In this painfully moving memoir, take a firsthand look at anorexia through the eyes of a young girl. Even in kindergarten, Rachel Richards knows something isn’t right. By leading us through her distorted thoughts, she shines a light on the experience and mystery of mental illness.
As she grows up, unable to comprehend or communicate her inner trauma, Rachel lashes out, hurting herself, running away from home, and fighting her family. Restricting food gives her the control she craves. But after being hospitalized and force-fed, Rachel only retreats further into herself.
With a driving perfectionism, she graduates college with honors. But at sixty-nine pounds, Rachel is a shell of nervous and obsessive behaviors that have controlled her life. Years of self-harm and self-loathing have fueled the inner battles between good and evil, health and sickness, and life and death.
Acting on stage offers her moments of freedom from the skewed perceptions she’s constructed over the years. But her dream of a career in theater is not enough to save her. What is the secret that will finally unleash her will to recover?
Targeted Age Group:: 15-50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Several years ago, I made a quick decision to begin scribbling down my story. I wasn't sure why at the time, though it was partially an attempt to make sense of my turbulent past, and a quest for catharsis. But in retrospect, I believe what compelled me to write was the frustration over feeling misunderstood with regards to my illness. I was driven by a burning need to cut through all the misconceptions and assumptions surrounding anorexia, and reveal the complexity and seriousness of this mental disorder.
Self-starvation does not define anorexia, but is merely a symptom, albeit a deadly one. An eating disorder is a beast that resides deep within, destroying a person slowly from the inside out. Research has shed light on anorexia, but studies cannot accurately depict an individual's mind as she struggles with her disorder. What is going through her head when she decides to stop eating, to study compulsively, to shut out her family and friends, to injure herself, and to live in isolation? My book reveals it all.
What can you do when a person you love is withering away right before your eyes? It is essential to understand the mind of the sufferer in order to know how to help. We must resist the impulse to go with our gut, because our instincts are often misguided when it comes to this issue.
If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder or is a concerned parent, is anxious about weight and dieting, has an addiction, or wants to learn more about the mystery of how an eating disorder develops and the multifaceted and complex road to recovery, I urge you to read my story. And please never hesitate to contact me with your thoughts or questions.
After my stint in the hospital back in November, my parents began sending me to a stream of different therapists, desperately trying to find the right one.
My mother scheduled my sessions with a new therapist so that we could conveniently stop for my appointments on the way to ballet class. At least I looked forward to those.
“Do I really have to see Dr. Argyles today? It’s such a waste of time,” I would plead. I referred to the new therapist as Dr. Argyles because, at the start of every session, he would kick off his shoes and put his feet up on the coffee table so that I had a perfect view of the bottoms of his sweaty argyle socks sticking to his nasty feet. He would sit, reclined in his big comfy chair with his legs up and feet crossed, not seeming to pay attention or give a damn about anything. I wonder how much he charged. Dr. Argyles had a habit of calling me “Kiddo” which always put a knot in my gut. I wondered if he even remembered my real name. “How do ya feel, Kiddo?” “You gotta talk to me, Kiddo.” “That’s how it goes, Kiddo.” “Hold on a sec, Kiddo. Gotta answer the phone, Kiddo.”
Approximately every 5-10 minutes throughout the course of our hour-long sessions, a shrill ring would reverberate from the desk phone across the wide room, and without fail, Dr. Argyles jumped up out of his reverie and went to answer it. Sometimes his phone conversation lasted a couple of minutes, often longer. I’d overhear his conversations. “What time are you picking him up? Okay I’ll get the milk. Did you call the sitter, Honey?” I wondered if anyone in his life had an actual name or if we were all Honey and Kiddo and whatever other condescending pet names he could think up to reinforce his role as King Argyles, propped on his cushy throne and expecting his inferiors to kiss his repulsive feet.
Most of the time, I sat quietly and stared at my lap counting minutes until I was free to go. But one day I snapped, “STOP CALLING ME KIDDO!” You could feel the sound vibrations of my fury bouncing off the walls. It was the first time I saw Dr. Argyles look surprised. He quickly regained his composure and offered a half-hearted apology. I returned to my silence.
When my parents finally realized my sessions with Dr. Argyles were getting nowhere, they sent me to yet another therapist— a psychologist who had a private practice in his home. He was nerdy-looking with a forced expression on his face that tried to say, “I’m a professional. I know better than you.” I wondered if all therapists were arrogant asses.
He insisted on making our therapy sessions a household event, so my parents, Alice, and Valerie were required to participate. He asked each member of my family about their lives. “What do you do for work?” “Is this your first marriage?” “How long have you lived in Long Island?” And his favorite question, “How does that make you feel?” My parents and sisters answered his questions but looked confused.
Finally, Valerie said, “Aren’t we here for Rachel?”
“This is a family issue,” the doctor responded. “It’s important that I learn about all of you.”
I felt like the doctor didn’t trust me. I was too mentally ill to give him an accurate portrait of my life, so he turned to the responsible adults in the room. I soon learned that the doctor did in fact consider them responsible … responsible for my bad behavior.
He announced that I lacked discipline. My parents had obviously let me get out of control and now it was time to teach me who’s boss. I just sat there, my arms folded tightly over my belly, and refused to take part in this absurdity.
The therapist told my parents to come to therapy sessions without me. I was happy not to go, but anxious about what was being said behind my back. I imagined the therapist lecturing my parents on how to raise me with an iron fist. You stop crying right now young lady, or it’s the belt for you! Nothing felt right about any of this. Still, my parents were desperate for a solution. They were willing to try just about anything to stabilize my erratic behavior.
One night in early spring 1991, I was having one of my usual temper tantrums when my parents decided it was a good time to put Dr. Discipline’s advice to good use. They wrestled me down to the kitchen floor. My mother held down my arms and upper body and my father was in charge of restraining my legs. This made me more hysterical. This was such bizarre behavior on the part of my parents, I felt like I didn’t even know them.
While writhing on the floor like a rabid dog, I spat out, “Did the therapist teach you this?”
“Yes,” my mother answered quietly, sounding ashamed.
“Well fuck him and FUCK YOU!” I screamed as loud as I could.
My words surprised me even as I said them. I never used the “F” word, and certainly not to my parents, no matter how much I thought I hated them. I continued screaming and struggling until my parents either didn’t have the strength or the heart to hold me down any longer. I broke free and ran out of the house.
Wearing only underwear, socks, and an oversized T-shirt that I wore to bed, I ran a quarter of a mile to my elementary school and hid in the playground. It couldn’t have been later than ten or eleven o’ clock, but there was not a soul to be seen. There weren’t even cars on Lake Avenue. It was eerily quiet and still, but I was grateful to be alone. I could only imagine what someone might think were they to spot me, half naked, my long curly hair in a mess of tangles, and my face covered in drying tears and snot. They’d probably think I was drunk or high and call the cops.
Or even worse, what if some kids from school were hanging out late at night and came across nerdy, snobby, pathetic Rachel. They’d probably have a field day on my behalf. They’d laugh themselves sick, throw insults at me, and never let me forget about this night. They’d eagerly share the gossip with all the kids at school and I would be the laughing stock of Wantagh Middle School. Or maybe not. Maybe my crazed, late-night appearance would be admirable. Maybe they’d think I was so cool for hanging out by myself in the dark. Perhaps they’d see my pain and realize that I had bigger problems than a few school bullies. Maybe that would earn me some respect, or even admiration. The rumor would spread that Rachel Moses is bold and daring, not the little wimp they mistook her for. That she has dark secrets they couldn’t understand, so maybe they should be nicer to her. I’d changed my mind. I wanted some school kids to see me.
The air was heavy, or maybe it just felt that way because I was having trouble breathing. The gate to the elementary school playground was locked shut, so I took a seat at the corner of the parking lot on the rough blacktop surface. Behind me lay the mosquito-infested wooded area by Twin Lakes, and the open parking lot stretched out before me. I stared at the faded hopscotch board at my feet. I never did understand that game. You throw a pebble onto a number, then hop on the numbers until you reach the pebble and pick it up. That couldn’t be all there was too it— it was too easy. Where was the challenge? It irritated me.
I huddled into a fetal position. It wasn’t cold out. In fact I couldn’t even feel the air. It was like the air was the exact same temperature as my body, and I couldn’t quite tell where my skin ended and the air began. It was very unsettling. I pulled my knees tighter into my chest. The ground felt abrasive against my bottom, with only the thin fabric of my underwear to cushion me. My bottom already began to ache as my bones pressed against the concrete.
What would my parents be doing now? Were they fighting? Was Mom crying? Did they feel guilty about physically restraining me? Were they disappointed that the therapist’s advice was a colossal failure? Maybe Dad took the car and was out looking for me. Or maybe they both gave up on me and went to bed. Could I blame them? Sure I could. I blamed them for just about everything. But if they were looking for me, what would I do if they found me? I certainly didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of going back home with them. I was so angry, I didn’t even want to talk to them. But wait, I wasn’t as angry as I was when I left home. My anger was fading. That would never do. I had to hold on to my anger. I had to show my parents I wasn’t going to let this go. Angry, Rachel. Get angrier!
I was still trying to come up with some sort of a game plan in case my parents found me, or perhaps more importantly, if they didn’t find me, when bright lights cut through the blackness making me squint to see a car pulling into a parking spot about ten feet away from me. Dad? The cops? I kept my head down as I tried to see if I recognized the car. I didn’t. What if this was the rapist or murderer I’d thought up in my last nighttime excursion? I would be found the following morning, lying in a pool of my own blood, which at least would have obscured the stupid hopscotch board. But I didn’t fear death. The more I thought about death, the more it seduced me. It would certainly solve a lot of my problems, or at least make them disappear. I could sleep forever. It’s all I ever felt like doing anyway. My murder would have added bonus— vengeance on my parents and everyone else who pissed me off. They’d feel sorry and responsible for my death. They’d finally realize how much I hurt. My mom would finally learn that she couldn’t put a Band-Aid on me and make it all better. She couldn’t cover up my pain or kiss it away. Yes, death would bring me the attention I sought. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to witness it.
The driver turned off the engine and the car lights went out. All was black again. My heart began to race and I started to feel nauseated. I hid my face and hoped I was masked in shadow as I waited to hear the car door open. A few minutes passed. Not a sound. I slowly lifted my eyes. Why would someone just park there and sit in their car? The driver side was facing me and I strained to see inside the window. I saw movement. Wait, it was two people … oh crap! They were making out! I immediately averted my eyes. Was this just a necking session or were they going all the way? My fear disappeared but the nausea remained. What if they saw me? Would they think I was spying on them like some pervert? This was so awkward, but I didn’t dare move away for fear of making myself known.
Waiting, waiting. Hiding in a parking lot got old much too quickly. I wished I could fall asleep —that would help pass the time. But that was never going to happen. What was I going to do to keep from being bored out of my mind all night long? I heard footsteps approaching, then breathing. I kept my face down. This was it. I’d been found. I was either getting arrested or murdered.
“Rachel,” my father said gently. “Let’s go home.” Dad hadn’t taken the car. He went out searching for me on foot, probably knowing I didn’t have the guts to get very far. I was so relieved to hear his voice that I wanted to cry. I longed to take his hand and walk home. I had lost my anger, but I could not let my dad know that. I had gotten this far. I refused to give in now. So I didn’t move. My 58-year-old father scooped me up off the blacktop and cradled me like a baby. I no longer had the willpower to fight, but I wasn’t about to go willingly either. My father’s breathing grew faster and louder as he hauled my limp body all the way home. What if his back gave out as it had in the past? What if he had an asthma attack from the exertion? I would never forgive myself. “It’s okay, Dad. You can put me down now,” I thought, but couldn’t bring myself to say it.
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