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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Personal Stories
Anna
What we know of Anna we know from her diary:

There will never be a moment in which you are not you. Some may try to hide their existence away, pretending they are someone they're not, but who is this act for? You know the ultimate truth, there is no hiding from yourself. The difficulty of it lies in our societies' ability to create perfect illusions.

On the surface she sparkled. Her family and friends tell of the compassionate and generous young woman who did volunteer work, loved being with people and had a talent for making everyone feel special and important. She brought joy to others, but it eluded her. She loved life, but it overwhelmed her.

Anna Westin's Journal:
I am scared to death about what's going on right now. I can't have any control over my own mind. As much as I know what I need to do it's so hard to. My moods are very extreme. One minute I'll be depressed, then another, something will make me happy again.

Anna Selina Westin lived in Chaska, Minnesota, for most of her life. She was born on November 27, 1978, and she died on February 17, 2000, as a direct result of anorexia.

Anna Westin's Journal:
You could wake your slumbering existence as the sun recedes, feeling guilty and worthless. Like you should have accomplished daily dreams. But, instead, you slept in late.

At the age of 20, Anna's anorexia became so severe that her doctor urged that she be hospitalized. An expert in eating disorders, Dr. Joel Jahraus describes the causes of eating disorders as a combination of interrelated factors: genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, cultural influences, a trauma or loss, and complex family dynamics.

Joel Jahraus:
They're family illnesses by and large. They impact much more than just the individual that struggles personally with the eating disorder, and so the chaos and the dysfunction that develops in families surrounding this illness can be devastating to families.

Parents of a young woman with anorexia must wade through the massive morass of fear and frustration. They often feel that they have no power to halt their child's downward-spiraling path.

Mark Westin:
It was like I really believed that somehow, she could just decide not to do this anymore. And then I would realize later on that I was wrong. And it was a hard disease to understand - to not feel like this person, if they just had enough willpower, enough courage, and, enough-something, that they can just will themselves out of it. And it's not that type of a disease.

Anna needed hospitalization, therapy and protracted medical care, and the Westins had a fight on their hands with their insurance company.

Kitty Westin:
The insurance company, who had never talked to Anna, had never seen her, didn't really know anything about her, said that it wasn't medically necessary, which is obscene. It makes me very, very angry. Anna had a disease they didn't want to even hear about.

Anna Westin's Journal:
My unhappiness continues on. There really is no way to rid myself of this, is there? And who is listening anyway? No one. My life is worthless right now. Saying goodbye to such an unfriendly place can't be as hard as believing in it every day. And essentially my spirit has fled already.

Anna was suffering from a serious illness that is often fatal and needs to be treated like other life-threatening diseases. And Mark and Kitty needed to pay for the treatment themselves.

Anna Westin's Journal:
We question our sanity, determine we've gone mad, and fall into the pit of spent life. What do I want? That is the most difficult question, when really I have two very conflicting answers. One which will kill me, and at times this seems to be the most desirable.

One of the many roadblocks to Anna's recovery was the lack of adequate care provided by her insurance company. The duration of the illness, the high cost of treatment, the lack of knowledge and understanding about eating disorders and the immense suffering they cause have prompted Anna's family to speak openly about her life and death in hopes that it will help other families. They also believe that there needs to be more research into the causes of the disease, more effective prevention and treatments must be developed, and managed care must be forced to provide the necessary treatments.

After struggling with anorexia for five years, Anna committed suicide at the age of 21.

At her grave the inscription reads: In my end is my beginning.

Epilogue

From a note by Kitty Westin:
The Westin Family's most important accomplishment is the opening of The Anna Westin House, September 29, 2002 in Chaska, Minnesota. The Anna Westin Foundation planned and developed the first residential eating disorders program in Minnesota with the money Anna's family received from their insurance company in a private settlement for "wrongful death". They recently turned over the house to The Eating Disorders Institute at Methodist Hospital, who is running the program. The Anna Westin Foundation web site has lots of information about the foundation and what they have been doing these past three years.

"Anna's House" is truly a community effort. Hundreds of people worked on making it happen by volunteering time, talent, making donations, and supporting the Westins in countless ways. The house is full of life, hope and spirit and will be a place for women with eating disorders to reclaim their lives and recover.

Kitty Westin is the founder and President of the Anna Westin Foundation, a non-profit foundation started by Anna Westin's family after her death in 2000. The Foundation offers support, advocacy, education and prevention programs to individuals and communities. As president of the foundation, Kitty spends the majority of her time speaking to groups, offering support and guidance to people with eating disorders and advocating for an end to discrimination against people with eating disorders.

The Anna Westin Foundation
250 Prairie Center Drive
Eden Prairie, MN 55344
952.946.1131
annawestinfoundation.org

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Anna
Anna

I felt a feeling suddenly cowering above, waiting to be recognized. A tense burning fury, unstoppable. Unwilling to step back. It rises, and gains momentum... Penetrating all the secrets in my body.
- Anna Westin's Journal

Photo: Courtesy of the Westin Family
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