By BreAnne Noland
I first learned about Avalon Hills while taking a physiology course at Utah State University and was immediately excited to apply. Unfortunately, I am no stranger when it comes to the topic of eating disorders. While growing up, my oldest sister had an eating disorder and it was very difficult to witness this. I have worked at Avalon Hills for over five years now and initially, I quickly learned that the position of being a direct care can be exhausting, yet very rewarding. As direct care we are hired to interrupt symptoms of eating disorders and model appropriate interactions between food and exercise.
The hardest part of supporting the recovery process is seeing the clients when they first come in. They majority of the time, new patients seem hopeless and depressed because the costs of their eating disorders have been so high. The eating disorder has consumed and overshadowed much of what they previously found valuable such as family, friends, and school activities. As a direct care for many years seeing clients 24/7, I had the opportunity to really get to know our patients. In the direct care role, we participate in weekly programming with patients and then on the weekends, we spend time in the community doing a wide variety of activities.
As a direct care I often saw there disappoint and frustration after being in a difficult group or session. Some days were just challenging days for the patients. I would do my best to offer them help in applying appropriate coping skills they learn in our program to handle the distress. It didn’t always go well at first. Over time I was able to witness clients applying these skills more easily and often on their own. The patients began to find value in what they were learning and applied using this knowledge in their daily live at Avalon, and how to use it outside of treatment. Watching our patients grow within the program has been the most rewarding part of my job. Over the years of being affiliated with Avalon Hills, I am overwhelmed with the amount of talented individuals that we have treated. Helping them find their voice and life passions fills my heart too!
Some of my favorite memories relate to comparing the stark contrast of how patients approached the world at admit and comparing it with the thriving person I see when it is time for discharge. At first they often express that they prefer being by themselves. As time goes on, the patients begin to reengage with life and other areas of interest, such being with friends and trying new things. One client in particular loved music. She was self conscious about playing the guitar in front of the other clients and staff in the beginning of her treatment. Further into her treatment she exposed this fear and would regularly play the guitar in the group room. She was very talented and we all benefited by her sharing her meaningful gift with us. I love seeing the clients be able to break out of their shells and explore other interests that their eating disorder wouldn’t allow them to do or pursue. It is SO refreshing to see them shake off the self-doubt.
We recently took our patients downhill skiing and sledding. These major activities were a lot of fun and really took our patients out of their comfort zone. I enjoyed seeing how the patients were able to let go of inhibition and focus on learning a new skill and having fun.
I am now a case manager and my role is different, but I still do my best to work individually with the clients and provide support that they need in the moment and help them know how to work through difficult times. Instead of just learning about what they value, I get an opportunity to experience some of their interests with them. I recently had one client who valued service. She used to participate in different avenues of service before her eating disorder. While she was at Avalon, she organized a food drive in which I was fortunate to assist her with. This particular patient also loved volunteering with young children so we were able to go and read to little kids for a couple hours a week. Seeing growth through our patients as a case manager is also very fulfilling. I am grateful to Avalon Hills for the opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of the many clients that have come through our program.