Vermont Conversation: Food, love and mental illness

Erika Nichols-Frazer, left, and her new book “Feed Me.” Images courtesy of Erika Nichols-Frazer

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

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Erika Nichols-Frazer was like many kids growing up in the resort town of Stowe. She loved to snowboard and play hockey. But Erika hid a dark secret: She was at war with food. By eighth grade, she had anorexia, an eating disorder. She was starving herself, and her weight dropped below 80 pounds.

Erika ended up in a psychiatric institution as her family worked to help her with her eating disorder. But she continued to face other mental health challenges. Depression and anxiety was a constant. At the age of 29, Erika was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

What Erika guarded as her deeply private struggle is actually common. One in five adults and one in six youth experience a mental health disorder every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Only around half of people with mental illness receive treatment, and the average delay between the onset of symptoms and treatment is 11 years.

“There’s still a huge amount of stigma around mental illness, and many of us are afraid to tell people that we’re not doing okay and that we’re having a hard time,” Nichols-Frazer said.

Nichols-Frazer, now 34, is a writer, editor, and poet. She is a journalist for the Valley Reporter, a weekly newspaper that covers the Mad River Valley, where she lives. She shares the story of her journey to save herself in a new memoir, “Feed Me: A Story of Food, Love and Mental Illness.”

Opening up about her struggles, she said, has been “really important for my own healing process, as well as for others who need to hear that they’re not alone in their struggles.”

Nichols-Frazer has transformed her relationship to food. Instead of food being a source of isolation and pain, it is now a way to connect with the world. 

“It’s been a yearslong process of really coming to a place where I love food. I appreciate it. I appreciate the nourishment and sustenance it gives us, and I think that it really is a way to build community,” she said.

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