Eating disorders are more than about weight loss. They may indicate serious underlying issues. File photo.

Castlegar woman launches eating disorder group

“There’s not a lot of knowledge around here.”

A Castlegar woman has decided the best way she can help her own mental health is by helping others.

Felicia Rae Beetstra is starting a group to help people living with mental illness in the West Kootenay to meet, talk, and share their experiences living with eating disorders and mental illness.

“This is a place where everyone can talk, and feel they can be open,”she says.

Beetstra grew up in Castlegar, and says she’s experienced first-hand the stigma, rejection and loneliness that people with anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder and other issues have to endure.

“You just get shut down. It happens very fast,” she says. “It’s pretty taboo. I’m really open about it, and that scares a lot of people.”

She says sometimes, the eating disorder is just a symptom of a greater issue.

“A lot of people don’t know what they’re really struggling with,” she says. “They think they’re just struggling with food. Or when they’re sick or stressed out, they don’t eat, or over-eat, and they don’t realize that’s something that can be helped.”

That lack of understanding and support directly impacts lives, she says. She first began experiencing eating disorders — anorexia — when she was just six. By the time she was a teen, she was dealing with bulimia. She didn’t receive any medical diagnosis of her root problem, however, until she was 25, and was told she had borderline personality disorder. That happened after she moved away from the Kootenays.

“I didn’t get any help until I moved to Edmonton, and my doctor there put me in treatment,” she told Castlegar News. “There’s not a lot of knowledge around here.

“Even the local eating disorder clinic said I was too knowledgeable about my disease for them to help me.”

Now back in Castlegar, Beetstra is building a life and receiving counselling support. It was a suggestion by her counsellor that prompted her to start the support group.

“I definitely need the support of the community, and that’s what I have looked for and haven’t found,” she says. “That’s why I started the group. My counsellor and I concluded that if you can’t find it, you make it. And that’s what I’ve done.”

“I want to just reach out to people who feel the same and get strength from others and help other people get strength.”

She says the meetings will be low-key affairs, with participants taking part in painting, games, discussions, and even tarot card readings. They’ll also look at DBT books — Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which uses traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques, but also implements other skills like mindfulness, acceptance, and tolerating distress. They’ll also talk about what everyone wants to get out of the group.

Ultimately, however, the idea is to share, care for one another, and set small goals to make their lives better.

“It also takes a load off people’s partners to be able to talk to other people,” adds Beetstra. “I know for my partner, it’s a lot to watch, and it’s hard. So sometimes your partner doesn’t need to hear everything.”

Beetstra says about five people — some from as far away as New Denver — have contacted her to date to participate in the group. More are welcome.

The group’s first meeting was Aug. 28, but she hopes to have regular monthly meetings.

If you’d like to join the group, search for Felicia Rae Beetstra on Facebook and send her a private message.

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