One hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry ...
- Ecclesiastes 8.15
- Ecclesiastes 8.15
I could well remember one Christmas morning doing a special round as one Anorexia Nervosa patient could not be discharged. My wife and children waited in the car as we had to drive to
to spend Christmas at our good friend’s place afterwards. London
It may be the right time to look back on my posts on Anorexia Nervosa:
Girl in a Chemise Picasso
Crisp (1967 - 1980):
- Anorexia nervosa serves to protect the individual from adolescent turmoil.
- Anorexia nervosa reflects a phobic avoidance of sexual maturation.
- Unsettling effects of sexual maturation at puberty may drive the female adolescent to a pursuit of thinness leading to greater acceptance, self-control and self-esteem.
- Anorexia nervosa tends to appear in families with buried, but unresolved, parental conflicts.
- Women are expected to be beautiful, smart and well-groomed.
- They are expected to have a career and yet be romantic, tender and sweet.
- They are expected to devote a great deal of time to their personal appearance even while competing in business and professions.
- In marriage, they are expected to play the part of the ideal wife cum mistress cum mother.
- They are expected to put away her hard-earned diplomas to wash nappies and perform other menial chores.
- The modern woman is therefore exposed to a terrible social ordeal, and the conflicting demands and dual image of the female body as sex symbol and as commodity.
- An adolescent girl may develop feelings of insecurity and alienation toward her changing body.
Minuchin’s concept of the psychosomatic family (enmeshment, rigidity, over-protectiveness, and lack of conflict resolution) was both insightful and ground breaking at the time. However, it seems to be no longer fashionable or politically correct in the modern day no-blame culture. I do not have any argument with the no-blame approach, but it would not hurt psychiatrists to understand cases from Minuchin’s point of view without making a song and dance about it.
Sometimes modern parents give their children too much right and freedom for self determination.
In the chapter “SARS and Knowledge” of my book, I compared the freedom to starve oneself to that of not wearing a mask during the SARS outbreak in the endemic zones:
“…… If a child can be made to wear an uncomfortable mask, why can parents not make a child eat?...”
In matters concerning life or death, shouldn’t zero tolerance really be a no-brainer?
No doubt the promotion of zero size models by the fashion industry has managed to exert undue influence on some gullible teenagers and created a “cult” following. Have you not noticed how frightened some of the anorectics are of even the slightest touch of fat? How they panic when banned from exercising! There always seems to be a little voice in their head asking them to disobey their parents, nurses, psychiatrists and anyone who tells them that their belief is wrong. Like any cult rescue, someone needs to take over and the one taking over will take over the wrath of the new Anorexia god.
“It is not me who wants to eat, it is them.”
All those trying to help are on the “other side”
Yet, given time, there will be recovery for cult victims, at least for some.
What if in DSM V (the next edition of DSM), Anorexia Nervosa was voted out by the psychiatrists as a mental condition? (As they did with Homosexuality in 1973.) What if the European Court of Human Rights deemed it against human rights to forcibly treat Anorexia Nervosa? (Remember Ghandi?)
My speculations are that under these circumstances:
1:A third of the parents would take over and make sure that their bright young offspring eat properly and stop blaming adolescent units for failing them.
2:A third would have rich enough parents who would pay for their expensive treatment in health farms.
3:Some would be snapped up by modelling agencies as the world is hungry for skinny models.
The reality is that the availability of force feeding as a last resort often leads to complacency in the Psychiatric Team. Creativity is key to the resolution of many Child Psychiatric problems and the fact that Anorexia Nervosa patients can change dramatically in a split second is testament to the need for such an approach. (The Chapter “Seven Minute Cure” in The Cockroach Catcher describes such a case.) I am not advocating the declassification of Anorexia Nervosa, but would just like to encourage those of us dealing with these cases to try to understand the underlying dynamics and be innovative in their management. It could be a worthwhile experience.
In The Cockroach Catcher Dr Zhang got his Anorectic patient to play the cello that was banned by the “weight gain contract”:
“She missed the cello too, the only thing she could use to shut out her worries.
Fourteen and carrying the burden of the world.
She played a couple of scales and we made some fine tuning. It was not quite the same as the violin, but at least I knew not to overdo the pegs. Then she started playing.
“Ah. The Bach G-major”
“So you know it”
Of course I do. The hours I spent listening to Yo Yo Ma and it was such amazing music, melancholic and uplifting at the same time. For a moment I forgot that I was her psychiatrist and she forgot she was my patient.
The trick with Anorexia Nervosa is you need to be inventive and inventive every single day. Think Jay Haley, think Hobson’s choice. The patient can still be a vegan. She does not need any drugs. She does not need any ECT or neurosurgical procedure.
In the end, Anorexia Nervosa could be a rewarding condition to deal with:
“If our work is to be therapeutic then a sort of therapeutic alliance is important, even if tentative. Some people do not realise that you can fight with your patient and still have a sort of therapeutic alliance.” The Cockroach Catcher
Amy Gaskell by Edward Burne-Jones
Leighton House Museum 2004/Andrew Lloyd Webber
Indeed Josceline thought at one point in the book that Amy might have suffered from Anorexia although it was not a known condition at the time. She left it till the end of the book to let us into the final secret. You will have to find out for yourself.