book reviews, celebrities, LDS

But wait– there’s more! My review of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died…

Yesterday, I wrote my first post about Jennette McCurdy, a former Nickelodeon star who just wrote a book called I’m Glad My Mom Died. I bought that book on August 9th, and started reading it a few days ago. I just finished it a few minutes ago. Before August 9th, I didn’t know the first thing about Jennette McCurdy. Now, I feel like I know her. We have some things in common. Actually, if I’m honest, I think she has things in common with my husband and his younger daughter.

A couple of hours after I shared my first post about Jennette McCurdy on Facebook, an old friend commented that she looked forward to my review. She wrote that she had to read the book. Now that I’ve finished it, I agree with her. She should read it. I think she will relate to Jennette McCurdy’s story, too. I think a LOT of people will, in spite of the shocking title that some will feel is in poor taste. Some people think that anyone who gives birth is automatically some kind of angel. And some are just as quick to judge someone who has given birth. Our society tends to look at mothers as people who are always either way above reproach, or people who can be condemned to the depths of hell for making the simplest mistakes. A lot of us forget that moms are people, too. In fact, they are just people, first and foremost.

Jennette McCurdy grew up thinking that her mother was amazing in all ways. Debra McCurdy had a vision for her only daughter’s life. From the age of six, Jennette was expected to share in the dream, as her mom made her audition for commercials, take acting and dance classes, and be cute and charming for casting directors. Debra McCurdy had breast cancer; it was diagnosed with Jennette was two years old. Debra was not above using cancer to get sympathy and preferential treatment, either for herself, or her daughter. Jennette loved her mother, and she hated to disappoint the people she loved. She was a natural people pleaser, trained since early childhood to make other people happy, regardless of her own needs or desires. Later, when she became an adult, she became co-dependent, settling on bad relationships with toxic people instead of holding out for people who were better, and weren’t abusive to her.

So Jennette went along with her mother’s vision for her life. She smiled for casting directors, and put up with her mother’s intrusive and weird behaviors. She didn’t complain when her mother hoarded things, and forced her and her three brothers to sleep on mats. She wasn’t confrontational when her mother used the money she earned to pay her mortgage. And even though she didn’t like being an actress, she didn’t want to upset her sick mom. She she acted and became successful, portraying Sam Puckett on iCarly and Sam and Cat. It almost destroyed her. Life in show business is toxic. Add in a toxic mother, and you have a recipe for lifelong issues. People don’t realize it, but fame and money aren’t tickets to happiness. Some of the most miserable people are wealthy, famous people.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a few of the more shocking things that happened when Jennette was growing up. Here’s a quick and dirty list.

  • At age six, Debra McCurdy forced her daughter to audition for agents. She had a knack for acting, but she hated it. Her mom made her act, anyway.
  • At age eleven, Jennette started growing breasts. Breasts weren’t good, because they made her look mature. Looking young was good for Jennette’s career, especially on Nickelodeon. So Debra taught her eleven year old daughter how to restrict calories. She noticed when Jennette gained weight and chastised her. She wouldn’t let her eat pineapple, because it was high in sugar.
  • As a young teenager, Jennette still sat in a booster seat in her mother’s car.
  • As a teenager, Jennette’s mother showered her, using her prior experience as a beautician as an excuse– to make sure her hair was pretty for the casting directors. Sometimes, one of her brothers would be forced to join her in the shower.
  • Jennette’s mother discouraged her from being a writer, because she said writers dress frumpy and get fat. She didn’t want Jennette’s “peach butt” to turn into a “watermelon butt”.
  • Jennette’s mother criticized Jennette’s father, Mark, for not working hard enough and being lazy. And she said it was hard for her to have to rely on a child to pay the bills.
  • Jennette’s mother sent her endless abusive text messages, emails, and voicemails calling her filthy names and accusing her of “giving her cancer”. Then, she signed off with “love”, and demanded money for a new refrigerator.
  • Jennette’s mother didn’t have an appreciation for her daughter’s likes and dislikes. She bought her inappropriate gifts and expected her to be delighted with them.
  • Jennette’s mother never told her who her “real” father was, or that the man she thought was her father, wasn’t actually her dad. She never told her that her biological dad had wanted to be in her life.
  • Jennette’s mother was a NARCISSIST.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I write a lot about narcissists. I strongly suspect my husband’s first wife is a narcissist. I’ve written many– some would say– inappropriate blog posts about my husband’s ex wife. I probably shouldn’t do that. It might put me at risk. But, I figure that there’s not much more she can do to us, since she deprived Bill of a relationship with his daughters for many years, and she tried hard to ruin his relationships with his family of origin. If I hadn’t immediately recognized her as the abuser she is, she probably would have tried to ruin our marriage. This is another thing that Jennette has in common with Bill and his daughters. You see, Jennette’s dad– Mark– was not actually her father. Debra McCurdy had an affair with a trombonist and he was the biological father of three of her four children. She never told her daughter. And, just as Ex did her best to sever the relationships her first two husbands had with Ex’s three eldest children, Debra McCurdy did the same to Jennette’s bio dad.

Jennette McCurdy doesn’t mention the word “narcissist” until the very end of the book. I was glad to see she recognizes that extreme behavior for what it is. But, as I read the book, even recognizing that she was a celebrity, I could relate so much. Not because I was raised by narcissists, but because I’ve been the second wife of a man whose ex wife is almost assuredly one. The behavior is VERY familiar. It’s also not hard to see where Debra McCurdy’s behavior came from, as Jennette writes about her equally narcissistic grandmother, whose levels of entitlement are off the charts.

A different interview than the one I shared yesterday about Jennette McCurdy and her explosive new book.

It may seem I’ve given a lot away in this post. Actually, the meat of the story really comes after Debra dies, in 2013. As I sit here, reflecting on that year, I realize that 2013 was some time ago. It doesn’t seem like it was nine years ago. I guess that’s what happens when you turn 50. Nine years doesn’t seem like it was so long ago. Jennette is now only 30. She lost her mom when she was just launching into true adulthood. Debra’s death came after many false alarms– “dress rehearsals”– as Jennette puts it. When her mother died, she was devastated. She still believed the fake version of her life story. It wasn’t until later that she got the truth, and that’s when Jennette’s life was endangered. She turned to bulimia, alcoholism, binge eating, and anorexia. She had lots of bad sex with inappropriate partners, and engaged in codependent behaviors. She abandoned Mormonism, for the most part. I wouldn’t necessarily think that was such a bad thing, except it was the one place where she got comfort as a child and had a few somewhat healthy role models (and knowing what I know about Mormonism, that is, in itself, a sad statement).

I think the part where I was the most stunned and gleaned the most insight was when Jennette’s very first therapist– an earth mother therapist/life coach named Laura– delivered a truth bomb that Jennette simply could not handle at the time. Laura was the first person to point out to Jennette that the idealized version of her mother– a fantasy version that did not exist– was fake. And that all of the things Jennette believed her mother did to “help” her, were in fact, toxic, abusive, and exploitive. Laura was right, of course, but even though she delivered the truth very gently, Jennette still couldn’t take it. It wasn’t until later that she was ready for therapy, this time with a male eating disorder specialist named Jeff. I think I would have liked Jeff more than Laura. Women who act like nurturing “earth mothers” usually annoy me. I seem to relate better to men… as long as they don’t try to control me.

I read a large portion of this book aloud to Bill. It spawned a very interesting and insightful conversation. I think his daughter should read I’m Glad My Mom Died, but I know she’s very busy with Mormonism and her young family. I also fear that reading this book could be triggering for her, because I suspect she will identify with a lot of it. I, for one, found this book very enlightening. I don’t share all of Jennette’s issues, but I relate to much of what she writes about eating disorders and alcoholism. And again… I’ve been married to a man whose Ex is a lot like Debra McCurdy on MANY levels. Ex wasn’t my spouse or my mom, but she’s affected my life, just the same. And it’s all so familiar. As I read this story to Bill, he agreed that it was all so very familiar.

One thing I liked about this book is that Jennette’s chapters are short, well-edited, and easy to digest. I think the short chapters are good, because she drops a lot of “bombshells” that could be shocking for many readers. Her writing is sometimes brutally honest. She uses profanity, and there are some very frank descriptions of sexual encounters, bulimia episodes, and alcoholic escapades. I would caution anyone who has suffered from eating disorders to be cautious about reading this book, because some of Jennette’s stories might be triggering.

My heart kind of broke for Jennette, as she wrote about giving her very first blow job as a consolation to a much older boyfriend, because she wasn’t ready for sex. It broke again as she wrote about her actual first experience with intercourse, with someone who didn’t deserve the honor. And then the guy with whom she had much chemistry turned out to be not so good, either. All I could do was think about how useful it would have been for Jennette to have had a good, stable, loving role model in her mother… or, at least someone who saw her as more than a wallet and status symbol. I’m sure that when the truth hit Jennette, she realized that she wasted a lot of time, money, and affection on someone else who didn’t deserve it… and how heartbreaking it is that the person who probably deserved her love the least, was the person who was responsible for her very existence.

Most of the Amazon reviewers have given I’m Glad My Mom Died good ratings. I’m glad to see that. I think we live in a time now when more people are seeing mothers as fallible, and we’re learning that they can be held accountable. However, I have a feeling there will people who will dislike this book only for the title. They will see it as disrespectful, mean, and shocking. It’s kind of “in your face”, not unlike the Reddit “Am I the Asshole” columns. I would urge anyone reading this book to forget that Debra McCurdy was Jennette’s mom and “deserves” respect and love simply for being her mom. Debra McCurdy was an abusive liar, grifter, and leech. And while she no doubt had mental health issues to go with her cancer, that’s no excuse for stealing her daughter’s childhood and encouraging her to be unhealthy and unhappy. Mothers, ideally, should always put their children ahead of themselves– at least as long as their children are actually children. Debra failed in her mission, and it’s a blessing that her daughter has recognized that she’s worthy of better while she’s still young and can recover her health.

I give I’m Glad My Mom Died a full five stars and a hearty recommendation. But please be advised… this story isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be triggering. It can be offensive. You will probably find yourself gasping in shock, surprise, and dismay a few times. And you will probably laugh a few times, too.

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movies, reviews

Yesterday, I watched Kate’s Secret; it almost made me puke.

I could totally write about all of the crazy stuff in the news about Donald Trump today… but I don’t feel like writing about the turd. I also don’t feel like writing about Anne Heche, who I have heard has passed away after her car accident last week. The last news I heard about Heche is that she was on life support, so that any viable organs can be harvested and donated. However, I also heard that there was cocaine in her system when she crashed, so I don’t know…

Anyway, I’ve decided not to write much about those topics this morning, because frankly I don’t feel like it. It would require more research than I feel like doing. If you read my travel blog post today, you know that I partied too hard at the wine fest last night. So, in the interest of what I was doing earlier this morning, I’m going to write today’s post about a 1986 made for TV movie called Kate’s Secret. This movie aired in November of ’86, when I was fourteen years old and kind of obsessed with eating disorders. At that time in my life, I engaged in disordered eating myself, although my behavior was never bulimic (binging masses of food and purging/vomiting).

Meredith Baxter talks about making “Kate’s Secret” and “The Betty Broderick Story”, another hot topic on this blog. Meredith says that people still come up to her and ask her about this movie. The interview is much more recent than the movie is.

Kate’s Secret is mostly about bulimia, and stars Meredith Baxter, who was then going by Meredith Baxter Birney and starring on Family Ties, which was a hugely popular hit sitcom. Baxter was, at that time, married to her second ex husband, the recently late David Birney, a fellow actor who starred with her on the 70s era show, Bridget Loves Bernie. Baxter is now married to Nancy Locke, having come out as a lesbian about ten years ago.

An upload of the whole movie.

Because I was so interested in eating disorders when I was a teenager, and I was a fan of Family Ties, I remember being very eager to watch this movie when it originally aired. Having watched it again yesterday, I kind of have mixed views. It’s pretty dated in a lot of ways. I’ll get into that in a minute, though. First, an obligatory rundown of the plot.

Kate Stark (Baxter) is a beautiful thirty-something California wife to a superstar lawyer who is busting his ass to make partner at his law firm. Kate’s husband, Jack (Ben Masters) works very long hours with a beautiful female lawyer named Monica Fields (Leslie Bevis). Kate tries to trust him, but her overbearing mother, Faith (Georgann Johnson), keeps nagging her about the threat Monica poses to Kate’s marriage. This constant riding by her mother about how she should look, and how she should be worried about Monica, makes Kate nervous and insecure. However, it’s clear that Jack loves Kate, and is disappointed at the beginning of the film, when she denies him sex so she can go running. Later, Monica hits on Jack, and he rebuffs her. So, while Faith’s instincts about Monica being a man stealing ‘ho are correct, her instincts about Jack being the cheating kind aren’t.

A short clip showing Kate’s secretive and damaging eating disordered behaviors…

The couple has a daughter, Becky, played by Summer Phoenix, who was about 8 years old at the time. Kate doesn’t let Becky eat sugar, and forces her to drink watered down orange juice. Becky is a Brownie, though, and her mom is very involved in the troop. She’s excited, because she’s about to become a Junior Girl Scout. At one point, they show Summer in a 1986 era Brownie uniform, which gave me a flashback. I, too, was briefly a Brownie in the late 70s, and I wore the 70s version of the uniform, which I hated. It was so itchy! These days, they don’t make girls wear those uniforms anymore. That’s a good thing, because they were very “extra”.

My uniform was just like this one. I was in Troop 819.
Becky’s uniform is a little different than mine was, but it appears to be accurate to what girls wore in the 80s. I hated wearing that shit to school.

Kate somehow manages to keep her bulimia a secret. She’s shown stealing food at the grocery store, buying huge fast food feasts in her car, using the excuse that she’s “surprising her daughter with a treat”, and gorging on party leftovers. Then, one day, while doing aerobics with her friend, Gail (Shari Belafonte, who was then styled as Shari Belafonte-Harper), she passes out. This causes her to miss Becky’s promotion ceremony, as well as missing getting to her husband’s law office in time to pick him up for the ceremony. She calls Jack from Gail’s health club, and he bitches her out for trying to squeeze in aerobics before their daughter’s ceremony, which she had nagged him to attend.

After Kate recovers from fainting, she goes to Becky’s school to pick her up. The child is understandably upset and sulks as she sits in the front seat of the car. Eight year olds in the front seat! Another dated aspect of this film. Kate tries to explain herself to Becky, but then passes out again and has an accident. She moans “Becky…” as she crashes the car, her face planted in the steering wheel, which had no air bag. Curiously, Kate’s face isn’t bruised or banged up after the crash.

Poor Becky is very upset and unable to call for help, since there were no cell phones. She cries for Kate to wake up, and all we see is Kate’s face planted in the steering wheel as the horn blows. Becky frantically tries to rouse her mother.

“Mommy, wake up!”

After the horn scene, we see Kate and Becky at a hospital, where the nurses all wear white dresses and have nursing caps. It’s hard to believe that they still dressed that way, even in the mid 1980s. It makes me feel so OLD. This is where Kate gets sternly chewed out by the emergency room doctor, who is astute enough to see that his patient has teeth marks on her fingers, swollen jaws, and bleeding gums. Seriously? He had time to do all of that evaluation while Kate was unconscious? She’s had lab work done and cardiac tests, and he’s had time to call Dr. Resnick, a psychiatrist played by the late Edward Asner. Resnick shows up just at the right time to confront Kate and tell her she needs to be locked up in a treatment center. She starts crying, moaning that they’re going to “ruin her life”. And of course, Jack doesn’t know what bulimia is, so Dr. Resnick explains.

Then Jack finds out the ugly truth… This scene really blows me away. This is all being discussed in the hall, and they act like she’s going to be compelled to go into the hospital. No HIPAA in 1986, of course, but I don’t think they’d be having this scene in a hallway, even in 1986. It makes for good 80s era TV, but it’s not really rooted in reality, even back in those days. Poor Kate gets confronted and dressed down, and Meredith really pours on the melodrama with lots of fake crying and moaning.

Jack is all pissed off, but agrees to let the good psychiatrist haul his wife off to the psych ward. Kate isn’t given a choice in the matter; it’s all settled by the men. Next we see Kate in the psych hospital, where a doctor is explaining everything. As she’s checking in Kate, she tells her about her roommate, a bulimic model named Patch (Tracy Nelson). Again, no HIPAA back then, so it’s okay to tell Kate about another patient’s medical problems. The doctor tells Kate that the bathroom door is locked, but she’ll open it whenever she needs it.

Then we’re introduced to a crew of other women with eating disorders, to include Dayna, played by Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie had plenty of her own real life psych and drug dramas to add to this role. The women give Kate the scoop on what is expected, then we see her bonding with Patch, who like Kate, has a troubled relationship with her mother. The group therapy session scenes are kind of cliched, as one of the women confronts Kate for not admitting her problems. The women are taken on a field trip to a local grocery store, where they are taught to shop for food.

And then Kate asks Dr. Resnick if she can have a “pass” to attend a party for her husband. Dr. Resnick says no, so Kate sneaks out, wearing one of Patch’s beautiful dresses. I’m surprised the dress wasn’t under lock and key, and I’m also surprised that Kate can fit into it, as Patch is supposed to be a model, and Kate is an average sized woman at about 120 pounds (per the obligatory scale scene). She’s talking about how she can’t fit into a size four dress at the beginning of the film. I would assume Patch would wear smaller clothes. Patch helps Kate sneak out of the hospital to go to the party, a decision that will cost both of them dearly (duh, duh, duuuuh!).

When Kate wakes up from surgery, she finds out that Patch overdosed after having to deal with her awful mother. Patch took all of the diuretics she stole and had a heart attack. Kate proceeds to have a huge meltdown and confronts Dr. Resnick, babbling about how no one cares about her unless she’s “good”. Then she has a breakthrough, wailing to the doctor that she’s terrified that her husband will leave her, because her father abandoned her. And her mother had blamed her for her father’s absence. Kate is very distraught to learn about her friend’s death, but Jack declares that he loves Kate and will never leave her. This seems to be when she decides to get well. Again… kind of unrealistic, especially when she says she’s been hospitalized for six weeks. She must have had some great insurance, but I guess her lawyer husband could afford the bills. The movie ends as Kate is seeing her meddlesome mother off at the airport… pre 9/11, so she was allowed to be at the gate as Mom leaves.

I love a good melodrama, and Kate’s Secret has a lot of it. I used to love movies of the week for that reason. In some ways, this movie is not terribly realistic and you have to suspend belief. However, for its time, it’s pretty well written and, of course, in those days, there weren’t any movies about bulimia. Anorexia nervosa was probably considered a more dramatic malady, and probably more compelling for viewers, since anorexics don’t tend to binge and purge (although sometimes they can). Watching someone vomit isn’t as visually appealing for most viewers as watching someone restrict food. I really like Tracy Nelson in this movie, too. I wish they’d made her Kate instead of Meredith. But I guess she was too young for the role, as she was only 23 at the time this was made.

Summer Phoenix, who played Becky, is the sister of the late River Phoenix and, of course, Joaquin (also known as Leaf) Phoenix. Their family is famous for its acting and musical talents, as well as being former adherents to the Children of God religious cult. You can search this blog for more information about the Children of God. The family left the cult in 1977, the year before Summer, who is the youngest child in the family, was born. Summer grew up to marry Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother, and had two children with him before they divorced in 2017.

I suspect a lot of people will read this post, because I tend to get a lot of hits on posts I write about eating disorders. But now it’s time to wrap it up and take an antacid… So I hope you enjoyed my recap/review/relook at Kate’s Secret. And please remember, kids, not to try this at home. Bulimia, that is…

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book reviews, healthcare

Repost: A review of Almost Anorexic, by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas…

Sorry… one more repost as I try to decide on today’s fresh content. I wrote this review for my original blog on August 30, 2016. It appears here as/is.

When I was younger, I went through some pretty disordered eating rituals.  I was obsessed with my weight and how it looked on me.  You’d never know it to look at me then or now, but I engaged in some behaviors consistent with eating disorders.  I was not really a binge eater or a purger, but I did sometimes stop eating.  There were a few times when I was younger that I’d actually stop eating for several days.  My weight would go up and down, along with my moods.  I could be funny, goofy, and almost manic, or very depressed and angry.  Some people thought I was so moody that more than one person asked me if I was bipolar.

It took many years, but I finally quit obsessing so much about my weight.  Sure, I’d love to be a lot thinner than I am now; but I no longer obsess about my weight.  I don’t starve myself or force myself to exercise more than I want to.  I do engage in some behaviors that might be considered disordered to some people, though, and that’s one reason why I decided to read Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? (The Almost Effect).  I also read this book because I myself have studied public health and social work and this book might be considered professionally relevant to me if I actually practiced.

Published in 2013, Almost Anorexic was written by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas, who is (or was) an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in the Department of Psychiatry, and Jenni Schaefer, a singer, songwriter, speaker, and author who suffered from eating disorders and managed to recover.  This book is the fourth in Harvard Medical School’s “Almost Effect” series.    

Dr. Thomas goes by the name Jenny, so in order to make things less confusing for readers, she is referred to as Dr. Thomas in this book.  Jenni Schaefer is referred to as Jenni.  My name is also Jenny, so I felt like I was part of the club!  In any case, Dr. Thomas and Jenni keep their writing conversational and personal as they explain why they wrote about a condition called “almost anorexia”.  Basically, what they mean is that there are many people out there who are eating disordered, but don’t quite qualify for a formal diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.  

The book is called Almost Anorexic, but it’s actually about a spectrum of eating disorders– everything from orthorexia (an obsession with clean, healthy eating) to binge eating disorder (binging on food, but not purging).  My guess is that they chose to call the book Almost Anorexic because anorexia is probably the most dramatic, the most recognizable, and is certainly the most lethal of recognized eating disorders.  I think it also has more of a fascination factor and less of an “ick” factor than, say, bulimia does.  

This book is for anyone who “flirts” with eating disorders.  The authors offer insight into what eating disordered behavior is.  Eventually, toward the end of the book, there are some strategies offered to help combat the behaviors that can lead to full blown eating disorders.  I got the sense that preventing full blown eating disorders was what the authors were really after, though they did recognize that many people suffer for years engaging in behaviors that make them miserable and can ruin their health.  

One thing that I appreciated was that the authors point out how eating disordered behaviors, even if they aren’t bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can do a lot of damage to a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Aside from that, life is short and obsessing about calories, food, exercising, what others look like and what you look like to others is a serious waste of precious time.  It truly doesn’t lead to anything but self-destruction and makes life much more difficult than it needs to be.  The authors recognize that their readers who might be struggling with disordered eating should strive for moving beyond those “almost anorexic” behaviors, but they also know that actually doing that is very difficult for most.  So they offer some good strategies and encouragement, along with anecdotes that make the reading more interesting.

I have read a lot of books about eating disorders over the years.  It started when I was a teenager and got to a fever pitch when I was a young adult.  Lately, I don’t read as much about eating disorders as I used to.  The topic just doesn’t interest me as much.  However, I did notice that the authors, particularly Dr. Thomas, whose voice seems to be the principal in this book, mention a lot of books that I’ve read.  I was really impressed when she mentioned Fasting Girls, which is a really great book about the history of eating disorders that I remember reading when I was a college freshman in 1990. She also mentions Cherry Boone O’Neill’s classic anorexia memoir, Starving For Attention, which I read for the first time in 1986.  

So, not only has Dr. Thomas got a lot of professional experience and training, she’s also read some of the best books.  But she also includes a lot of the latest research in a way that will speak to younger readers… the ones who are addicted to pro-ana or pro-mia Web sites or refer to their eating disorders as “Ed” or some other name.  “Ed” is the little voice in your head telling you you’re too fat or that you look awful in your favorite jeans.  “Ed” is the voice that tells you to engage in unhealthy and obsessive behaviors.  Dr. Thomas and Jenni explain strategies as to how to get “Ed” to shut up and go away, even as they acknowledge how difficult and scary it is to do that.

A lot of people struggle with “eating disorder not otherwise specified” or EDNOS.  That is essentially what “almost anorexic” refers to– having subclinical signs of an eating disorder that don’t quite qualify for a diagnosis.  Not being full blown anorexic or bulimic doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering or doing damage to your health.  That’s really what this book is about, as well as encouraging readers to take care of themselves and get healthy.  I think it’s an excellent read for a lot of people… many of whom never talk about “Ed”, but hear from “Ed” every day.  I give it five stars and a hearty recommendation, especially for those actually suffering.  I think it’s slightly less helpful for family members and friends, though it’s probably worth a read by them, too.

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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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book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Safety in Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders — A Memoir

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote on January 15, 2017. It’s been copied as/is.

I finally managed to finish reading my latest book yesterday, while caving in out of the falling snowflakes.  I bought Brittany Burgunder’s 2016 book, Safety in Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders — A Memoir, in August of last year. It took awhile to start reading it, and once I got started reading it, it took a long while to finish it. I think I was attracted to this book by its rather provocative title and many good reviews on Amazon. Now that I’ve read it, I’m ready to add my own thoughts.

Brittany Burgunder is a young woman who grew up battling several eating disorders. She spent several years suffering from anorexia nervosa and compulsive exercising. She has suffered from binge eating disorder. She’s also experienced bulimia. Burgunder grew up in San Luis Obispo, California in a two parent household. She has a younger sister named Kasey who gets a couple of mentions at the beginning and end of the book. Burgunder’s parents are clearly financially well off, or at least they are better off than many people are. Burgunder grew up playing tennis and showing horses. She enjoyed success in her sports. Having spent my adolescence riding horses, I know how expensive being involved in riding can be. Tennis is probably not as expensive as riding is, but it’s also not necessarily a sport for the impoverished. I get the sense that Brittany is quite privileged.

At the beginning of the book, Brittany Burgunder is beginning her college career at the University of California, Davis. She is suffering from anorexia nervosa at the time. Her health is very poor and the doctors at the university fear that she’s in danger of dying. She eventually gets forced to leave school and go into a treatment program. Most of the book consists of Burgunder’s journal entries and experiences in a variety of different eating disorder programs in Arizona, Utah, and California.

The most compelling part of the book is the year during which she went from weighing 56 pounds as an anorexic to 221 pounds as a binge eater. She gained 165 pounds in the course of just one year. The idea of that is unfathomable, but there are pictures and the physical transformation is incredible. Throughout all of her experiences, “ED”, the eating disorder, is in charge.  ED is pretty much the same voice in Brittany’s head, even though the disorder manifests in different ways.

One thing I did not like about Burgunder’s book is that it mostly consists of journal entries, many of which are very similar. I think this book would have been a lot better if it had gotten a couple of passes with an editor. It probably could have been slimmed down by 50-100 pages, which would have made it easier to digest. I understand that this is Brittany Burgunder’s story and she probably felt it was important to include everything. From my perspective, the continual journal entries made for dull and repetitive reading. I think I would have gotten more out of this book had Burgunder simply written her story and included some of the more important journal entries. She probably could have determined which ones were most important with the help of an impartial editor.

There are some insightful passages in Safety in Numbers.  For instance, at one point, Burgunder lists what she misses about “being sick”.  Her list struck me as very honest and I think she was brave to share it.  She confesses that she misses the attention she got from others when she was sick.  She enjoyed shocking her doctors and worrying her parents.  She liked wearing extra small clothes.  I also think her descriptions of what eating disorder treatment centers are like are interesting.  

On the other hand, at one point Burgunder writes that “recovery is selfish”.  While I think I understand what she means when she writes that– one must focus on themselves in order to recover– I disagree that recovery is selfish.  Constantly wanting attention and getting it by deliberately engaging in eating disordered behavior is selfish.  Worrying your parents and shocking your doctors is selfish.  Getting well is not selfish.  It’s difficult and brave, but it means you can get on with your life and so can your loved ones, who no doubt have their own life issues to worry about.  I also think Burgunder comes across as a bit conceited at times.  She often writes about how gifted at riding and tennis she was and how she’d thrown it away by having an eating disorder.  

People develop eating disorders for a variety of reasons, but it’s not quite like developing cancer.  Ultimately, the power to get well from an eating disorder resides with the person who is suffering from it.  That doesn’t mean that a person with anorexia can simply decide to eat normally, nor does it mean that a person with an eating disorder won’t have physical problems that will require recovery.  What it does mean is that he or she must decide that recovery is doable and worthwhile.  In that sense, it’s not unlike when Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz learns that she always has the power to go home.

Anyway… while many Amazon reviewers gave this book five stars and pronounced it “powerful”, I was less impressed with it.  I do think it could have been a better book if it had been pared down a bit.  Readers struggling with eating disorders of their own may want to proceed with caution.  Parts of this book may be triggering.  I think I’d give Safety In Numbers three out of five stars.

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