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Grad: Everyone has struggles

Photo: Graham photography

GOODHUE -- Last June, as Alyssa Pasch was crowned Miss Goodhue, there was something about her that most of the audience -- or her friends, classmates and teachers, for that matter -- didn't know: the then 17-year-old was suffering from an eating disorder.

Pasch accepted her new royal title on a Friday night, and, on the following Monday, she began inpatient treatment for anorexia at the Melrose Institute in St. Louis Park, Minn.

Now, as the Goodhue High School senior prepares to walk across the stage at the commencement ceremony Sunday, Pasch said she is opening up about her struggles with eating disorders in the hopes that she can help others.

"It's a good way for me to reach out to other people and let everyone know that everyone has struggles and you can still accomplish things," Pasch said.

Pasch, the daughter of Tom and Sheila Pasch, said her struggle with the disease began when she was a sophomore. At that time, she suffered with frequent stomach aches and nausea.

After undergoing "a ton" of testing at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, missing three weeks of classes and doing a lot of trial and error with her diet, Pasch said doctors diagnosed her with dairy and gluten allergies.

"While this was happening, I started losing weight," she said.

Once she had a diagnosis and learned how to eat differently, Pasch said she gained weight quickly and was soon back up to her normal weight. But the frequent nausea brought on by her allergies had left her with nervousness when it came to eating.

"I was almost afraid of food," she said. "For so long it had made me so sick. That just continued and I wasn't really able to keep weight on. It was that fear."

During her junior year, Pasch was hospitalized for the first time for treatment for anorexia. But she wasn't quick to tell her friends and classmates why she was missing school.

"I knew underneath it all I was struggling and I needed help," Pasch said. "But part of me wanted to be perfect. ... I want to be really good at everything."

In the classroom, that perfectionism is a good quality, Pasch's English teacher Nancy McCleary said.

"I think she holds herself to really high standards and isn't willing to settle for anything less than she's capable of doing," she said. "You couldn't ask for a better student. If you were going to handpick a student you'd choose one just like her."

But in her personal life, it drove Pasch to want to hide her problems from the outside world. Over the next few months, Pasch went through intensive outpatient treatment and her weight fluctuated. Still, she couldn't bring herself to share her experiences with her friends.

"I just felt like I was living a double life," she said. "I've always been hesitant to show it, afraid that there will be criticism."

By the beginning of her senior year, Pasch said she felt like the secrecy was affecting her friendships.

"It was really stressing me out. I felt like I was losing my really close friends," she said.

With the help of a close friend, Pasch slowly opened up to her classmates about her eating disorder.

"I told them everything," she said. "It's not so much a secret. I don't want it to be."

The experience taught her that everyone has struggles, Pasch said, and that suffering from an eating disorder doesn't mean that there's something wrong with her. She added that dealing with her illness and opening up about it has made her a stronger person.

"Everyone has to reach that point that they realize it will make you who you are," she said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of to have to struggle.

"You can't let what other people think determine how you're going to act or what you're going to do. ... Yeah, I don't have it all together," she continued. "But I know I've come a long way."

Though Pasch said her eating disorder is "still a work in progress," she said she's currently healthier -- both physically and mentally -- than she has been since she was diagnosed.

Even though she missed many classes, Pasch is still set to graduate second in her class. In addition, she has also stayed active in numerous extracurricular activities, including student council, National Honor Society and Teens Needing Teens.

Pasch, 18, is enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities for the fall semester. She plans on getting her bachelor's degree in nursing and wants to eventually go into nursing psychology.

"I really think she'll be successful at whatever she chooses to do just because of the attitude she has shown in high school," McCleary said. "She just works so hard."

Class of 2013

What: Goodhue High School graduation

Who: about 45 students

When: 1:30 p.m. June 2

Where: Goodhue School gym

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.