On her way to the hospital, Lorelai Symmes resigned she was going to die. At only 14 years old but 40 pounds underweight, she couldn’t foresee the recovery from anorexia nervosa that she would eventually make.
“I had pretty much told myself this was going to be it for me,” recalls Symmes, now 15 and a rising junior at Severna Park High School. She’s also the newly published author of “The Path Towards Sunshine,” a collection of poems inspired by her recovery. “It took a long time for my mindset to change even after I got out of the hospital,” she continues. “My mind slowly started to change because I started to recognize all the great things in my life.” During the three months she spent at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, she took solace and strength from journaling, a practice she continued even after she returned home and started school again.
“I’d never been the best at expressing my feelings,” she recalls. “I was very perfectionistic, thinking I had to be perfect at everything. That played a lot into my overall mental health. By writing, it was expressing how I felt without putting pressure on myself. If I couldn’t say it to people, I could at least write it out so it wasn’t inside me.”
The idea for her book started to take shape when she took a creative writing class at SPHS. Her teacher, Sabra Hill, took notice of the way writing affected her. “She never backed away from writing about her experiences with anorexia nervosa,” Hill says. “She was still recovering, but she was becoming more self-aware, reflective and honest in her writing. I think many of the assignments pushed her to write in ways that were new to her and on topics that invited self-discovery.”
Symmes found that she was drawn to poetry, particularly free verse. When she courageously delivered a spoken slam poem in front of her class, she realized just how powerful her compositions were. She later shared them on social media and submitted them to Stigma Fighters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with mental illness share their stories. She eventually collected all of her poetry together and pursued publication, a process that took about a year and a half.
When “The Path Towards Sunshine” debuted in spring 2020, Symmes instantly heard positive feedback. She’s happy to know her message of hope and self-acceptance resonates with readers. “You don’t need to change yourself,” she says. “I want people to know that kind of lifestyle isn’t worth it. I want to show those in recovery and about to enter recovery they can come out of it.”
Hill says she’s proud of Symmes but not at all surprised by her achievement of publication. “I think her book of poetry will help many other young people who struggle with body issues,” she says. “It really is ‘a path towards sunshine’ for her and others.”
Symmes acknowledged that her book has helped others understand not only her struggle but also the struggle faced by others with eating disorders. “A lot of people didn’t know what I was going through because I hid it so well,” she says. “When I went to the hospital, only a handful of people knew. Even my best friends didn’t understand. People with eating disorders are told to just eat, because people think it’s a choice. But really, it’s like any other disease: It’s controlling you and you don’t have a choice.”
It’s not just a message that her peers need to hear—the 15-year-old poet recognizes that adults benefit from it, too. “Even adults these days, especially with diet culture, need to know that their weight doesn’t define them,” she says. “Everyone has value. You don’t need to change yourself.”
She knows her experience can be an inspiration for others—and that means a lot to her. “It’s the greatest thing to be able to direct people and see them do well because of your own help,”
“The Path Towards Sunshine” is available on Amazon and those who want to learn more about Symmes’ journey can follow her on Instagram. @lorelaisymmes
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