Today, we have Donelle Knudsen on the blog. She’s here to talk about her daughter was slowly killing herself by not eating. Diagnosed with anorexia, OCD, and depressed about her past, Donelle’s daughter struggled for many years.
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Thank you, Emerald Barnes, for including my story about our daughter’s struggle with anorexia. The first paragraph is part of the Prologue to my memoir mentioned in my Bio.
“Nicole had lost her will to live; she was dying. Our beautiful fifteen year old daughter was killing herself slowly with each passing day. I knew it was calculated and I was unable change the course of our lives. For the past year our family had been living in a nightmare and I wanted to wake up – NOW. We sat on the couch, holding each other, tears flowing, our shoulders shaking with sobs. I tried to transfer my own strength to her frail body, but it was impossible. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t slow her journey from health and happiness to the dark tunnel of self-induced starvation that now engulfed her. At that point, she had lost nearly forty pounds. And she continued her cruel kind of suicide hour by hour, day by day.”
Looking back to that afternoon in 1997, I saw it as a critical turning point. We were to deal with an insidious disease that is largely misunderstood- anorexia nervosa. As with all eating disorders, anorexia does not discriminate between the famous or the ordinary, the rich or the poor. But primarily it strikes young women who are bright, talented and attractive. They become obsessed with their physical appearance, especially their weight.
At the beginning of our eight year journey, if we had known how long healing would take and how many tears would be shed, I don’t know if we would have been up to the task. It began during her middle school years when I noticed Nicole kept to herself, cut herself off from her friends, spent more time in her room, and did not eat properly. My maternal instincts kicked. I feared something I didn’t understand: an eating disorder. So we sat down with her physician and talked about eating healthy and not being concerned about weight.
Nicole promised to do better, but her fragile body and mind were headed down a dangerous path. Eating, or not eating, was not the issue. We discovered she felt she had grown up in the shadow of her beloved big brother. In Nicole’s mind, she wasn’t athletic, smart, attractive, or talented. I harbored a suspicion that Nicole was unhappy about being Asian and adopted. She often expressed her desire to fit in with everyone else. But the deepest hurt of all was that Nicole could not understand why her biological mother had given her up. She was convinced that there was something wrong with her or that she was a bad person. Why else would a mother give her child away? she concluded.
Intense feelings of rejection from Nicole’s birth mother stoked the fire of discontent in her heart. But Nicole’s heart trouble – the kind that comes from the soul – grew larger every day. It tunneled through her, causing an emptiness that was worse than hunger. She filled the emptiness the only way she knew how – by trying to be in control. She told us of images and voices that visited her, especially at night. Besides hearing voices, Nicole displayed unusual ritualistic behavior. She repeatedly counted and checked things. She feared germs and had to organize things in her own way. The dishwasher had to be loaded and unloaded a certain way. The blinds and alarm clock in her room were checked over and over at bedtime. Cupboards were opened and closed time and again. We learned from our medical professionals, she suffered from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD.
Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa are jealous diseases that grip the individual and hold her tightly. The patient is oblivious to everyone and everything. She grows so focused on her own needs and obsessions that all else fades. We tried to explain to Nicole that she was not only hurting herself, but she was hurting us, too. She didn’t care. Her twisted muse was counseling her to ignore our feelings. It assured her that each pang of hunger was a badge of honor, a success, a triumph in will-power. She was proud of each stab of pain. Nicole wanted love and the Inner Voice filled that need.
After eighteen-months of intense therapy, Nicole’s weight reached one hundred pounds. She had accomplished what I thought was impossible; she added twenty pounds of healthy body mass. But Nicole was sensitive about progress by way of weight gain, so we said we were proud of her choices and apparent renewed interest in life.
Nicole improved over time, but suffered another crisis in 2005. We convinced her to move back home where we gave her space to finish college and find her career. When she met her future husband at work in 2007, we sensed his love and commitment to their relationship would give her the peace she desired. They were married in 2008 and are expecting their first child July 2016. Our family is truly blessed.
Donelle Knudsen’s hometown is Portland, Oregon, the beautiful “Rose City” of the Pacific Northwest, but has lived in Eastern Washington since 1988. She earned a B.S. in Arts & Letters from Portland State University and is a four-time finalist in Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s literary contest in the memoir category. She writes short stories, poetry, memoirs, and fiction; and owes her love of books and the craft of writing to her late father, who was never too busy to read to her or to make visits to the “Big” library every Saturday. Her first book, “Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia” was published in 2011. Her Young Adult novel, “Between Heartbeats” was published by Booktrope in August 2015. Ms. Knudsen is a wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She is currently working on the sequel to Between Heartbeats with the target publication date of spring 2017.