Sunday, January 27, 2008

An incredibly sad story

This interview with a nun who's been anorexic for 50 years is one of the saddest things I've ever read. Sad because of Sister Marie Therese's childhood experiences, which no one's child should ever have to go through. Sad because of her tormented young adulthood.

Most of all, sad because of these lines:

Anorexia has been a part of my life for more than 50 of my 61 years. It has been a friend really. Having it is like being with somebody who takes away your feelings.

For parents whose children are struggling with anorexia right now, this is what's at stake. This is the reason to tackle the demon of an eating disorder head-on, right now, while your child is still in his/her teens, while s/he can still recover and go on with a normal life.

This is what no parent wants for their child.


Anonymous said...

Having it is like being with somebody who takes away your feelings.

That just breaks my heart. Shatters it.

Anonymous said...

"This is what no parent wants for their child."

How I wish that statement were true. I've met far too many parents of anorectics who encourage their daughters to remain ill, because at least then they fit the thin societal ideal. Not all parents have their child's best interests at heart.

Fiona Marcella said...

It's very very sad, but it's also a story of hope in that she HAS survived and IS tackling her illness despite having had it for 50 years. What struck me was that it just about proves, to me if to no one else, that this brain disease is the same one as has existed all along and that seeing it as a "desire to be thin" is just to set it in a cultural context, and may be a very inadequate way of both diagnosing and treating it.

Anonymous said...

Anorexics do not fit society's thin ideal. To meet diagnostic criteria a patient weight less than 85% of expected weight. In addition loss of period for at least three months defines the disease. Once the disease begins to snowball weights often plummet, depression and obsession become obvious, social function deteriorates. What is left is desperation, emaciation, lanugo, vacant eyes. It's not pretty and it goes well beyond anything society admires.

Harriet said...

anonymous 1,
Really? May I ask in what context you've met all these dysfunctional families? I have yet to meet a family that didn't want their child to recover from an eating disorder, once they understand what it is. Pretty much every family goes through a period of denial when their child is first diagnosed--they don't want to believe it's serious, they can't get their minds around it. Once they get it, though, I have never heard a parent say, "I'd rather she was sick and thin than healthy and not thin."

Anorexia is NOT about the wish to be thin, despite DSM-IV's ridiculous diagnostic criteria. In fact it's not "about" anything, except maybe the physiological processes that accompany prolonged starvation. One of the byproducts of starvation, though, appears to be a delusion that one is fat and a frantic wish to not be fat. We do know that at least some of that is physiology, from the now-famous mirror study, when they put two anorexics side by side and had them look at each other and themselves in the mirror. (They could see the other's emaciation but saw themselves, literally, as fat.) I do wonder what role culture plays in the way we interpret these symptoms of malnutrition.

And I do think we are more used to seeing exceptionally skinny actresses, models, etc., and so our vision has been literally skewed as a culture.

Anonymous said...

Yes, mah dear, there are families "out here" who have no interest in the recovery of their child. My father, a neurosurgeon, gloats about my physique and openly attributes it to a lifelong eating disorder. He treats a lot of obese patients and believes having an ED which keeps someone thin is better than all the health problems related to obesity. I've actually heard him compliment women who are thin and remark that "they must have an eating disorder" and laugh.

Unfortunately, my ED has led to cardiomyopathy at age 40. I have 3 children and a husband so I'm not ready to die any time soon. But sometimes our dreams for life aren't God's plan for us. And I know my health has a lot to do with my ED and my family's denial, as if it were actually a blessing. It was definitely a curse! The irony is that no one in my family confronted me about the ED until several years after I had recovered from it!



Harriet said...

oh, anonymous, I am so sorry.

Still, I think this is the exception rather than the rule. . . .

Harriet said...

At least I hope so.