Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Invisible Girl.

This is not the sequel to The Invisible Man. This is actually the book I referred to in the previous post. 

The girl is Debbie Barham, a.k.a. D.A. Barham. Peter Barham wrote this book to honour the memory of his daughter who passed away in April 2003 at the age of 26.  Anorexia nervosa was her life-long battle.

People tend to see anorexia nervosa as 'the skinny girls problem.' Like addiction and other psychological illnesses, anorexia nervosa is never just about the illness itself. Treatment must include exploring the personal issues that could actually be the driving factors behind the illnesses. 

In this book, Peter argues that her daughter's struggle has to with her shyness, her torn-apart family (Peter and Debbie's mother got divorced when Debbie was nine months old) and her fragile relationship with mother. In school, Debbie couldn't fit in. She relied on her talent to get herself out of it. She sent jokes to radio shows under the name D.A. Barham. They were really good that the radio people that they were sent in by some middle-age, pub-frequenting bloke. Emerging from within this painfully shy schoolgirl is a dynamite comedienne and writer. 

With the money she earned from her writing, Debbie sought independence and a career. She steadily graduated to the next level, writing for TV. Before she even realised it, she was sitting in the rooms and having meeting with the titans of British TV comedy including Clive Anderson, Bob Monkhouse and Graham Norton. (I only know Graham Norton because I recognise his name from The Graham Norton Show.) Everything looked like they are moving in the right direction.

Everything except her illness. Debbie had lost any desire for food and couldn't retain them. Anorexia nervosa leads to many kinds of nastiness: damaged teeth, ulcers on the scalp and feet, brittle bones and nails. Patients are often found to have parents with high expectations, a fault Peter admits to. I learned that confronting them aggresively is highly discouraged because the patient might refuse to cooperate in order to gain power over the situation. 

The most striking part of this book in my opinion is the article Debbie wrote on matricide (the act of killling one's won mother) titled Matricidal Mayhem. Peter believes that Debbie channeled her real feelings about her dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship into it. She disguised them using her razor-sharp wit and passed the whole thing off as another one of her brutally sarcastic essays.

This is a very insightful book about a disease I rarely think about. I do feel that I would better understand Peter's feelings and message once I have daughters or children of my own. In the meantime, I hope learn from Peter's mistakes and not repeat them with the existing people in my life.

(Speaking of existing people, my dear eldest aunt passed away on Monday. She, God and I would greatly appreciate it if you could dedicate an Al-Fatihah to her. Thank you so very much.)


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