an effort to help their daughter, the Avrin’s sent Melissa to a six-week wilderness camp and later to boarding school to complete high school. Unfortunately, Melissa’s bulimic behaviors continued and she succumbed to the disease on May 6, 2009.
“There’s a great hope for people with eating disorders,” Markson noted in the documentary. “They just have to be honest with the people around them and be open to the process of getting better. They have to want to get better.”
Since the film’s completion, Judy Avrin has gotten requests to view the film from college counseling centers, high school guidance counselors and various treatment facilities. She started the foundation Someday Melissa, Inc. in honor of her daughter and partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association to get the word out about eating disorders and the importance of addressing the issue head on.
“I’m grateful that telling Melissa’s story is having such an impact,” she said. “I am hopeful that it will help in the fight against eating disorders.”
During remarks to the audience at the end of the movie, Markson shared how her bulimia began as a college freshman. As a teen, she learned she had Graves’ Disease and began to gain a lot of weight. Her body image was so bad, she stopped eating and lost 50 lbs. She became bulimic because she could no longer avoid food. In 1991, she began learning skills that helped her to balance negative thoughts about food and her body image. This coming June marks 20 years she has been free of bulimia.
“I was resolute and steadfast in my new belief that I had to change,” Markson said. “I knew that the road was going to be tough. I opened myself up to therapists and started hanging around with positive people.”