I have just finished reading Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted, about her lifelong struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Consider this: Hornbacher first started to feel fat at age five, and began throwing up on purpose at age nine. She was hospitalized three times before being institutionalized in what was basically a mental asylum for teenagers, and it didn’t end there. In the asylum she weighed eighty-two pounds; she eventually reached fifty-two. Having researched eating disorders, looked through her own files, and written this book, she still struggles daily with the temptation to return to her old habits. (And now has written another book about her bipolar disorder.) Basically she was in a state of slow death for years and years of her life, and cannot ever be expected to have a normal life expectancy.
Hornbacher writes well, but reading the book is just horrendous. I’ve never really understood eating disorders and wouldn’t be so pretentious as to claim I understand them now. But after reading Wasted, I feel a little more aware of the extent to which a person can deliberately, willfully, desiringly self-destruct. It wasn’t that she didn’t know she was killing herself. She did know. How a human being can exist like that for more than a decade is just beyond my imagining.
After I began reading this book I noticed a little shift in the way I view my own flesh. I think anyone who’s ever been overweight for long periods of time can understand, at least a little, the kind of self-loathing that eventually causes some people to diet to destruction. But after reading Wasted, I’ve been so suffused with love for my own body, I can only describe it as a tender feeling toward my flesh. I’ve found myself sort of petting my skin, touching my softness and just feeling deeply loving toward it. I’ve often wished to be slimmer, but now I am so grateful for the health and robustness and beauty of my body, so grateful that it and I understand each other and aren’t at war.
I’ve also realized, after reading this book (and Elyn Saks’s), that I should amend what I’ve always said about craziness. I usually say, “We’re all crazy, it’s just that some of us hide it better.” But I need to acknowledge that that isn’t really true, that some of us are crazy, really disturbed and confused and sick and needing help. The rest of us are “normal”, and while there is a range of weirdness within “normal”, we’re still at a vast remove from people who really do need help for the troubles in their minds. And I am so grateful that I have never known what it’s like to be really crazy. My problems are nothing.
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]