It has been a decade since Mary Ellen Clausen's life took a dramatic turn. Since 1997, Clausen has turned 46, watched her children transform into adults, changed her job, found religion and became a nationally recognized advocate against the power of food, the lies of body image and the destruction of eating disorders.
Ten years ago, Clausen's eldest daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Four years later, her younger daughter also was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Clausen suffered the hardships any mother would watching her children self-destruct. From this, however, came Ophelia's Place, a non-profit support and resource center for people fighting eating disorders.
Located in Liverpool on Tulip Street, Ophelia's Place is the positive product of both battles won and lessons learned in the past decade of Clausen's life. However, Clausen's role as advocate and supporter should not overshadow what she considers her most important role in the past decade -- that of a mother figure.
Clausen admits she ignored the signs and was in denial that her daughter had an eating disorder. Her denial stemmed from eating habits she had accepted as typical. To Clausen, food rituals, diets and a lower weight did not seem irregular because in society it had grown so regular. Denial also came from the confusion between adolescent behaviors and eating disorders behaviors.
"I think isolation and withdrawing is a huge piece in an eating disorder," Clausen said. "I noticed that in my daughters, but I thought it was a phase, that they'll outgrow it."
Depression and isolation
Clausen's older daughter was diagnosed during the summer after her first year of college. It wasn't the physical appearance that tipped the therapist off, but the depression and the isolation she described. After the discovery, a feeling of both relief and panic took over Clausen. Panic came with the knowledge of the disease's danger. Relief came with the validation that there was a problem and a solution in sight. It was now Clausen's responsibility to seek out that solution.