For University of Connecticut sophomore Michelle Franklin, each day on campus is a blessed one. The nursing major has struggled with anorexia nervosa since she was 10 years old, but committed fully to recovery on Jan 1, 2018, titling her new journey “Saving Shell.”
Over the past year, “Saving Shell” has grown into an online blog, with speaking events and a book in the works. Franklin’s message is geared toward raising awareness and being completely open about the illness that consumed her life nearly a decade ago.
Franklin said when her twin sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she began to feel like she was losing control and was bottling up her emotions. The eating disorder did not develop, however, until weeks later when Franklin read an American Girl Doll book.
“It (the book) was about you and your body and the changes you go through and there was one page on eating disorders,” Franklin said. “I latched onto that page and studied it over and over, and I started restricting while not even knowing what I was doing.”
At the time, Franklin received treatment through a therapist, a nutritionist and her mother. It was not until age 14 that she relapsed after reading a book titled “Stick Figure,” by Lori Gottlieb, which she said she thought would be a helpful memoir to read to reflect on her struggles.
“I should have just really stopped reading,” Franklin said. “It (the memoir) ended up being more of how to be an anorexic. I ended up copying that book and becoming more defiant as opposed to when I was 10 and I had said, ‘Well my mom said I am supposed to eat, so I have to eat.’”
Franklin said she received treatment from Walden Behavioral Care Inpatient Hospital in Massachusetts, where she was inpatient for 12 weeks total and was in recovery for most of her high school career until senior year when she relapsed again due to the stress of college applications.
“I was inpatient for two and a half weeks at the end of my senior year, and I got out the day of my graduation,” Franklin said. “I had an hour and was fortunate to cross the stage.”
In fall 2017, Franklin decided to live on campus at UConn, but left after three weeks due to another relapse. She was then sent to Rockville Hospital in Vernon and took the semester off to recover. It was then at the beginning of her second semester that “Saving Shell” was born.
Upon her return to UConn, Franklin said she decided to apply to the School of Nursing. Weeks later, she received her acceptance and was excited to pursue the new endeavor.
“The nurses are the ones that are there 24/7 and at your side,” Franklin said. “The doctors are great but they do not have the time to spend with their patients and have the impact the nurses have, and that was my real driving force so I can have that one-on-one patient contact.”
Franklin said she hopes to become a nurse on an eating disorder specialized floor in a hospital or behavioral care center.
“The people who help the most are the people who have been there and understand,” Franklin said. “They know what is going on in your head. Other people can be supportive but they do not 100 percent understand what is going on in your head.”
The “Saving Shell” blog includes frequent updates on Franklin’s recovery, recipes and pictures from various points in her life. Franklin said she designed the blog to be realistic and helpful to those who may be struggling.
“I have seen a lot of recovery blogs where every single post is a bad post, or it would have trigger warnings,” Franklin said. “It is not to say that I do not have bad days ever, but I try to put the positive things on my blog because I want to show people this is what recovery looks like. I may have bad days, but I am able to bounce back and have these other days that are good.”
Outside of the blog, Franklin has also spoken at a few events to raise awareness for her disorder. She was recently asked to speak at a candlelight vigil at Southern Connecticut State University for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 25-March 3).
Outside of nursing, Franklin is also a member of Active Minds, NAMI (National Alliance in Mental Illness) and the secretary of the UConn chapter of Project HEAL, which is a nonprofit organization focused on helping people with eating disorders pay for treatment. Franklin said she also received a UConn SHARE grant to do research on posttraumatic growth and eating disorders.
“It has been really interesting to research on how you can grow from something like an eating disorder,” Franklin said.
Outside of UConn, Franklin said she is also in the process of writing a book, but said it likely will not be completed for a few years because of her other commitments.
“I cannot write too much of it at once, because it brings up a lot of memories,” Franklin said. “So I just write little parts at a time and get it down on paper. It is really therapeutic.”
Through her efforts, Franklin hopes to break down the stigma surrounding eating disorders and encourage anyone struggling to not be afraid to seek help.
“In reality, eating disorders are just as severe as any physical illness,” Franklin said. “Your brain is always on and playing tricks on you and constantly screaming. It turns into a complete physical illness.”
Franklin said an important part of her message in her blogs and talks is encouraging those struggling to realize that they are not defined by their eating disorder.
“It was not until this past year when I got into nursing school, became a part of Project HEAL, did research and had all these opportunities that were not my eating disorder did I realize that I am not my eating disorder,” Franklin said.
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.