I wrote this review for Epinions.com on June 16, 2013. It appears here as/is.
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to stumble across a pro-ana blog. Pro-ana, for those who don’t know, is a movement that sees eating disorders as “lifestyles”. The author of the blog had posted a list of books and films she’d used for “thinspiration”; that is, she’d read or watch these books and movies to inspire herself to engage in anorexic eating habits. I noticed her list of films and she’d included a film called Catherine, which was a made for TV film on BBC in the 1980s. Someone posted Catherine on YouTube. I watched it, then discovered that the film had been based on a book published in 1986 by Maureen Dunbar, Catherine’s mother. The book, Catherine: The Story of a Young Girl Who Died of Anorexia Nervosa, was based on the true story of Catherine Dunbar’s seven year struggle with eating disorders at a time when a lot of people didn’t know much about eating disorders.
Maureen Dunbar begins by writing about how her 15 year old older daughter, Catherine, was sent home from boarding school in 1977 because her headmistress was very concerned about her. Catherine had stopped eating and lost a lot of weight. Catherine was accompanied by her younger sister, Anna, who was still healthy.
Maureen Dunbar explains that she had four children, two older sons and two younger daughters. She had weaned Catherine early from breastfeeding because her kids were all born close together. She was exhausted trying to keep the breastmilk flowing. From that time on, Catherine was a difficult eater, though she was basically normal and healthy until she hit her teen years. It sounded a little like she blamed herself for her daughter’s troubles, which was kind of sad to me.
When Catherine came home from school that day, Maureen Dunbar had no idea of the seven year nightmare that was to follow. Over the ensuing years, she would see her beautiful daughter lose weight until she became emaciated. Catherine would be sectioned under Britain’s Mental Health Act more than once. She would run away from hospitals and refuse to cooperate with health care providers and family members. Eventually, she would get to the point at which she just gave up on life and waited to die.
Catherine Dunbar died at the age of 22 on January 2, 1984. She weighed about 50 pounds.
This book is based on Catherine Dunbar’s diary and her mother’s own memories. It’s a very frank discussion of anorexia nervosa, with some family drama thrown in. Maureen Dunbar was a more permissive parent, while her husband, John, was much more stern. The two often butted heads over raising their children with John wishing to be stricter with Catherine, especially about her eating. The Dunbars had marital problems, which were both exacerbated by and played into Catherine’s illness.
Maureen Dunbar mostly seems extraordinarily dedicated, except for one period in which she left home because she couldn’t deal with the stress of being at home and her marital problems. She eventually came back to tend to Catherine, who was both trying to launch an independent life and dealing with her severe eating disorder.
This is a fairly short book. I read it in a matter of hours while the power was out the other day. Dunbar includes photos of her family and includes shots of Catherine, who was extremely thin toward the time of her death. I managed to find a used copy of Amazon.com, though they may be hard to come by. The book is now out of print. Someone has posted the film version on YouTube and it’s somewhat close to the book’s version of events. I will warn American readers that it helps to be familiar with British slang; otherwise, you may not understand everything.
Catherine is a very British book, in terms of how it’s written. It’s been out for many years so it may be hard to find. But if you are interested in true stories of people who have suffered from eating disorders, it may be worth tracking down a copy of Catherine. This account is wrenching; I really came away with an idea of how helpless Catherine’s family must have felt as they watched their loved one wither away into nothing.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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I am reposting this article from January 24, 2017 as I reflect on some changes that may be coming about soon. Ever since I moved this blog from Blogger, my “income” from writing, such as it was, has dried up. I don’t mind so much, since I never wrote for the money, anyway. It’s just something I’ve always been compelled to do. But, you know, no good deed goes unpunished. I just think this is an interesting look back, so I am sharing it again, as/is.
For about eleven years, I wrote articles for a variety of online publishers. I was like a lot of people, making a few extra bucks writing about what I know or about subjects that captured my interest. I sold a number of articles and, for awhile, writing served as a steady source of pocket money. Then all the content mills dried up. Now I only write on my own blogs and make whatever Google pays me every few months after I earn over $100 in ad revenue.
Every once in awhile, I find old articles I’ve written on the Internet. They are always credited to “contributor”. It’s weird, too, because they always have a copyright sign next to them, even though I’m the one who wrote them. Some of the articles that turn up include my own stories. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.
Many years ago, I remember reading an article about a celebrity who engaged in a practice commonly referred to as “chew and spit”. I want to say it was Glen Campbell, but I can’t be certain, since I’m pretty sure I read the article in the 80s. Anyway, I absolutely do remember that in the article, “chew and spit” was referred to as oral expulsion syndrome (OES). Both terms refer to the practice of chewing up food and spitting it out rather than swallowing it. In the 80s, I was fascinated by the idea of chewing and spitting food. In those days, I flirted a bit with eating disorders myself and was always looking for tricks to shed pounds while indulging. Eventually, I mostly grew out of my obsession and completely forgot about OES, having never tried it myself.
Then, maybe six or seven years ago, I was a featured health and wellness writer on a Web site. I had to write three articles a week and was trying to come up with an original topic. That obscure memory of OES suddenly popped into my head. I scoured the Internet for articles about it and came up with only a few very obscure references. Jackpot!
So I started writing my article, aided by the fact that I’d recently read Dolly Parton’s 1994 book My Life and Other Unfinished Business after a trip to a thrift shop. That was during a time when Bill and I were broke and I was getting a lot of reading material at used book stores. I’m sure at the time I read Dolly Parton’s book, it was long off the best seller list and most people’s radar. But then, I was also writing book reviews on a site where I could even make money if I reviewed old books, as long as the review drew readers.
In her 1994 memoirs, Dolly had included a passage about dieting. One of the techniques Dolly suggested was the practice of chewing and spitting, though she didn’t refer to it as such. So I wrote my very anecdotal piece and quoted direct passages from Dolly’s book in which she recommended chewing and spitting. I found information as to why this technique might be more harmful than she let on. I added links from reputable health related Web sites. Voila! A new resource was born to be used and abused by the masses! Below is a passage from the article I wrote for Associated Content about ten years ago. My original text from that article is in bold.
Those of us who have been around awhile know that Dolly Parton used to be significantly heavier than she is today. Indeed, in the 1980 film 9 to 5, she was downright plump. But several years after she made that film, she lost a dramatic amount of weight and now sports a thin body to go with her famously large bosom. Parton doesn’t share too much specific information about how she lost the weight, other than a passage she writes on page 255 of her autobiography:
One other hint I’d like to pass on has to do with chewing. Our taste buds are only in our mouths, after all, and we don’t really taste the food when we swallow it. You can get a lot of the satisfaction from the taste of things you love by just chew, chew, chew, chew, Chattanooga chew-chewing and then not swallowing. “Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “If I don’t swallow, won’t I have to spit the food out?” You’re right. “That’s disgusting,” you say. That may be, but what’s more disgusting? Spitting out food or being a lardass?
As Dolly Parton puts it, “If you’re going to lose weight, you’re going to have to eat less food” (254). According to her book, Parton believes that heavy people are heavy because they eat a lot and, while she agrees that exercise is important, Parton seems to think that the real trick to weight loss is to not eat much. But even as she encourages eating sparingly, she admits that eating is pleasurable.
After she passes along her tip about chewing up food and spitting it out, she adds:
I’m not suggesting for a moment that you spit up food. That’s very dangerous, but it doesn’t hurt to spit it out. I know for a fact that many stars and models chew and spit. The first time somebody told me that, I was so shocked I dropped a whole Styrofoam cup of chewed doughnuts.
I’m pretty sure I sold that article to the publisher for a paltry sum. Then, a few years later, the publisher went under. But that article and others I’ve written are still out there, attributed to “contributor”. What’s even funnier is that I’ve found that article referenced in other places, or hacked up by people who are claiming it as their own. In fairness to the person whose article I just linked, I suppose it’s possible that she also read Dolly Parton’s book and decided to write about chewing and spitting, too. It just seems eerily reminiscent of what I had written several years before. Besides that, Dolly’s book was twenty years old by the time this person wrote about OES.
I guess it doesn’t bother me to much to know that a lot of my work is out there and I’m no longer credited. I think I’m more amused than anything else, especially since that article I wrote about OES was hatched from a very old memory and obscure details. This is not to say that what I wrote wasn’t factual. I did do as much research as I could for the original article. I would not have published it if all the information I had found were anecdotes or blog entries about chewing and spitting. It’s just that my article wasn’t exactly peer reviewed or vetted by experts. And now I see that information is being disseminated by others. Maybe I’m partially to blame for “fake news”.
Until last week, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara, or her husband, former Tarzan actor, Joe Lara. I didn’t know anything about their “church”, either– Remnant Fellowship— located in Brentwood, Tennessee. The couple came into my consciousness a few days ago, when news reports broke about how their 40 year old Cessna 501 airplane crashed into Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, Tennessee, just east of Nashville. They had been headed for Palm Beach, Florida, home of many wealthy people and white Christians.
I didn’t initially pay much attention to the news about the crash. I had heard that Gwen Shamblin Lara’s ministry focused on breaking people out of addictions– particularly food addictions. I had noticed Gwen’s crazy high hair, and realized that she reminded me a bit of the late Jan Crouch, who famously had big pink hair and was seen on Trinity Broadcasting Network with her late husband, Paul. Those factors alone should have attracted me like a magnet to Gwen’s story. But I didn’t learn much about her until yesterday, when I caught Katie Joy’s videos about the Remnant Fellowship. I was pretty gobsmacked by them.
If you are interested in learning more about Gwen and Joe, I highly recommend watching Katie Joy’s videos from Without a Crystal Ball. I know a lot of people seem to have a problem with Katie Joy, but I think she did a good job covering this story. I watched and listened with some shock and disgust as I watched this couple, who claim to be Christians, yet lived in extreme opulence and evidently promoted abuse and eating disordered behaviors.
In one clip Katie Joy provides, the skeletal looking Gwen is wearing a tank dress that is clearly at least a size too big for her. She stands with her hands in the air, the dress shifted to one side and the strap falling off her shoulder. Her voice is thick with a southern accent as she commends one mom for spanking her child. Another mom, Sonya Smith of Mableton, Georgia, followed Gwen’s advice to punish her son, locking him in his room with a Bible for days (starts at 8:20 in the second video). Gwen commends Sonya Smith for not “spoiling” her child.
In 2007, Sonya Smith, and her husband, Joseph, ultimately went on trial for the 2003 death of their eight year old son, Josef. In October 2003, Josef Smith passed out without ever regaining consciousness as the family had gathered in their kitchen to participate in a prayer session over the Internet. When Josef collapsed, father Joseph touched him, noting that the boy was “warm to the touch” but sweaty. He thought Josef was overheating, so he carried him outside to the carport and laid him down on the concrete. When that didn’t help cool off Josef, the family called 911 and Josef was brought into the dining room. Paramedics first encountered the child there; he wasn’t breathing and was without a pulse. They took him to a hospital, where he was determined brain dead. A day later, he was dead.
Medical examiners determined that Josef Smith had died having suffered extreme abuse from his parents. The police stated that the child was frequently locked in a closet and forced to pray to a picture of Jesus. His parents admitted to striking him with a glue stick, although they didn’t think the punishment was abusive. See the featured photo for an example of what a glue stick looks like. The ones in the photo are about a half inch in diameter and 12 inches long, but they come in different sizes and colors. Before I started learning more about fundie Christians, I had never heard of people spanking their kids with glue sticks. I always thought of them as being much smaller and in a plastic push up tube. Even the hot glue sticks I’ve seen were a lot shorter than the ones used by fundies to discipline their kids.
Many devout Christians are particularly enamored of the Bible verse about sparing the rod and spoiling the child and take it very literally. I’m not sure if Gwen and Joe were fans of Michael and Debi Pearl’s controversial book, To Train Up A Child, but that book is infamous for its strong emphasis on corporal punishment for the purpose of “training children” to be obedient Christians. It goes as far as advising parents what implements they should use for spankings. It sounds to me like the Remnant Fellowship, which, like the LDS church, claims to be the “one true church”, might be in favor of the Pearls’ teachings about breaking children’s wills to turn them into good little Christian robots.
If you listen to Katie Joy’s video, at around 9:19, you hear Gwen Shamblin Lara preaching about not spoiling children and being sure to “spank” them to show love. But then you look at how she lived. She had a huge mansion decked out with gilded furniture and owned their own airplane… which ultimately led to their demise. And here she is telling her followers not to “spoil” their children, when she herself appears to be very pampered, living a lavish lifestyle on donations from her flock. Ultimately, her privileged lifestyle led to her early death, didn’t it? What a hypocrite!
Sonya and Joseph Smith became members of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s church in 2000. The Remnant Fellowship Church is an offshoot of Gwen’s “Weigh Down Workshop”, which is a diet program she started in 1996. The church is known for its focus on saving souls from Hell and reforming people with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and food. However, according to Katie Joy’s expose, this church’s methods are extremely controlling and abusive and many people have been harmed by it. The Smiths’ case led to authorities raiding and investigating the Remnant Fellowship Church in 2004; the church supported the Smiths in their legal fight.
As for the Smiths, according to Wikipedia, they were “each charged with four counts of murder, five counts of first-degree cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.” On February 12, 2007, which would have been Josef’s 12th birthday, a jury found them guilty on eleven counts: “one count each of felony murder, reckless conduct, false imprisonment; three counts of aggravated assault, and four counts of cruelty to children (two specifically pertaining to glue sticks and others to unknown objects).” On March 27, 2007, Joseph and Sonya Smith were each sentenced to life plus thirty years– the maximum allowed by Georgia law. The case was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010, but the original convictions and sentences were upheld. In February 2011, a petition was filed with the United States Supreme Court, asking the justices to review the decisions made by Georgia’s lower courts. The petition was denied.
I would not wish a plane crash on anyone. I’m sure the crash was horrific for everyone on board. Katie Joy said that the aircraft basically “broke” and there’s debris everywhere with no chance whatsoever of any survivors. However, after listening to Gwen Shamblin Lara speak and hearing about Josef Smith’s very sad case, I kind of feel relieved that Gwen will no longer be around to spread her particular brand of “the gospel”.
I’m sure the Remnant Fellowship won’t be going away, but at least now more people know about it and the potential dangers it poses to innocent people. It’s not hard to fall into abusive situations… whether they be abusive relationships with other people or abusive organizations like religious groups or cults. These systems thrive on attracting people who are weakened because they are in trouble. People with financial or health problems… people with low self-esteem or addictions… people who are desperately looking for a way out of a bad situation– these are all examples of folks who might be lured into joining falling into abuse. Sometimes, those situations lead to terrible tragedies involving innocent people like Josef Smith, or plane crashes that kill innocent people, like those who were onboard the private Cessna aircraft with Gwen and Joe.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post about culty churches, Shamblin Lara’s followers were required to close themselves off from other influences. They weren’t allowed to read anything not produced by Gwen or listen to music not made by Gwen’s son, Michael Shamblin. That raises some red flags, right? Gwen also says that her followers should not use antidepressants and they should disconnect from their families. More culty red flags!
For more information about this “cult” of starvation, check out Jen’s Fundie Fridays’ YouTube channel and its lengthy expose of Gwen Shamblin Lara’s “church” and weight loss program that combines religion with anorexic behaviors. This video below was made about a year ago. I wonder if Jan will do another video soon, now that Gwen and Joe are dancing with whatever they found in the great beyond after their plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake.
In the above video, I see clips from Gwen’s videos and they all depict her living the perfect, romanticized life, complete with music from Shrek (really?). All of the people are dressed to the nines and there are romantic gazebos and depictions of perfect family living… but that’s all it is. It’s just a facade– a highly staged, manipulated, fantastic facade– that sadly roped in enough followers for the Laras to be able to afford this very anti-Christlike church they promote. It’s obvious that Gwen was idolized by her followers, which is pretty much not what the Bible promotes, right? Idolatry is specifically forbidden, according to the Bible. See below, where it’s spelled out…
In yet another example of idol worship, Gwen Shamblin Lara even compared herself to Michael Jackson, claiming she was persecuted. But I think it’s fair to say that the criticism she got was warranted. People died following her… a child died! His parents are now in prison for the rest of their lives. She promoted pro-ana ideas, which are extremely dangerous, especially for people who already have tendencies to fall into eating disorders. And frankly, I think her hair was a crime against nature. So, while I don’t rejoice in the death of Gwen and Joe, I am glad that their toxic brand of “Christianity” has been dealt a serious blow. If the church continues, I hope it is run by people who are less dangerous and hypocritical… and culty.
Anyway… a week ago, I had never heard of Gwen Shamblin Lara. And now that I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I’m glad I didn’t find her until she was dead. What a toxic load of shit her church is. I thought Teddi Mellencamp’s diet program was abusive and predatory. At least Teddi Mellencamp doesn’t marry dieting with religion. She just charges a lot of money to bully her customers into starving themselves down to a more “acceptable” size.
In other news… I was successful in getting my second shot yesterday. So far, I feel okay. My arm is a bit sore and I’m a little tired, but otherwise, no sweat. Bill suffered a lot more from his second shot than I have so far. But I hesitate to celebrate too much, since I have heard that the side effects can come on within a day or two. I may be down for the count tomorrow or over the weekend. We shall see. I’m just glad it’s done.
Edited to add: Fundie Fridays posted a new video about a half hour ago (as of June 5, 2021 3:30pm Central European Summer Time)
In the 1990s, there was also the Fen-Phen combo of drugs, which was said to be very effective in helping people lose weight. Bill says his ex wife took that combination for awhile. Apparently, she was very upset when it was taken off the market. I remember that combination of Fenfluramine and Phentermine was removed because it supposedly caused heart valve problems as well as high blood pressure. Ex, indeed, reportedly had issues with her heart, other than the fact that it’s so small. She had to have surgery at some point.
And then there was the drug my former psychiatrist gave me. For some reason, my former shrink felt besides the antidepressants I definitely needed, I should also take Topamax to help me lose weight. Topamax is a drug that is used for stopping seizures, curing migraines, and treating bipolar disorder. My shrink didn’t give it to me for those purposes, though. He prescribed it because one of the side effects of Topamax is decreased appetite. He felt I was too fat, and Topamax would help me lose weight.
Granted, I wanted to lose weight… and I was tired of hearing him harp on my body when I went to see him for prescription refills. So I tried Topamax for awhile. I often got the third degree from pharmacists, since I was also taking Wellbutrin, which is said to cause seizures in some people (but not me). Pharmacists would become alarmed at the drug combination and question me, and I would have to tell them that I wasn’t taking Topamax because I have seizures. It was embarrassing.
The Topamax did kill my appetite, which Bill didn’t like, because I didn’t want to cook or eat dinner. It also made carbonated beverages taste terrible, which wasn’t a bad thing, since I was addicted to Diet Pepsi at the time. But even with health insurance, the drugs were expensive, especially since I was also taking name brand Wellbutrin (the generic version didn’t yet exist). I also didn’t lose a lot of weight, much to the psychiatrist’s dismay. He wondered if I had a slow thyroid.
I remember feeling really horrible about his comments. At the time I was seeing him, I had actually lost a lot of weight because I was waiting tables and didn’t have time to eat or sit down. The pounds came off pretty easily and most people thought I looked pretty good. However, I was constantly sick during that time, partly because I was fresh from the Peace Corps and kept getting skin infections and also because I was run down because I was always working. I developed a distinct disdain for that shrink because even though I suffered greatly from body image issues, eating disorder issues, anxiety and depression, this guy kept harassing me about my figure… even after I was happily married to Bill, who didn’t care that I wasn’t skinny.
I was reminded of this shrink the other day, as i read the article in The New York Times the “new” magic bullet drugs that could help people shed pounds and the scorn and harassment that comes from being overweight. I shared the article on Facebook and my former therapist, who is now a friend, commented that the article is interesting. I wrote that I thought his “friend”, the psychiatrist, should see it. My former therapist wrote, “Yes, but he’s dead.”
I hadn’t known the former head shrinker had died. I went looking for his obituary, and lo and behold, there it was. He actually died two years ago. I had no idea. Several people had left kind comments about his memory. If I’m honest, I could see how they came to their conclusions about him. On the surface, the former head shrinker was “nice” enough. I remember thinking he had kind of a gentle, steady air about him. But he also really pissed me off on a regular basis by calling me “kid” when I was a grown and married woman, making comments that were belittling, and giving me a hard time about not being thin when I already had terrible issues with self esteem. I got the impression that he had a personal bias. I also didn’t like it when he acted in a paternalistic way. He was very much an old school kind of doctor who treated me like a child. It wasn’t very helpful at a time when I was trying to launch.
Fortunately, I only went to see that doctor for medication. I saw my therapist, a younger, hipper, and more empathetic guy, for psychotherapy. I will give the head shrinker credit, too. He was a competent psychiatrist in that he found the right drug for me. Wellbutrin changed and maybe even saved my life. Within just a few days of taking it, I felt like a completely different person. After taking it for several years and then getting off the drug, I still haven’t gone back to the awful way I used to feel every day… the way that was normal for me, but made other people think I was legitimately crazy. People used to ask me if I was bipolar all the time. They don’t anymore, although I don’t spend much time around other people anymore.
In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I requested my records from the shrinks. I needed them because the Army required all of my medical records so I could be evaluated for the EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program). This was supposedly a must before they would send us to Germany, but as it turned out, the National Guard (Bill’s official employer– he was a full time “federalized” Guardsman) didn’t give a fuck about my EFMP status the way the regular Army would have. I was forced to join the EFMP, but it turned out that I could have skipped the whole process and the National Guard wouldn’t have been the wiser. It would have been nice if I had known that, since the whole EFMP screening process was traumatic for me on many levels. I won’t get into that now, though. I think I reposted about my experience with the whole EFMP business. Thank God Bill is retired.
Unwisely enough, I read the notes my shrinks wrote about me. My cool therapist wrote positive, affirming notes. The dead head shrinker wrote things that upset me… like, for instance, I had a “garish” appearance. I was a bit taken aback by that. People have described me in a lot of ways, but never “garish”. That implies that I looked tacky, gaudy, or like a clown. And I didn’t see what my choices in makeup and clothing had to do with my mental well-being. Isn’t it better if someone with depression isn’t wearing black? He also made comments about my weight in his notes… and on more than one occasion, seemed a bit frustrated that his chemical cures weren’t slimming me down. I know very well that I’m not a thin person… but he made it sound like I was just disgustingly obese. When I was seeing him regularly, I wore a size 14 or 16… which is pretty average among American women, even if it’s not ideal in terms of most women’s most attractive body size.
It was a little strange reading about this man’s death. I mean, I know it had to happen… he was old enough, although he was several years younger than my father was when he died. I noticed the obituary didn’t mention a wife. I remember he was married when I saw him. I’d heard she was his third wife, and she had been about my age, while the shrink was old enough to be my dad. He’d had a young daughter back in the late 90s, which would mean she’s a young adult now. He also had four other children. I remember thinking that I hoped his youngest daughter didn’t have weight issues when she was growing up. I had a feeling he would ride her about them. And I guess, just based on his obituary, that his wife was no longer married to him when he passed a couple of years ago. He was a tall, somewhat handsome man, and he didn’t have a weight problem. But that didn’t stop him from having problems of his own.
I don’t like seeing doctors. I haven’t seen one since 2010, when Bill made me go because we thought my gallbladder might need to come out. It turned out it wasn’t bad enough to be yanked. One of the reasons I don’t like seeing doctors is because of that shrink… as well as the horrible OB-GYN who did my very first (of only two) gynecological exams. She physically and mentally hurt me so bad and shamed me so much that I became a bit phobic of medical people, even though I have a background in healthcare. Now I don’t go to doctors unless I’m about to die.
But maybe I shouldn’t blame these doctors for turning me off of their services so much… They’re only human, right? I’m sure they had my best interests in mind when they fat shamed me. The OB-GYN wrongly predicted I would get very fat in Armenia. I actually lost a lot of weight there. I did gain it back, but then I came home and waited tables and lost even more weight. And then I gained it back when I quit waiting tables… which was a good move for my overall health– especially my mental health– even if I didn’t have as pretty a package for people to look at. I’m glad to hear about the new drugs that might help people lose weight. I think it’s a good thing to think of obesity as a medical problem rather than a character flaw. However, this is not the first time I’ve heard about drugs that can help with weight loss… and so many of them turn out to be harmful.
Well… one more week to go before Bill is home. I continue to try to keep the faith. Last night, I was thinking about places I might like to visit when we’re finally able to travel again. Funnily enough, I’m planning based on whichever place is the least likely to give me a hard time rather than where I’d really like to spend time. One of the many luxuries of living in Germany is that there are plenty of places to see, and a lot of them are not so hard to drive to. Last night, I was thinking about visiting Krakow, Poland. It’s about a 9 hour drive from where we live. Maybe we can go there this year… after my second vaccine next month.
Also… I guess I’ve now arrived. Yesterday, I was made aware of someone having made a cloned account from my Facebook profile. It had one of my photos from last year, a cover photo using a picture I took in Rothenburg in 2018, and claimed I was a Mexican living in Nashville. I reported the profile, but Facebook naturally says they can’t do anything about it because it “doesn’t violate standards”. Meanwhile, they can give me bullshit warnings because they claim one of my comments was racist hate speech when it was really a criticism of a racist game being pitched on Facebook. They really need to get some real people evaluating these reports again. Facebook sucks, and is becoming more of a joke by the day. Anyway, I left several more complaints, along with a profane comment on the cloned profile. I doubt it will amount to anything. I changed my passwords, just in case.