Amidst a battle with anorexia and depression with an unforeseeable end, Angelo Thomas came to find his purpose.
Not only as a film student at CCAD, but by becoming the voice of those who had endured a similar struggle. In May, Angelo debuted To A Life Worth Living, a cathartic short film documenting his experience with anorexia and ultimate receival of treatment, and then this fall, followed up with a young adult novel based on a similar character.
“The whole thing started my sophomore year of high school, so it went on for four years,” Angelo says of the beginning stages of his condition. “Throughout that time, there were a lot of people who would notice and say something. I was really stubborn and in denial about what was going on and I just refused to do anything about it.”
Despite his guilt, it was Angelo who realized that he needed to make a drastic change that would ultimately save his life. With friends and family members alike noticing his gradual emaciation, Angelo admits that his weight loss also put a damper on his mental wellness.
“It’s really important to be open about what you’re going through and that’s what I’m trying to encourage people to do. The goal of the documentary wasn’t to go viral or to get a certain number of views, it was to reach out to those people who would need it, and I think that’s what it’s doing.”
“The eating disorder totally changed who I was. I was really depressed all the time and not a nice person. A big part of it was because I wasn’t eating a lot at all, so I was kind of drained,” he says. “I was obsessively counting calories and I lost the weight really quickly. I was 210 pounds and I went to 99, so it was a lot of weight loss pretty fast.”
Angelo’s battle with anorexia soon crept from his high school years into becoming a student at CCAD. With friends continuously seeing that Angelo was withdrawn both physically and mentally, he decided to seek treatment during his sophomore year. However, Angelo was faced with initially being declined admission during a phone call with The Center of Balanced Living in January, as his weight was considered too low.
The woman I was talking to saved the biggest question for last and that was, “what is your weight and height?” he begins. “When I told her, there was a silence on the other side of the phone for thirty seconds. She was like, ‘I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do for you.’ That was horrible to hear.”
After being referred to emergency residential and inpatient treatment centers in Cleveland and out of state, Angelo contemplated whether he would have to drop out of school. Motivated to still attend CCAD, Angelo began gaining weight on his own, just enough to start treatment at The Center of Balanced Living. He started by being in a partial hospitalization treatment for five days a week, six hours a day for an entire month, later moving to outpatient therapy once a week.
In retrospect, Angelo knows just exactly what caused his body disorder.
“It came from depression and I think being gay was a big part of it, too,” he says. “The things that I know about eating disorders and statistics, it is more prevalent in gay men than in straight men and I think it’s because of certain societal standards. I was really overweight the first couple years of high school, and I felt like I needed to be thin to be accepted.”
After his time in treatment, Angelo found that his journey was compelling enough to create a short documentary, thus spawning To A Life Worth Living, which he originally made as a film class final. In the film, Angelo’s close friends and family members—even his former therapist and dietitian from The Center of Balanced Living— recollect their experiences with discovering that Angelo had anorexia and his treatment process. His twin brother Andrew speaks on coming to terms with Angelo’s weight loss, and close friend Madison reveals that she had anorexia at the same time as Angelo. Shortly after releasing To A Life Worth Living, Angelo went to Evolved on Summit to get the words “life worth living” tattooed in script form on his forearm. The message isn’t just a reminder for him, but for thousands of viewers of the short film, with whom Angelo’s story has resonated.
“It’s kind of crazy how many people have reached out to me. The National Association for Anorexia reached out to me and a lot of people have messaged me on Facebook and Instagram who have gone through similar things,” he says. “It’s really important to be open about what you’re going through and that’s what I’m trying to encourage people to do. The goal of the documentary wasn’t to go viral or to get a certain number of views, it was to reach out to those people who would need it, and I think that’s what it’s doing.”
Since then, Angelo has returned to CCAD with his first young adult novel in-hand. The Incredible Jake Parker, released September 3rd, is based on fictional pop singer Jake Parker and his rehabilitation from anorexia.
“It felt like a natural progression from what I did with the documentary. I thought, what else can I do with this?” he says of the book’s beginning stages. “I did want to tell my own story in a book form. Representation is a huge deal, in books and film. It wouldn’t be realistic for me to make a feature-length film right now, so a book was something that was more feasible.”
With encouragement from his brother, the novel was spawned. While Angelo admits that The Incredible Jake Parker was originally contrived as a screenplay, he does foresee an expansion of the novel, propelling into a series and even film.
“Sometimes it’s hard to remove myself from it and not just make it my story. The book is written in first-person, so putting myself back in that headspace was interesting and challenging,” he says. “I had some difficult days, especially towards the beginning, trying to get myself into that mindset and think about the things that were going into my head early on in the recovery process. So much of it is internal. People who are depressed or having eating disorders, they don’t do a great job of showing their emotion and what they’re thinking on the outside, I think it was important for me to tell it in first-person and let the reader get inside their head.”
Angelo also hopes to expound upon the after-effects of treatment, as reality settles in once patients adjust to their new lives. “There are some new challenges that come with gaining weight and accepting your new appearance that I’d like to address in another book,” he says. “You still deal with the same thoughts; it doesn’t just go away magically.”
With 25 percent of book sales being donated to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa (ANAD) and another 25 percent being donated to Angelo’s treatment center, he’s fully prepared for Jake Parker’s story to match the present climate of his peers.
As the character of Jake Parker faces societal pressures of dealing with fame at a young age, Angelo based his novel on the triggering of eating disorders. “I know a lot of people who have eating disorders and that’s their life—they just live with that,” he says. “A lot of people just don’t understand the value in going to treatment and seeing professionals in that kind of intervention. My experience at the center was life-changing and I wanted that to be a part of Jake Parker’s story.”
For more on Angelo’s story, you can view A Life
Worth Living on YouTube. The Incredible Jake Parker
is available on Amazon.