I started seeing a shrink when I was ten. I thought it was pretty cool to go to the Hostess outlet store on the way to the Psychiatrist’s office but that’s where the cool ended. I never knew there were huge stores where they sold just treats. Hostess, if you don’t know, are the manufacturers of Twinkies. The best tasting or nastiest American treat depending on who you are. I think I heard once that a Twinkie has a shelf-life of 10 years. That, however could be pure folklore.
My mom used to pick me up from grammar school and take me to the Psychiatrist’s office. Dr. Mary Bain. She was an elderly woman, maybe late 60’s early 70’s. She was a short, soft-spoken slight woman. She was always well-dressed. Her hair was short, curly, and neatly groomed. She had an easy manner about her. Her office was well appointed. Multiple degrees hung behind her desk, bookshelves lined the wall, filled with thick books for which some titles my child’s mind couldn’t yet pronounce . An expensive mahogany desk separated us during sessions. She had a fair amount of stuffed animals in the office placed about. A few lamps gave a more home-like ambiance.
I had stopped eating solid food and medical doctors determined that there was no physiological explanation for my constant nausea and lack of appetite. I believe now, that I was in such an extreme anxiety state, my stomach was literally in knots. I had already lost so much weight that it was deemed extremely urgent an etiology be found.
I used to dread seeing my mom’s face showing up in my classroom window alerting me that it was time to get dismissed. I felt ashamed somehow, of her, and of having to leave. I just wanted to blend in with everyone else. I already felt like people may be able to “see” my unworthy-ness so this just added to that. I clearly remember asking her to just have me dismissed from the front office. No more “pop-ins” at my class.
I have vague recollections of sitting Dr. Bain’s office waiting area. Every other person waiting in queue was a grown-up. They played old people’s music. One song I recall that is seared in my brain was:
I remember sitting down on the carpet playing with an old broken set of Lincoln Logs. Let’s be real, no doctors office ever has any set of toys that work. Just as I would be about to put a foundation together in some fort that I was building, she would call me in.
I don’t remember much of what happened in those sessions, except that it was really boring and she asked a lot me of questions. She had me do a lot of creative writing assignments at home. I remember her giving me a lot of positive feedback about my writing when I returned the stories back to her, even though they were darker in nature. For example, one story I wrote was about a child trapped in a castle with a vampire. She said that I had some talent for creative writing. Whether a lie or true, she held my fragile self-esteem, as one patch on a grand quilt.
My self-esteem had benefited from therapy with Dr. Bain but she was unable to find the cause for the anorexia. Because I had lost so much weight from not eating, my pediatrician told my parents that if I continued to not eat, he would need to put in a g-tube into my stomach. My parents informed me of this and I was terrified. I didn’t want that. My mom begged me to eat anything, to please just try, so that would be avoided.
I ended up going to McDonalds. I hadn’t eaten solid food in so long, that it hurt my esophagus as one French fry went down. It had a scratchy feeling and I hated it. I kept thinking about the tube, so I ate another one. No exaggeration, it took me probably a half hour to eat maybe 15 fries. But it was a start.
It took 10 more years before the real reason why I couldn’t eat came to light, the incest. By then, the damage had been done.
If you or someone you know has a child whose eating patterns suddenly change, don’t be afraid to start a dialogue with the adult in their life. If you are the parent of a child, start a conversation, ask questions, it may save them years of pain. No one ever asked the me right questions. Even my brilliant well-intended Psychiatrist missed it.
For the record, I like Neil Sedaka.