During the last year I have read 4 manuscripts by anorexia sufferers who have written about the fine detail year on year of all their suffering. They have asked for my advice about publication.I have also read 3 published books by people who have actually found publishers for their books, to join the list of what some of you might call misery memoirs. These books usually are written after a degree of recovery but they are very tough to read as the behaviour which is a feature of the illness is revealed in all its stark detail.
I have to be honest with you, me and my staff as well, who know a lot about eating disorders were dismayed (that’s the best way I can put it) by so much reading of the accounts of the things people do to themselves and others with this compulsion to get and stay very thin. We are all suffering from Post Traumatic Anorexia Disorder. It is very hard reading, and a great deal of suffering all round.
As we move into Eating Disorder Awareness Week what really do we want to be aware of, tell me please? What kind of understanding do we seek? My question is, to what extent is this grisly detail useful for sufferers? For the public? For therapists?
In her book Almost Anorexic which is a nice book, the Author Jenni Schaefer cautions people from reading accounts of anorexic and bulimic suffering. She says, and I agree, that it will only increase worry, obsession and activate the competitive instincts of anorexics.
“OMG she got to 35 kilos, it means I’m definitely not thin enough yet!”
“OMG she ran a marathon on nothing but jelly beans, I’m certainly eating way too much!”
“OMG she began to purge, that’s a good idea, I might try that too.”
“OMG I’m not purging, that means I’m greedier than her.”
What is it that drives people with eating disorders to need to set down in writing all this pain. Is it just another form of “look at me” or is it part of the way that they can make sense of what has happened to them and recover. I don’t really know as yet.
But…. I have decided that these accounts do more harm than good to patients and are only useful to therapists who need to read all this to get a proper sense of the demons they are facing. This illness is very, very tough. It is an illness which is invited in and which doesn’t want to leave.
So as the manuscripts pile up on my desk, I will read them all but heaven knows I need some strength and I probably have seen enough for the moment. I don’t know if reading these memoirs or even broadcasting skeletal images on TV is going to help. What I really welcome are the accounts of recovery, like the work of Jenni Schaefer and also Emma Woolf; leaving out the pain of what went on before in all its grisly glory.
Starvation and self harm are not a pretty picture and knowing too much about it can kill.