September 8, 2015 Marion MacDonald

Ayla's Finale

It's an all-too-familiar story: a brilliant young dancer upstaged by an eating disorder. When Ayla's illness forced her to drop out of ballet school, she fell into a depression, and her therapist recommended residential treatment.

"I locked myself in my room and I was crying hysterically for like four hours," Ayla recalls. She credits Jodi Tudisco, Clinical Director of Mirasol Adolescent Program, with saving her life.

"My mom knocked on the door and she handed me the phone and it was Jodi, and Jodi pretty much talked me down from killing myself."

Ayla reluctantly agreed to treatment, but says she was "a shell" when she arrived.

"My world was so small, and I didn't really think that anything was wrong with me because I had been sick for so long. I never said 'no I don't want to get better' but it was like 'I don't need to get better.' In the beginning, I found ways to try to manipulate the system because I hadn't heard a voice in my head that wasn't the eating disorder for about three years. I didn't trust anybody, and I always pretended like everything was okay."

But a month into treatment things began to change.

"Things started coming up, and layers of the onion began to peel away," she recalls. A visit from her mother reminded her of everything she was missing by being in treatment.

"It was like, 'what am I doing? I had so many opportunities this summer!' I was supposed to go to Boston Ballet on a full scholarship. It just hit me that there are better things in life than being in treatment!"

I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide 'I'm going to let go, I'm just going to see what happens.' It's really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here.

And so Ayla began building relationships with other people. She developed a close friendship with another MIrasol client, and they promised each other that they would recover together. She also began creating relationships with members of the staff.

"They're so open!" says Ayla. "All they want is for you to get better, and you can see it in their eyes, you can feel it when you walk through the door. This place for me has been like a family and a home. Being here has helped me learn that family comes in all shapes and sizes, and that people really really love me."

Ayla believes a key to her recovery was learning to trust the process.

"Sometimes people just go through the motions until they get to a certain point and they say that they're better. But I believe you really have to have a moment where you decide 'I'm going to let go, I'm just going to see what happens.' It's really hard to get up to the top of the mountain, but you can decide if you like the view or not, and you can always run back down the mountain. I really like the view from up here."

Ayla also appreciated the individualization of her treatment at Mirasol. In her case, it was recognizing her love of ballet. She worked closely with her primary therapist and her dietitian to resume dancing on a limited basis at a local ballet school, with corresponding adjustments to her meal plan.

"I thought I would never get back to ballet again, but we took it very slowly. I started out dancing once a week, and began taking a ballet class with other people. And then I did a long day like I would have done at my ballet school. It was just amazing for me to see, I felt so safe and so supported. I have fought my eating disorder so hard to get back to ballet. It's hard because the profession is a lot about your body. I'm very grateful that I can do what I can do in ballet. And I know it's not all about your body, it's about the way you dance, and about how much passion you have inside your soul, and I have a lot of it."

For the traditional closing ceremony on her last day in treatment, Ayla chose to conclude with the Second Solo Variation from "Emeralds", the first act of "Jewels", created for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine. What a wonderful way to celebrate a dancer's recovery!