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Mental Disorders

by Marya Hornbacher
Harpercollins, 1998
Review by Molly Mitchell, MA, Psy.D. on Aug 31st 1999

Wasted

This book is very intense yet also very readable, in that looking-at-a-car-crash kind of way. While it presents itself as being about an eating disorder, this story is as much about an out-of-control adolescence, troubled family, and developing bipolar disorder, as anorexia. It becomes clear, from quite early on in reading this book, that there are disturbing things going on both in this young woman’s mind and in her family.

Besides the fact that the author makes a point of criticising the book (and movie) The Best Little Girl in the World for only providing a measuring stick among eating disordered inpatients that induces negative comparisons and an increased desire to starve, and then adorning her own book looking lovely, slim and rather starvation-inspiring herself, it is only once you have read this book that you realise how sad the photo is instead of feeling at all guilty for not getting to the gym enough this week.

This book is written in a very personal style, leaving me at times feeling like I have too much information. The details of her memories are impressive and paint a vivid picture of her world. Ms. Hornbacher vacillates between scholarly research, which is very much in evidence, and personal opinion and experience. She is evidently very well-read in general, and in the field of eating disorders in particular, and the book is full of reference points, quotes and facts which lend this at times crazy story a solid base.

It’s all quite a complicated mixture; eloquently told (though she does "lose what remains of her mind" a few too many times to not sound somewhat melodramatic) which provides insight into the harrowing internal world of psychiatric illness. This is an intense, emotional woman, and evidence of bipolar disorder is clear from quite early in the telling of her experience. She speaks candidly of heavy drug use, sexual activity and other self-destructive behaviours and the chaotic state of mind that accompanies all of this. Her honesty and ability to be candid and understanding of the difficulties she caused others is impressive.

As to who this book is aimed at, the author wanted to write it to give people a place in which to recognise themselves, which is probably a select audience given her extremes, but there are elements which would be, ‘comforting’ is the wrong word, but ‘recognised’ by women in particular and in that there may be solace. My overwhelming feeling on reading this book was that this was a difficult story to write and, while a quick read, not really an easy one.
 
 

Molly Mitchell is an American psychologist now living and working in Ireland. As a therapist she started out with a degree in Expressive Therapy and then went on to obtain her doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her particular interest is in working with children and adolescents.