Wednesday, 31 March 2021
On one of my many trips to the hospital to have my eye checked, I was talking to a nurse who asked me what I did. When I said I was a writer, she wanted to know what I wrote, and I said I was editing a novel and writing another one, and of course she wanted to know what they were about.
My novel, HUNGER addresses several issues, but the main one is anorexia. I still have some of my diaries from those days and I regret to say they are incredibly boring for they are obsessed with weight (or the lack of it) and food (or the lack of it), low mood, lack of confidence - they really don't make uplifting reading.
But this nurse said, "Oh, we really need books about that sort of thing. I know so many mothers who have anorexic daughters. My late husband was an alcoholic and it's the same principle. I would love to read it, and I'd tell my friends to buy it too."
As you can imagine, that was very confidence boosting, and this morning I was having a dog walk/meeting with another writer friend who is a mother to two sons. We were discussing Jess, the daughter in my novel, and the lack of communication that often occurs between teenagers and their parents, and I suddenly remembered a time when I was working in London and hadn't seen my parents for a while. I would get the bus from Victoria to Exeter, and one of my parents would pick me up from the bus station.
As I said, I hadn't been home for a while and my Dad came to meet me, ushered me into the car and when we were sitting down, he said, "What have you DONE to yourself?" I was mortified, seeing it as a criticism, and didn't know what to say. We sat in silence for the 45 minute trip home, which was agonising. I didn't know how to break the silence, and fled to the safety of my room as soon as we got to the house.
Looking back, of course, my poor father must have seen his only precious daughter looking like skin and bone (literally) and was utterly horrified and terrified. Not only because he had no idea why I was relentlessly starving myself, but maybe more importantly because he couldn't fix it.
Like any problem, when you can't fix it is when it becomes really frightening. Thankfully nowadays there is a lot more awareness of anorexia and other mental health problems, and help is out there, although not as much as we would wish.
The message I want to get across in my novel is that yes, anorexia is a terrifyingly complex disease. It can kill in extreme circumstances. Every individual has their own reasons for developing it, and it is vital to understand these reasons in order to let go of it. But my point is that it is possible.
My lowest weight was below five stone. My organs were in danger of packing up. My hair was falling out. My periods had long since stopped. I was a very ill teenager. But it is possible to recover. In my case, I needed to regain my faith in myself and my abilities. I have been leading a happy and healthy life for decades now but like most with problems, I needed the love and support of my loved ones. And in my case, of course, that includes my dog.