athletes, celebrities, mental health, psychology, tragedies, YouTube

Partial repost: Christy Henrich and Karen Carpenter, and discovering Dr. Todd Grande…

Recently, I watched a video done about Karen Carpenter by YouTube shrink, Dr. Todd Grande. Dr. Grande does videos about mental health topics in a trademark “flat” kind of way. When I first encountered him on YouTube, I didn’t like his videos that much because his delivery was so dry. But I kept coming back, because he chose interesting topics. After awhile, I realized that I enjoy his videos and even his “flat” style… especially when he throws shade in kind of a bland way. In the video he made about Karen Carpenter, Dr. Grande remarked that in terms of her musical talent, Karen was “like a Ferrari stuck on a go cart track”. He implied that she was much more talented than her brother, Richard, is. I got a kick out of that observation.

Karen Carpenter… Dr. Grande implies that her wings were clipped by her brother… Frankly, I think her mother was more of a wing clipper.

Personally, I disagree with Dr. Grande that Karen’s talent was that much more impressive than Richard’s is. They had strengths in different areas. Richard is a fantastic pianist, and he’s a great arranger. He knew what songs went best with Karen’s vocals. Karen was a magnificent singer and drummer. Together, they worked well. Both of them worked apart with somewhat less success. I do think that Karen and Richard had a very controlling mother, and personally, I think if anyone should be blamed for what happened to Karen Carpenter, it could be her mom that deserves the most shade. Agnes Carpenter was overbearing and overreaching… and she didn’t want her children to be independent adults. Moreover, she obviously favored Richard, which probably took a toll on Karen’s self esteem. Maybe that had to do with her development of anorexia nervosa. I don’t know.

Anyway… I enjoyed watching Dr. Grande’s video about Karen Carpenter and realized he’d done a bunch of similar videos about other celebrities. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on Christy Henrich, a brilliant 80s era gymnast who famously perished from anorexia nervosa in 1994. So I left him a comment. Maybe he’ll read and heed it. I really think it would be interesting to hear Dr. Todd Grande’s deadpan views about Christy’s public struggle with anorexia. She had a tremendous work ethic, which extended to her illness. At one point, Christy’s weight fell to 47 pounds. It’s not that I admire her for being that emaciated. It’s more of a comment on her sheer will power and relentless pursuit of her goals, self-destructive as they were. I’m sure a mental health expert would have a lot to say about her.

A video a YouTuber made about Christy Henrich.

In the meantime, below is a repost of an article I wrote in February 2014 about Christy Henrich for my original blog. It was inspired because Bill and I went on a “hop” to Spain and Portugal in January of that year. On the way back to Texas, we landed in Missouri and drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri. I thought of her as I realized how much Missouri reminds me of Virginia. As usual, the repost appears “as/is”.

Remembering Christy Henrich

Back in the late 1980s, I had a brief but intense obsession with watching gymnastics.  I would catch meets on ESPN or Home Team Sports.  In those days, ESPN only had one channel and I believe HTS is now defunct.  I remember seeing very old footage of Shannon Miller when she was just 12 years old.  I remember watching Brandy Johnson and Phoebe Mills.  I could never so much as turn a cartwheel myself, but I really enjoyed watching the tiny girls compete.  I admired them for being so tough and strong.  I was into horses myself, though.

I also remember Christy Henrich, who was less than a month younger than me.  When I first saw her, she reminded me a bit of a soccer player.  Short and muscular without an ounce of fat on her, she didn’t have the long, graceful limbs of the Russian or Romanian gymnasts.  But she was very strong and had an amazing work ethic.  Her coach, Al Fong, even called her E.T. for extra tough. Sometimes, that extra tough work ethic worked against her, as you can see in the video below.

This may have even been the first meet I ever saw Christy in… This performance was not very good. The commentators say she “looks tired” and “doesn’t look right”. They also mention that she was warming up way before everyone else was.

Not being privy to anything going on in gymnastics that wasn’t aired on TV, I didn’t know about Christy Henrich’s eventual slide into anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Back in those days, I had a bit of an obsession about eating disorders, too.  I knew a lot about them and even flirted with them.  If I had known about Christy, I might have even admired her for her anorexia.  That’s how dumb I was at 16.

Christy Henrich at 17

I remember watching the very intense 1988 Summer Olympics gymnastics trials.  I was kind of rooting for Kristie Phillips, an adorable strawberry blonde who had seemed poised for gymnastics stardom.  A growth spurt and weight gain had sidelined her in 1987 and she was back to try to win a spot on the team.  She placed 8th and was named a second alternate.  She would not be going to Seoul unless someone got hurt.  Christy Henrich missed the team altogether by .0118 of a point.  There was no hope for her at all, unless she set her sights on 1992 in Barcelona.

About Kristie Phillips, who also suffered from an eating disorder.
Kristie Phillips was on Oprah, along with Christy’s mom and boyfriend. Here, she talks about her suicidal ideation after she missed the Olympic team.

In 1990, a judge supposedly told Christy Henrich after a meet in Budapest, Hungary that in order to be a serious contender for the Olympics, she would need to lose weight.  At 4’11” and 93 pounds, Christy didn’t have much weight to lose.  But she took the judge’s words to heart and went on a serious diet, quickly shedding five pounds.  She was praised for the weight loss at first, but then she slid headlong into a battle that would eventually cost her her life.

Christy Henrich in 1990

By January 1991, she had lost so much weight that her coach, Al Fong, kicked her out of the gym.  A week after he kicked her out, she came in to tell him she was quitting the sport.  Though she had a loving family and a boyfriend who wanted to marry her, the eating disorders had taken hold of her.  On July 26, 1994, she died of multiple organ failure.  She had just turned 22 years old and she weighed less than 60 pounds.  At one point, her weight was just 47 pounds.

A clip from a 1995 episode of Oprah in which Christy’s mother and boyfriend talk about her struggles with eating disorders.  

I remember reading Joan Ryan’s book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  In fact, I read an excerpt of it in the Washington Post just days before I left the country for Armenia to serve in the Peace Corps.  When I got home in 1997, I bought the book and read it.  It was about female gymnasts and figure skaters.  In 2000, Ryan updated the book, including discussion about Dominique Moceanu’s desire to be emancipated from her parents because her father was spending her money. 

I don’t know what made me think of Christy today.  It’s not her birthday or the anniversary of her death, though in July of this year, she will have been dead for 20 years.  That amazes me.  It seems like yesterday, we were 22 years old.  The older you get, the faster time flies.

Last month, as Bill and I worked our way back to Texas from our trip abroad, we drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.  We stayed a night in Kansas City, which is where Christy died.  For some reason, I even thought about Christy’s mother as we passed through.  It was frigid during our brief time there and, looking around, it didn’t look like the kind of place that would excite me.  On the other hand, I did notice how nice and folksy everyone seemed to be.  It seems like the kind of place you could get to know your neighbors.

Christy Henrich in 1987.

I’m sure that the last twenty years have been tough for all who knew and loved Christy Henrich.  What happened to her was just gruesome.  I still like watching gymnastics today, but remember Christy’s story reminds me that the sport has a bit of a dark side.  To read more about Christy Henrich, I recommend the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  

An eye opening read.

Edited to add: in 2014, I still had no idea how dark gymnastics can be… that was before we knew about John Geddert and Larry Nassar.

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book reviews

A review of How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, by Kelsey Osgood

I just finished Kelsey Osgood’s book, How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia. I don’t remember what prompted me to read this book, which is Osgood’s first and was published in 2014. I seem to remember seeing it referenced somewhere and described as a “good” read. Having just finished it, I will agree that this book is pretty good. Osgood’s descriptive writing reminds me of that of a novelist. She uses a lot of excellent vocabulary, some of which I had to learn while reading. Kindles are great for that.

I learned some new lingo, too– like “wannarexia”. Osgood’s take on anorexia nervosa is that it’s “contagious” and transmitted by the dramatic triggers of popular books, movies of the week, and pro-ana Web sites. Along with her thesis, then, are jargon words like “wannarexia”, which she describes as a person who wants to be anorexic, but isn’t actually really anorexic. Interesting indeed… and not something I had read before in the vast number of books I have read about eating disorders over the years.

How to Disappear Completely is supposed to be a chronicle of Kelsey Osgood’s experiences with anorexia. She spent a lot of time in several eating disorder units in New York, particularly at Cornell University, where she runs into all kinds of characters who suffer from eating disorders of different kinds and severities. Her commentary about the people she meets in treatment is very compelling. Interspersed within those stories are her own comments about the dangers of documentaries like Lauren Greenfeld’s Thin, and books like Steven Levenkron’s The Best Little Girl in The World, which many people find “triggering”. She also discusses people like Mary Kate Olsen, who at 17 years old in 2004, was deposited into rehab in Utah. Officially, the reason she went to rehab is because she had anorexia, but there were also rumors swirling that she actually had an addiction to cocaine and her parents thought people would be more sympathetic to a diagnosis of anorexia.

As I finished Osgood’s book today, it occurred to me that I really didn’t feel like I had read her story, per se. Instead, How to Disappear Completely comes off more as just commentary. I was certainly impressed by the many, many books Osgood had read on the subject of anorexia. Some of the books she mentioned were published decades ago, like, for instance, Fasting Girls: the History of Anorexia Nervosa, which was originally published in 1988. She also mentions Steven Levenkron, of course, who wrote The Best Little Girl in the World in 1978, back when very few people had ever heard of eating disorders. And she also mentions Hilde Bruch, author of The Golden Cage, which I remember reading when I was in high school. Marya Hornbacher’s famed memoir, Wasted, is liberally referenced, as is Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, and Susana Kaysen’s Girl Interrupted. Like Osgood, I’ve read almost all of them. Unlike Osgood, I’m not sure I can conclude that reading those books necessarily leads to the development of a mental illness.

I think a lot of young women do kind of admire people with anorexia nervosa. Let’s face it. Our society values thin, beautiful women. Being thin means being in control of one’s appetites and being able to wear anything. I remember being very young and compulsively reading dramatic accounts of anorexic heroines, like Levenkron’s “Kessa Dietrich”, an aspiring dancer who dieted herself down to 73 pounds and almost died until Levenkron’s male therapist character, Sandy Sherman, saves her from her obsessions. In that sense, maybe some of Kelsey Osgood’s comments are somewhat truthful. There probably are young girls out there who get exposed to a novel about anorexia, decide to try the behaviors themselves, and then fall into a terrifying downward spiral. However, I doubt that’s the main reason why people become ill with eating disorders or any other mental illness.

I did find Osgood’s comments about how “real” anorexics viewed “wannarexics” they’d run into on eating disorder units interesting, and also a bit disturbing. She wrote, implying some disdain from other patients, about how some patients weren’t actually truly “sick”, and were really just seeking attention by mimicking the “real” anorexics and bulimics. It seems to me that if someone needs attention that badly, they probably should be in treatment. Whether or not a so-called “real” anorexic thinks they merit the attention is kind of irrelevant, isn’t it? By feeling the need to mimic destructive behaviors and actually succeeding, aren’t the “wannarexics” also doing harm to themselves? Doesn’t that harm also need to be addressed? And shouldn’t we be concerned when a person feels the need to engage in eating disordered behaviors, regardless of why they do it? That obsession to try to be like an anorexic is, in and of itself, kind of sick, isn’t it?

Osgood also discusses how in the warped world of anorexia, the best anorexic is a dead anorexic. Because somehow, the obsession is so twisted that one can never be thin enough… or sick enough. There’s constant competition among people with anorexia nervosa, and it seems there’s always some drive to be the most dramatic. Osgood’s premise is that this dramatization, particularly in books and movies about anorexia, is part of the problem and a major reason why eating disorders have become so common. I think there could be something to Osgood’s hypothesis, but her conclusions are a little bit half-baked. And again… I don’t think she really told her story. This book is more an observation on anorexia nervosa as it manifests today.

I do think Kelsey Osgood is a talented writer. She uses a lot of engaging language that I found a pleasure to read. I can see that she earned a M.F.A. at Goucher College, which no doubt helped hone her writing chops. However, this book is poorly focused and doesn’t quite meet the mark of what I was expecting it to be. It was a lot of writing about other people and other books, and not so much about Osgood’s own story or creating her own book. Aside from new vocabulary words and eating disorder lingo, I’m not sure I learned a whole lot of new things by reading this. Still… some readers might enjoy Osgood’s way with a setting up a vivid scene, as she does when she describes some of the characters she met when she was in treatment.

I would recommend this book to those interested in reading it, but I can think of other books about eating disorders that I think are better. The aforementioned Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher, is in my opinion, a better book. However, Wasted is also very triggering for some people because it’s very detailed… and that is the kind of book that Osgood criticizes the most. On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, I think I’d give this book almost four stars. The colorful writing nudges the score closer to four, but the lack of a focused thesis and the author’s own story brings the score under that mark.

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LDS, lessons learned, mental health, music

Turn it off!

Yesterday, after I finished my hated vacuuming chore, it was time for lunch. Bill had dressed for work, as he spent the morning teleworking and planned to go into the office for a few hours. We often have lunch together before he goes, and he was making me a sandwich. Just as he was about to bring it to me, he dropped some of it on the floor, which I had just dry vacuumed with the Dyson and cleaned with the Tineco wet/dry vacuum (a new toy I just bought).

“FUCK!” Bill yelled in a very annoyed tone of voice. “Goddammit! You just cleaned the floor! Shit!”

I don’t know why, but that little explosion of profanity just struck my funny bone so hard and I started laughing hysterically. Arran came up and cleaned the floor for me. He did a good job, too. You’d think I would have been upset about the mess and the cursing, but I actually think it’s hilarious when Bill swears. When I met him, he was a Mormon. Now he’s a heathen like me.

I asked Bill if his still devout Mormon daughter ever swears. He said no, when she feels like cussing, she starts thinking of Jesus or humming Mormon hymns. I remember hearing this the one time I met the girls. They said that whenever they have any “bad” thoughts, they sing a hymn. That supposedly squelches the “bad” impulse to use a word that some people had declared “naughty”. That brings to mind a song from The Book of Mormon, which rather brilliantly sums up how members of the LDS church “turn off” inappropriate or “bad” thoughts or impulses.

This song is so perfect… and so accurate.

Funny… I just watched the above performance of “Turn It Off” by this very talented group of young men. The song is often hilarious, yet it’s also so poignant on many levels. As they finished their number, I sat here with real tears in my eyes. I can just tell that a lot went into making this performance what it is– everything from the little movements as if they were “turning off” switches to the show stopping dance moves and solos. But the lyrics to this song are so very true for so many of us, but particularly those who are dealing with very difficult life situations that might cripple anyone else.

I remember years ago, reading a book about the late Karen Carpenter, who famously grew up in very close-knit and controlling circumstances. In every book or documentary I’ve seen about the Carpenters, I’ve heard that she had a very overbearing mother who was involved in everything Karen did. And one person who knew Karen had said that if she’d just let loose with a good “fuck you!”, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten so sick with anorexia nervosa, which ultimately led to her premature death at age 32.

Hell, I remember reading in that same book about how, after Karen made a self-titled solo album in 1979, she asked if she was allowed to swear. When she was granted permission, Karen reportedly gleefully said to the producer, Phil Ramone, “That album is fucking great!” Karen’s solo album had a disco song on it called “My Body Keeps Changing My Mind”, which is supposedly a big hit at gay bars. People go fucking nuts when it comes on. Why? Because Karen Carpenter, who was a study in putting out heartfelt, deeply emotional, very serious, and even sad songs was having fun. She was letting loose with something kind of ridiculous, and it was obviously something she enjoyed doing.

Someone cleverly set Karen’s song to clips of her when she was alive.

Unfortunately, Karen’s album never saw the light of day until 1996, when it was finally made available for sale. That was 13 years after her death. Her brother, Richard Carpenter, had been in rehab at The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas (it’s since moved to Houston, Texas) for Quaalude abuse, while Karen was making her album. Richard had asked Karen not to do disco. He and the rest of the Carpenters’ handlers hadn’t liked Karen’s album, so they scrapped production of it. Maybe if they had let Karen spread her wings a bit– utter a few swear words and cut loose– she might not have become so ill. Or maybe she still would have. Unfortunately, the world will never know what might have happened. Still, I don’t think a hearty “fuck you” from Karen, particularly toward those who tried to squelch her authentic voice and control her, would have done her any harm.

Famed German psychiatrist, Hilde Bruch, wrote a book about anorexia nervosa called The Golden Cage. I think the idea of a “golden cage” is an excellent description of what it’s like to be oppressed, yet living in comfortable circumstances. The cage might be beautiful and comfortable– comprised of a mother’s love, an audience’s respect, or lots of money, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a cage. And while being physically comfortable is a very important part of enjoying life, being able to be one’s true self and cut loose a bit, without being pressured to “turn it off” and pretend, is a major stepping stone to true happiness. It takes a lot less effort to simply relax and be oneself, than be fake and constrained by convention, only doing what is socially acceptable and “correct”. But being too “free” can lead to some consequences, as well as lots of pressure to conform to the status quo.

I read Dr. Bruch’s book, The Golden Cage, many years ago. I wasn’t that impressed with the book, even at a time when I was fascinated by eating disorders. I found it a dull read, at best. However, I do think the title is excellent. It’s probably the best thing about the book, and I think it describes a lot of people who are kept from living their best lives because they are afraid to give up comfort and safety. The mortifying idea of upsetting the apple cart, or doing something embarrassing, “inappropriate”, or “offensive to God” keeps a lot of people from experiencing all they could… or should. Imagine what would happen if people simply allowed themselves to feel the bad things instead of crushing them down or numbing them with drugs, alcohol, or bullshit speak. I think we might have a lot more mentally healthy people and even more happiness.

In any case, I did laugh heartily at Bill’s profane outburst yesterday. I don’t always like it when he cuts loose with cursing. That will surprise some people, since I cuss like a sailor. But in my case, I don’t think it’s the cursing that bothers me as much as hearing him being angry. It reminds me of my dad.

I had a dream about my dad this morning… I dreamt I had decided to go to a nice hotel in my hometown (which probably doesn’t actually exist), sit in the bar, and drink. Then, I decided to stay the night. But I remembered thinking that I should call my dad to tell him and maybe even ask permission! Even in my dream, I knew that I shouldn’t have to ask permission. I remembered thinking to myself that I was a 48 year old woman, and if I wanted to stay the night, I could… and I didn’t have to have anyone’s approval. I even remember thinking that they were going to charge me for the room, anyway, so I didn’t have to go home (my parents’ home that I grew up in). My thrifty dad wouldn’t have wanted me to waste the money, either. Still, I was hesitant, even though the hotel was an oasis of mask free people enjoying life.

When I woke up, I realized that my dad is dead and I was in my own bed, and, when my dad was alive, I had actually said the word “fuck” in front of him. He almost knocked me into the next week when I did so, but that was also the time in which I told him that if he ever laid a finger on me again, I’d have him arrested. And I realized that I became a lot more contented when I started realizing that not being liked by everyone isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s freeing as hell not to have to worry about what other people think of me, even if I do sometimes fall back into that habit. I figure, if people don’t like me for who I am, they won’t like the fake version of me, either. And really, it’s not my problem if they don’t like me. It’s more their loss than mine… or, if you prefer, “it’s not me; it’s them.” As long as a person isn’t trying to be cruel or hateful or doing something obviously harmful to others, I think they should be allowed to be who they are, even if they cuss in the process. Being authentic is what makes people unique and interesting… and free.

Bill is one of the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely decent people I’ve ever known. He’s always a gentleman, and would never intentionally hurt anyone, unless it was a matter of life and death for himself or someone he loved. But even he sometimes has to go off with a little cussing spree. I’m glad that no one was ever able to turn him into someone who feels compelled to “turn it off” like a light switch. Or, if he ever did feel that way, he’s learned to break the switch.

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healthcare, mental health

High priced help for the hungry…

For some reason, my post about Adam and Darla Barrows’ love story has attracted a lot of attention. I am intrigued, because it’s somewhat uncommon for items in newspapers to generate interest for so long. Usually, you get a burst of interest in the hours or days after something hits, then people move on to the next thing. And I am especially surprised by the interest in my comments on Barrows’ piece, which was a Modern Love story, rather than a hard news item. I’m just an American blogger in Germany. Why do people care what I think? Why do they care so much that they want to respond or even set me straight? And do they know that sometimes their comments lead me on unexpected paths? That’s what today’s post is about– my unexpected trip into high priced help for the hungry in Switzerland. I never thought my post about a newspaper story would lead me there.

I recently got comments from two people who have never posted here before, both of whom have direct experience of loving someone with anorexia nervosa. One commenter seemed to agree with my take on Adam Barrows’ New York Times article about how he fell in love with a woman with anorexia. The other one clearly did not agree with me, and in fact, says my views are “outdated”. Both commenters have children who have suffered from anorexia. I appreciated that they took the time to read and comment. I won’t be surprised if others also comment, since that post is clearly very hot even a month after I wrote it. Adam Barrows’ story obviously really resonated with and rattled a lot of people.

I just want to mention a few things about that post. First off, all of my posts on this blog are mainly just my opinions. I share them with the world, but I don’t necessarily expect people to agree with me, nor do I assume I’m always right. I wouldn’t want everyone to agree, because it’s hard to learn anything new if everyone thinks the same way.

Secondly, I really think that Barrows’ story was less about anorexia and its treatment, than the development of Adam’s unique love relationship with his wife. I think a lot of people read Adam’s story, got very triggered by it, and felt the need to judge him. He probably knew people would have strong reactions to the story. Ultimately, I think a lot of people missed the point entirely, and focused on anorexia rather than the love story and his perspective as a man who loves someone with an eating disorder. Furthermore, Barrows’ story is not a long piece and was probably edited a lot, so it’s not a good representation of Adam Barrows’ character. It pained me to read so many nasty comments about Mr. Barrows, and that was why I wrote about his NYT piece in the first place.

Finally, I’m really glad he wrote that story and shared it, despite the polarized reactions. It has really made me think and, as you can see, continues to inspire new posts for my blog. 😉

Which brings me to today’s fresh topic. One of the people who commented on my post expressed disappointment that The New York Times shared Barrows’ piece and “glamorized” anorexia. Looking on my Statcounter results, it appeared that “Danielle” might have been writing to me from England. If she is from England, it would make sense that she would give me hell about my comments. She may or may not be aware of how different the US and UK healthcare systems are. In the United Kingdom, citizens have access to the National Health Service, which means healthcare doesn’t cost people as much as it does in the United States. A basic level of affordable care is available to everyone.

In the United States, healthcare is very expensive for most people, even for those with decent health insurance, which is also expensive on its own. Mental health care coverage is often woefully inadequate. It’s been years since I last had a “civilian” health insurance policy, but I seem to remember that my coverage only allowed for thirty days of inpatient psychiatric treatment per year. And that’s if there were no pre-existing conditions! Outpatient care was somewhat more generous, but it was not covered the same way or to the same extent a physical problem would be.

In the United Kingdom, there is also a process called “sectioning”, in which people can be involuntarily hospitalized for mental health conditions. The Mental Health Act of 1983 allows for family members and physicians to act in another person’s best interests when it’s clear that they need psychiatric help and won’t cooperate on their own. Anyone who is being sectioned must be assessed by health care providers first, but it appears that a person can be sectioned for a much broader array of reasons than they can be in the United States. Someone who is starving to the point of death because they have anorexia nervosa could possibly be sectioned, for instance, even if they are over 18 years old.

In the United States, we do have the means for hospitalizing people against their will for psychiatric reasons, but it’s a lot more difficult to force an adult into psychiatric hospitalization than it is a child. A lot depends on the laws of specific states. Moreover, in the United States, involuntary commitment seems to be done most often in cases in which a person is clearly a danger to other people as well as themselves, and is not in touch with basic reality. Someone with anorexia nervosa is probably not going to pose a genuine threat to anyone other than themselves. They also tend to be basically rational in things besides their body image. Anyone who is curious about how eating disorders in the United States are treated may want to watch the excellent 2006 documentary, Thin, by Lauren Greenfield. As you’ll find out if you watch this film, a person’s insurance coverage is also quite important in their ability to access care. I can’t say that adult people with eating disorders never get forced into treatment in the United States, but I think it’s more difficult to do it there than it is in England and Wales.

In the 1960s, there was a big push in the United States to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses, which meant that a lot of facilities closed down, for better or worse. The emphasis is more on outpatient treatment. In fact, healthcare is more for outpatient treatment for regular medical conditions, too, mainly because of how bloody expensive it is.

An eye-opener about how eating disorders are treated in America.

As I was thinking about Danielle’s comment and chatting a bit with my friend, Alexis, who is herself employed in healthcare, I got to wondering how eating disorders are treated in Germany. I went Googling, and found a few items that didn’t tell me much. But then my eyes landed on an ad for a rehab in Switzerland– specifically, Paracelsus Recovery in Zurich.

I know Switzerland has really excellent medical care. I also know that it’s an eye-wateringly expensive place. I know healthcare is not cheap in Switzerland, either. I was interested to find out what this place in Zurich was like. I found out that it’s a family run business. Clients are treated one at a time, and have the option of staying in one of two huge penthouses.

The fees include five star treatment, to include a personal chef and a counselor who stays with the client 24/7 in beautifully appointed accommodations. There’s a medical staff, including nurse practitioners and physicians, a wellness staff, with personal trainers and yoga instructors, and therapists. If you access their Web site, you can take a tour of the posh penthouse, which includes a bedroom for the therapist. If you like, you can pay separately for accommodations at a hotel, although the accommodations are included in the price of the treatment and I’m not sure if you get a price break for staying off site.

A very comfortable place to recover in Zurich.

This center treats several different psychiatric conditions, including drug addictions, eating disorders, mood disorders, alcoholism, and behavioral addictions (porn addiction or gambling, for instance). It’s a very discreet place and, judging by the fees they charge, is intended for helping only the very wealthy. At this writing, it costs 80,000 Swiss Francs per person per week to be treated at this facility. To put this price into perspective, at this writing, 80,000 Swiss Francs is equal to about $86,000 or roughly 72,000 euros. The fees cover everything related to the treatment, although if you fall and break your arm or get sick with COVID-19 and need hospitalization, you will have to pay for that medical treatment separately. Also not included is accommodation for anyone who accompanies you or a two day pre-assessment, which is an additional 20,000 francs.

As I was reading about this place, it occurred to me that there must be a market for it. I’m sure their clients are mostly extremely wealthy people, such as royalty from the Middle East, Hollywood movie stars, rock stars, or business moguls from Wall Street. Paracelsus gets excellent reviews online, but I wonder how many people have had the opportunity to experience this kind of treatment. Still, it’s fascinating to read up on it. I wonder what it would be like to work at such a place. I’m sure they deal with some extremely high maintenance people. I also wonder what would prompt someone to start such a practice, which seems to cater only to extremely wealthy people. To be sure, that population is unique and may need special accommodations, but I’m sure the cases are uniquely challenging, too. People with a lot of money are often used to hearing the word “yes” a lot. Maybe such posh surroundings are less effective for people with addictions. But again, I could be wrong. At the very least, it looks like a very competently run place, and in a city well known for psychiatric care.

Wow… very beautiful and very expensive! And no need for a translator.

I found another rehab in Switzerland, Clinic Les Alpes, that has a relatively bargain basement cost of 45,000 Swiss Francs per week, although the typical stay is for 28 days, so you do the math!. It looks like there, you can be treated for exhaustion or burnout or addictions. They seem to focus on addictions the most and offer care that emphasizes comfort, as well as the classic 12 step program to sobriety. It’s in a beautiful area, just off the shores of Lake Geneva, in an area with many forests and no sound pollution (which sounds wonderful to me). But this program appears to be a lot less private. There are 27 rooms for clients to stay in rather than two exclusive penthouses.

I would imagine that healthcare in Switzerland there is delivered expertly, especially if one is paying many thousands of Francs. My experiences in Switzerland have mainly been in a few hotels, a couple of which were high end. The Swiss definitely do high end hotels right, although on the whole, I find it a rather boring, soulless place, even if it is also very beautiful and scenic.

Well… I’ll never darken the door at one of those very special rehabs in Switzerland. I do find them interesting to read about, though. They’re not for ordinary people with big problems. They are for extraordinary people with big wallets. Obviously, there’s a need and a market for them, since at least two of them exist… and to think I found out about them because of a comment on my post about a Modern Love story I read in The New York Times over a month ago! I am always amazed by what inspires me to think and to write… and that’s why I like to hear from people. I’m sure Danielle never knew her comment about how wrong my opinions are would lead me to research luxury rehabs in Switzerland. You learn something new every day!

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book reviews

Reposted: An updated review of Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted…

I read Marya Hornbacher’s landmark memoir about her experience with anorexia nervosa many years ago. In 2015, I re-read it and wrote an updated review, which I am reposting here as/is.

Back in 2003, when I had just started writing product reviews on Epinions.com, I posted a review of Marya Hornbacher’s groundbreaking book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia.  This book was originally published in 1998.  I remember that very clearly, because at the time, I was working at a restaurant and didn’t have a lot of money to blow on books and music.  I really wanted to read it.  So did everyone else that used the local library.  I finally checked it out months after it was first published, then bought my own copy.  Marya Hornbacher’s storytelling blew me away.  She’s close to my age, too, so I could relate to some of the cultural references she made during her coming of age years, even though she’s from Minnesota and I’m from Virginia.

I recently decided to re-read Marya’s book, even though I read it a few times years ago.  It’s been a long time since I was last diet obsessed.  Though no one would believe it to see me now… and they probably wouldn’t have believed it then, either… when I was a teenager, I used to diet obsessively.  I never made myself throw up or binged, but I did used to restrict food and would, on occasion, go without eating for days.  It’s been many years since I last did that.  I find that now, if I try to starve myself, I can’t really function very well.  I get pale, shaky, confused, and extremely short tempered.  Though it’s been awhile since I last fainted, I imagine if I went too long without food, I probably would.  I used to faint all the time when I was younger. 

As a teen and college student, I would starve myself all the time.  I did it, in part, to lose weight.  I probably also did it for attention, and because I had very low self-esteem and hated myself.  Some of my friends knew, but my family never did.  If they had known, I doubt they would have cared that much, since I have never been thin.  Either that, or they wouldn’t have believed me, unless they had seen it for themselves.  I do remember my mom yelling at me once when she hadn’t seen me eat in awhile, but it seemed to be more out of annoyance than alarm.  I have since come to realize that a lot of times, my mom is annoyed about being concerned.  The two conditions go hand in hand for her.  If I’m honest, I’m kind of the same way.  I get worried, but it annoys me when I feel worried.

So anyway, I just finished Wasted yesterday.  I can’t say I’m as blown away by it as I was in the late 1990s, though I still think it’s a damn good book.  She starts at the beginning, explaining that her parents, though still married at the time the book was published, were a very dysfunctional couple.  They had weird food habits.  Marya would have friends over and there would be “nothing to eat”… or, at least nothing that kids would like.  Her mother didn’t keep sugar in the house, so there was no chocolate, no sugary cereals, no Cheetos or potato chips… 

By the time she was in fourth grade, Marya was a full blown bulimic.  She later progressed into anorexia nervosa and was deeply entrenched in it by age 15.  As a teen, she was hospitalized three times.  The first time, it was for bulimia, so she had fewer restrictions than some of her fellow patients, who were there due to anorexia nervosa.  She gained and lost weight repeatedly, eventually reaching a low of 52 pounds in 1993, while a college student.  She very nearly died.  In fact, doctors once gave her a week to live.  She managed to rebound and recover, though she was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder with atypical features.  I read about her experiences being bipolar when I picked up her book, Madness: A Bipolar Life, published in 2008.

Marya Hornbacher definitely knows what she’s writing about, though her experiences were very extreme.  She’s also a very vivid writer who has a relatable voice.  Her eating disorders, while bad enough on their own, were mixed with alcoholism and drug abuse.  She got involved with males… guys she didn’t know well and didn’t care too much about.  At the same time, she was extraordinarily talented.  She spent a year at Interlochen, a Michigan private high school for artistic teenagers and, according to Hornbacher, a hotbed of eating disorders.  Her health suffered so much there that she had to leave after a year, yet she still managed to achieve a lot.  She won a scholarship to American University in Washington, DC, Bill’s alma mater as well as my older sister’s.  She did not graduate from American, though, because once again, her eating disorders got in the way. 

Throughout the book, Marya offers “interludes”, passages written after she had supposedly recovered.  She explains what it’s like to read her files, written by medical and psychological professionals who took care of her.  She also writes about physical damage she did to herself and how it affected her circa 1996.  I have no idea if she still has physical issues nearly twenty years later.   I would guess she does. 

I suppose if I had to offer a criticism of Wasted, I’d say that it may be dangerous reading for some people.  Those who have struggled with eating disorders may find it triggering or “too informational” on how to maintain the disease.  For example, Marya writes that many bulimics eat certain brightly colored foods so they have a marker when they vomit to see what’s come up.  That’s a trick that may not have occurred to those reading her book for “thinspiration”.  Some people recovering from an eating disorder may feel compelled to try some of Marya’s methods themselves. 

On the other hand, I don’t know how in the world Marya could have written her story without describing the disease and what she did to maintain it.  While being more vague about the extremes of her illness– for example, not telling readers that she got down to 52 pounds– might have made this “safer” for people who have anorexia nervosa, it also would have made for much less compelling reading.  People who don’t understand eating disorders and don’t know why they are so dangerous should know about the more dramatic aspects of the illness.  Aside from that, people with eating disorders are forever looking for “thinspiration” anyway and they’ll find it wherever they think it exists.  An Amazon.com underwear ad could be triggering to someone with an eating disordered mindset.  I don’t think it’s possible to completely protect people from themselves.

In any case, Marya Hornbacher’s first book, written when she was just twenty-three years old, is brilliantly composed, full of candor, and uses vivid language.  I do recommend it to those who wonder what would compel someone to starve themselves, binge, and purge.  Those who struggle with eating disorders may do well be be cautious.

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