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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Personal Stories
Suni
It was a way for me to feel numb. Like I could take everything in, all of the day's stress-all of the feelings I felt-and just get rid of them all at once by just throwing it up.

For more than two years, this has been 16-year-old Suni Eisenberg's chosen coping mechanism. This is how she deals with life. She is in the early stages of what may be a long fight with bulimia.

Suni's mom, Saras is a busy mother and an active community volunteer. In the documentary, we witness her efforts to understand the complex family dynamics that seem to play a role in her daughter's illness. Suni's father, a Harvard graduate, is a retired radiologist, a wheelchair user, restricted by a disability and in constant pain. The challenges of his life intensify the family's emotional struggle.

Not wanting to be more of a burden on her family, Suni kept her eating disorder hidden. The A student's grades fell. She became depressed and her bulimia worsened. Upon discovering Suni's eating disorder, her parents moved to admit her into the only inpatient treatment center for eating disorders in Washington state, only to discover it had closed. Soon after, Suni stole her father's morphine, and one night kissed him goodnight and then attempted to take her own life. Suni was hospitalized and survived, but attempted suicide a second time two weeks later.

Suni:
It was like me saying, "I need help. I need help now!" without actually saying the words.

Doctors recommended long-term treatment for Suni, who was admitted to a private clinic for almost three months. A few days after returning home, Suni went into the shower and made herself throw up.

You just start eating and throwing up again, and it's just, like, "Oh, that was a waste. I'm a waste. Look at me, I can't do anything." It kind of-it feels bad. It does, it hurts. There's nothing worse than knowing that ... your parents spent a lot of money trying to help you get better, and you just wasted all of it.

Her parents sent her to Remuda Ranch, a treatment center in Arizona. The managed care, not covered by insurance, cost $63,000. But Suni's treatment and intensive family therapy gave them hope. Suni's father is committed to learning and to fostering a healing environment at home and helping Suni adjust. Her sister, Rashi, who looks up to Suni, believes Suni could get better if she wanted to. Saras is looking forward to having a well girl again, and now knows that the healing process will be long and will involve Saras changing as well. As much as Saras has done for her kids, she worries she was a "distant Mom", and not the kind of Mom that Suni wanted.

Saras:
Only if you're true to yourself, then you know you can start to heal.

After 60 days of treatment and over $60,000, everyone hoped that Suni was on the road to recovery, but the day after she arrived home, Suni forced herself to vomit.

I don't do it on purpose. It's not like, "Okay, I hate myself," there's not those thoughts that go through my brain ... like, "Okay, I'm gonna self-destruct now." I mean, it's just something that happens, that my brain does. And this eating disorder is so tricky. And it's so overwhelming that it really-it's deceiving... it lies.

Those lies cost her and her family years of suffering and at this point nearly $100,000 dollars. Suni is not yet recovered.

Epilogue

When you see Suni now, you're at once struck with how vibrant, smart, pretty and truly sweet she is. You wouldn't know of her ongoing struggle with her eating disorder. There is an incredible discrepancy between perception and reality.

Suni appears happy with herself: a talkative, busy young woman who works as a nanny and loves it, and is sending out college applications. She is lovely, talented, intelligent, liked by so many, but barely withstanding problems of enormous magnitude.

"Depression and suicide run in my family," Suni says. She believes this legacy has a lot to do with her eating disorder. An antidepressant, a mood-leveling drug, and a prescription to help her sleep have alleviated some of her symptoms. Therapy has given her great comfort; she is happy with her doctor and can talk comfortably, and most importantly, be heard. Saras and Suni continue to work on their relationship. Saras still attends a parents' support group; but the Eisenbergs are not in family or group counseling.

Will Suni ever be completely cured? She thinks so, but also sees this illness as something that is a part of her, something that will never go away, like being a gambler or an alcoholic. "It's hard to pass by a liquor store or the casino. But you do it." She laughingly says that she is like someone who bites their nails and knows they should stop, but sometimes forgets: they just do it because that's what they do. They can't stop.

She plans to.

But right now her illness is very much a part of her life.

Suni:
Someone with an eating disorder just has to know there is a better life out there. Just keep saying that to yourself and you will believe it.

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Suni
Suni

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It was a way for me to feel numb. Like I could take everything in, all of the day's stress - all of the feelings I felt - and just get rid of them all at once by just throwing it up.

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