By Doris Smeltzer with Andrea Lynn Smeltzer
This heartbreaking story is told from the perspective of Andrea's mother. Scattered between these writings are excerpts from Andrea's diaries, including her poetry. Although I can acknowledge the beauty that others find within poetry, I am someone who doesn't really appreciate it myself. I wish I did, but I can't seem to help it. Although I like 'deep' prose, for me a poem has to be very clear in its meaning in order to hold my attention. I also find diaries hard to read, as diaries by their very nature are usually un-organised and rambling. Therefore merely personally, I found it difficult to keep reading through every word of poetry and diary at times, although I made sure to do so in respect for Andrea's memory and talent. Admittedly the diaries were needed to express Andrea's character and experience in her own words; as the title says, her 'voice'. Perhaps the very fact that diary form was the only way we could hear her voice, was testament to the fact that she didn't live long enough to carefully craft a book herself which maybe she would have done had she recovered.
Overall though, I learned a lot from this book regarding the reality of just how quickly an eating disorder can kill a sufferer, seeing it from a parent's point of view, and gaining some understanding as to how someone deals with grief in such a circumstance. Nowadays I seem to be more emotional anyway, perhaps due to therapy and no longer numbing every single thing, however it still takes me by surprise when a book manages to cut through my still often present detachment. Even though I knew from the start of the book that Andrea would not survive, reading the words describing her death hit me hard, and the tears flooded out even though I have no connection to this family. I was deeply touched, also by the solidity her family showed in trying to help her.
‘All the “experts” agreed – Andrea would heal. We caught the behaviours early. Again, we heard that we had nothing to worry about.’
‘Andrea died in her sleep approximately six hours later [After the last phone-call with her mother]. Her body was found lying in bed with one leg on top of her down comforter, the right corner pulled down in a triangle, and one arm resting under her head. She never made it home to open her report card. She had earned straight A’s that semester.’
I think the ultimate message that I took is that with all the care, love and determination in the world, even with jumping in quick and paying out for therapy, an eating disorder sometimes still cannot be beaten. From this I don't think we can conclude that it isn't worth trying, quite the opposite; That professionals and society should take it seriously and treat the patient as soon as possible, because this is a killer disease with claws just as strong as a malignant tumor invading the body at a rapid pace. Not being hospitalized or able to function in every day life does not make you immune to sudden death from an eating disorder.
‘For those who survive, it can often take an average of four to seven years for a sufferer to begin the healing process in earnest'
Again, the above quote is a fact which professionals mainly deny, if not in words, in action, by the fact they prescribe as little as 6 CBT sessions for treatment (or nothing at all), and then that is it; the message is you should be better after that, or rather they will twist it with the feeble justification 'you need to take responsibility for your own recovery'. You wouldn't justify refusing to continue giving chemotherapy to someone who is likely to die without it, with that sentence. I suspect that average of years to begin healing is true. At least, I can relate to that average almost exactly in my own recovery; After coming out of hospital I denied for 4 years that I had any problem at all. During the 5th year I sought treatment myself but still did not admit I was not recovered to my family until the 6th year, when my seeking of treatment from the government still hadn't gotten me any at all. It was finally time to ask for moral and financial support, and with that had to come the admittance that I was finally ready to start healing. Until I could admit that openly, even though I was no longer lying to myself, I still didn't have any real conviction that I was ready. Today, that conviction continues to go and come as the disorder gets stronger and weaker, sometimes by the hour.
‘‘In the treatment of Hodgkin’s Disease or Leukemia, waiting around for the individual to get sicker would be considered outrageous and unethical, yet it is done every day with anorexia (and bulimia)’- Marcia K. Ove, “The Evolution of Self-starvation Behaviours Into the Present Day Diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa: A Critical Literature review’.
‘I denied to myself that Andrea could lie to us as bold-faced as she lied to herself. I knew nothing of the manipulative nature of eating disorders, or of their deceptive, chameleon-like ways.’
There is a cruel irony in the fact that those with eating disorders often have a personality in which there is a relatively clean past record of lying. The eating disorder uses this to feed on; the trust that family and friends may have in what the sufferer claims to be the truth. But many also fail to realize that it isn't just they who are being deceived by the illness, but the sufferer themselves. The guilt the true person underneath the illness feels gives rise to a defense mechanism, being that of, in some dimension of the psyche, believing their own lies. How can a deluded person appear so sane and convincing to someone on the outside who thinks of themselves as rational? The very fact that people with eating disorders can sometimes appear so healthy and 'with-it', makes it all the more dangerous.
‘After patiently listening to me rant for over twenty minutes about how I could have saved my daughter if only I had tried harder, the wise counsellor had asked “Do you really believe you are that powerful, Doris?”... I could finally hear the words – that when we look back at the “should haves” and “if onlys” we tend to see them in a stagnant, one dimensional realm.’