In a piece written for CNN, novelist Clare B. Dunkle revealed a disturbing secret her daughter told her while the teen was battling anorexia nervosa.
Dunkle described the early-warning signs that her daughter, Elena, had developed the eating disorder, which began around her 14th birthday.
“She became tense and silent, and she developed insomnia. Most troubling of all, she became skinny and stopped growing,” Dunkle wrote. “Her rising anxiety seemed to keep her from being able to relax enough to enjoy a meal. The changes we saw in Elena’s weight and behavior worried her father and me, so I took her to a respected child psychiatrist. He tested her for hours and then told me I had nothing to worry about.”
Dunkle said that while she trusted the diagnosis, she continued to notice that Elena had lost the happiness she once had.
“She was angry and cynical, and lots of things upset her that she would have laughed off before,” she wrote.
In 2006, when Elena was a senior in high school, Dunkle took her daughter to another psychiatrist, who diagnosed the teen with anorexia nervosa. Elena was admitted to the hospital so she could gain weight.
“Furious at being trapped in the hospital, Elena went on a hunger strike. She lost more weight each day,” Dunkle said. “By the time she had been in the hospital for a week, her condition had changed for the worse. Now her doctors told me that her heart was dangerously weak. Elena had cardiomyopathy.”
After battling cardiomyopathy the summer after her senior year, Elena seemed to get back to a healthy place while in college. In 2009, her weight began to drop once again. She eventually admitted to being anorexic, and volunteered to go to treatment. One night, she called her mother to tell her a secret.
“There’s something they want me to tell you,” Elena told her mother. She revealed that she’d been raped at the age of 13 at a party.
“'Who was he?' I demanded, in as calm a voice as I could,” Dunkle wrote.
“I thought Dad would find him and kill him,” Elena explained to her mother when asked why she didn’t say anything earlier. “I didn’t want Dad to go to jail. I didn’t want anybody to know, ever. I sneaked out... I thought it was my fault.”
Five years later, Dunkle said, her daughter lives a “happy, fulfilling life.” Elena and her mother even collaborated on a memoir together, titled "Elena Vanishing."
“Now Elena speaks out on behalf of rape survivors and eating disorder victims everywhere, hoping to reach the silent ones and help lift their burden of shame. She tells them what I told her on that phone call: This is not your fault. This is important and horrible. You deserve the help you need to get well,” Dunkle wrote.
“Thanks to Elena’s strength and honesty, I, too, have grown. Watching Elena learn how to heal has taught me how to find forgiveness myself and turn away from blame. Because of her, I have learned how to let go of the mistakes — and focus on the love.”
Photo Credit: Q13 Fox, Jenna Noelle Photography via CNN