Review: Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle – Elena Vanishing

Elena Vanishing
Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle

Elena doesn’t have anorexia or an eating disorder or anxiety. She just carefully controls what she eats to make sure that she maintains the right number. When she doesn’t know what that number is, she can’t think straight – and she certainly can’t trust a psychologist to help her think straight either.

This is the true story of Elena’s recovery from anorexia as well as some of the causes and compulsions that underlie her disorder. What I found striking about this novel was that Elena is a caring person by nature, and yet she can’t care for herself. The root of the problem doesn’t become apparent until later in the book. We think that perhaps her sister has something to do with it, but ultimately that isn’t it. While I would have liked to know more about her sister, I also respect the family’s privacy.

Wow, the guts it must have taken for Elena to write this book with her mother. This is a memoir – so don’t expect it to be an easy read. What it is, is a raw and painful read that pulled at me and made me feel physically ill with Elena at the same time. I felt everything with her intimately. I’d like to read the memoir of Clare Dunkle now so that I can see the other side and perhaps get a bigger picture. It feels a little wrong of me to be so invested in personal aspects of their lives, but at the same time I’m so grateful to them for letting the reader in.

From the beginning of the book it was painful for me to read. If you have or have had an eating disorder or OCD you should think very carefully about reading this book as it has the potential to be really triggering. It’s not the rosy picture of recovery from an eating disorder that many fiction novels have – this is both deeply horrifying and reassuring at the same time. I’m not sure how to explain that exactly, but I guess it’s that the person themselves must be ready to change and that the science behind eating disorder treatment is constantly changing.

It’s horrifying to me that some people who need help won’t receive it because their insurance won’t pay. That someone with a life-threatening condition can just be kicked out if they can afford treatment. Would a hospital just toss someone out if they needed a heart bypass to survive, but they couldn’t pay? It seems like they wouldn’t – but anything that is perceived to be a personal problem or self-created problem like an eating disorder or mental illness doesn’t come under the same category of care. It’s not good enough, even if I don’t have a solution.

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