Sometimes there are stories that just make your heart break, and your mind as jumbled as a jigsaw puzzle plopped from the box onto a kitchen table. Anorexia is one of those things. While I am not an expert in this field, I do know some things about it as most laypeople do, and perhaps a bit more since I work with tweens and teens on a day to day basis. However, this time, my knowledge has become more personal, too personal actually.
Picture a girl that you know, she can be any girl, but this one is close to your family. The girl comes from an upper middle class to upper class home; she could be your neighbor, and she probably is. She is a bright and very pretty girl, with a quick wit and sharp sense of humor. She is a bit chubby, and although filled with the millions of vices that teens possess, she has a bright future, and maybe she dates your son.
She starts to fixate on her weight. She’s not fat, she’s probably 5’4 and 120 lbs, soaking wet, with maybe a bit of baby fat. I don’t know, I’ve never weighed her, but you hear the complaints she makes. She diets, and you say okay, she wants to lose a bit of weight. She becomes a Vegan. You shake your head, and feel sorry for her, because she just doesn’t know what she’s missing, or she’s doing it because some teen celeb du jour is promoting it, and it’s hip to be Vegan. You shrug, and joke when there is steak, “More for me”. She becomes slender and you are happy for her, because it was something that bothered her. You’re happy that she’s happy, but she’s not happy. She still thinks she is fat, and the weight loss continues, to the point that she has to go to a hospital for rehab and stays there for three months. Suddently the “More for me” jokes, just aren’t that funny anymore. The emotional strain on her family is something that can’t be contemplated by yourself, and you thank God that it is not really your problem, but it is, because she may be your son’s girlfriend, and guess who is now strapped to that roller coaster, which is in free fall down, just like the girl’s weight and self esteem.
The relationship sours between the two of them, and part of you is a bit happy that now maybe your son can get on with his life, and leave this all behind them. You must be a bit muddled in the head, because you forget what teen love is like, and that conflict only adds to the Romeo and Juliet qualities of young love. So now, your son is visiting her at the hospital and all your common sense talk of, “You need to end this”, falls on deaf ears. Even after they break up, because the girl has lost all sense of reality, even though she is “rehabilitated” – which is code speak for the insurance company doesn’t want to pay anymore, so F*** You, the emotional connection and the guilt that your son feels, and that you start to feel because you didn’t do the right thing by your kid, to get them out of a toxic relationship. Now, you remember every time you were an asshole to this kid, every put down you ever gave the kid that makes it impossible for you to reach them with reason, because maybe in their mind they really do feel, you don’t like them very much, when you do like them; in reality you love them, and it’s killing you to see someone you love suffer, even if it may have elements of nobility. You blame yourself because you weren’t always there, not that any teen would ever let you be there, even if you are there. However, in reality, this is one road they will have to walk alone, and all you can do is hope that they don’t get hit by an emotional IED, because the road has enough potholes in it to trip up the surest footed person.
The girl, “rehabilitated” has continued to falter after her “rehabilitation”. Your son still maintains close ties with this girl, because even though they no longer go out, he feels responsible. You find out through him that the girl has started to have problems because of the continuance of this disorder, even though she is rehabilitated, and that her insurance, even though she comes from wealthy parents, has run out on her, because she spent so much time in the facility, and she is “rehabilitated”. You hear terms like, damage to the liver and heart, and you can’t believe that you heard, what you know you heard. It’s too bizarre, this is not some other girl you don’t know, this is the girl who went with your son to prom and to family functions, who you’re hearing this about. You start to wonder if you will be attending the funeral of your son’s first serious girlfriend before he graduates high school, and what do you say to him, to her family, to yourself, about this uniquely cruel and malevolent pathology, which not only wears away on the victim’s body and even their organs, but does the same thing to the minds of all who are in contact with this girl. You still can’t quite put it into perspective, it’s too surreal.
Anorexia is a subject, where when you know more, the more depressed you become. Some contribute genetic malfunctions to this disorder, but then why is it prevalent by such high proportions in America, and by those females who are in the middle to upper classes. Why do so many of those with this pathology resemble each other in such a way that a profiler can spot a victim a mile away? Then it gets worse. A recent study found that of all who have this disorder, 10% will die from it. More than half will never really recover, with less than one-third ever having a normal dietary life.
Why would a girl, that had everything going for her. Parents that were concerned, and provided her a lifestyle that 80% of our country and 99% of the world could only dream about, a girl who is an A student in a good school, who takes AP classes, and who is objectively pretty, subject herself to such agony. Why would she be so bent upon self-destruction? She has many friends, the life of the party, and now, she may be dying at the ripe old age of 16. I now realize, part of all who knew her, and loved her, and were enfuriated by this situation, will also have a part of their own self die. If this does happen, for the journals and the records it will be another part of a percentage point, and yet those percentage points add up to so much loss. But this time, it might just hit a little too close to home.