Of all the issues we have faced, this one, for me, is the big horrible one. C and I try not to, but we watch the Small Boy Wonder’s eating habits far too closely, looking for any slightest indication of the problems his sister had. He knows we do, and it’s difficult because he is naturally a light eater, blessed with an attitude to food which means he eats only when he’s hungry, and when he’s no longer hungry, he stops eating. But if ever I detect the tiniest possible warning sign of an eating disorder, it chills my blood.
And I seem to remember less about what we went through with the Very Precious Daughter on this than other things. Blocking it out, I guess.
I think my attitude has something to do with knowing the utter futility of logic and reason in the face of a fully-fledged eating disorder. You are completely wasting your time if you try to convince an otherwise rational person that their failure to eat properly, or their ludicrous over-exercising, is (1) real, and (2) dangerous. Perhaps completely is a slight over-statement, because we did eventually persuade the VPD that she needed help, and this help was the most important factor in stopping any permanent damage. But your chances of prevailing through reason are as lacking in substance as the person you are concerned about. This, of course, won’t stop somebody whose life is driven by reason from continuing to try. Madness all round.
Several years ago, there was a young woman (let’s call her Briony) who used to work in one of the offices in our building. Briony must have come perilously close to death as a result of an eating disorder. She visibly declined to a state where there was skin and there were bones but there was precious little else. Nobody from our place knew her very well, but some of the women who work with me grew ever more concerned, angry even, as they watched her deteriorate. I recount this only to recall my own attitude. Almost complete indifference, driven by shameful ignorance. I knew nothing of anorexia then, because it hadn’t yet touched my life. To the extent that I gave Briony’s predicament any thought, it would have been something along the lines of, surely she will realise what’s happening to her and start eating.
I imagine this could be fairly typical of people in a similar state of unawareness.
We still see Briony and I occasionally have some contact with her these days. Something, or someone – and I will never know who or what or how – must have put a hand on her shoulder and found a way of coaxing her round as she took her final steps towards complete self-destruction. Because today she’s still with us, and of a proper weight.
I don’t really know her at all, but sometimes when I have seen her, I say something like a still, small prayer of thanks to myself– and I weep a little inward tear of happiness. For her, but more, I think, for whoever those who love her may be.
Because I am now much better informed than I was.