Grandmother’s diaries inspire a novel eating disorder story about childhood and hope
In August 2020, as the world became immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic, I began a journey to recover from an eating disorder. This was a journey I never expected to be on; I assumed that at age 64, my life was meant to be consumed with an obsession with the scale and a pathological fear of gaining weight. I also didn’t want to admit that any of this was problematic, since I had functioned quite well with this issue for decades. I had done “just fine.”
Perhaps the pandemic helped put things in perspective. I began to want my life to have more meaning than the number on the scale or tape measure. By spending months in isolation, I no longer had the distractions of everyday life that had enabled me to ignore the problem I’d lived with for so long. I decided to make sense of my eating disorder recovery through writing, in addition to treatment. I have always kept a diary or journal of some sort, but I also write fiction.
Writing a novel about stillbirth has helped to heal the loss of first child
My first novel, A Charmed Life, was inspired by the stillbirth of my first child. It took many years to write and publish that novel, but in doing so, I felt I was honoring him; that his story could help others feel less alone. I chose fiction because I didn’t know how many people, unless they’d experienced it, would pick up a non-fiction book about stillbirth. Weaving the topic into a novel, however, increased the chances of more people learning about a very painful and misunderstood experience that many people face.
I’ve been told by readers that upon reading that novel, they had meaningful conversations with family or friends and learned about experiences and losses about which they’d never known. It opened the door for comfort and healing. It was my hope that the same could happen with another painful and misunderstood topic—eating disorders.
Diaries and journal-writing inspire A Battle for Hope
The idea to centre A Battle for Hope around a diary was inspired by my own journal-writing but also by the diaries my grandmother kept for decades. Her entries were short and sweet, a few sentences about what happened each day, but they provided a window into her life. In those pages, she documented the births of grandchildren, my aunt’s struggle and death from breast cancer, and my grandfather’s death. Alongside those, were entries about when she had her hair done and what she made for dinner. Just from reading her diaries, I have a better understanding of a woman I thought I knew very well. I also felt that a diary would be a good vehicle for learning the story of someone in the past and to bring it into the present. As a girl, I loved reading The Diary of Anne Frank, as did my own daughters. A diary, especially reading someone else’s diary, always arouses curiosity. Nowhere else can one get as good a peek into someone’s heart as in their innermost thoughts, those thoughts that nobody is ever supposed to know.
The main characters in A Battle for Hope are 11-year-old girls. I chose this age because it’s the onset of puberty and the beginning of physical and emotional changes that no one welcomes or understands. This was especially true for me. I entered puberty at the age of 10 and had no idea what was happening to me. In the novel, I was able to share parts of my own story, especially through the character of Hope. It was both cathartic and enjoyable to stroll down Memory Lane with her. Because this book is fiction, however, only threads of my own experiences are woven through both the past and present stories contained within. In focusing on girls that age, I hope to help readers make sense of what is happening to them or what has happened to them already.
An expert on my own experience
My experiences as a girl, a mother and a grandmother have served me well in the writing of this novel. I’ve also learned a great deal about eating disorders from my treatment team and from reading books and listening to podcasts. Having lived with anorexia nervosa for many, many years, the onset of which I believe to be when I was 11 years old, made me an expert on my own experience. Even though every person with an eating disorder has a unique story, many thoughts and feelings are universal. There is an immediate feeling of camaraderie and understanding amongst those who have walked in the same shoes.
Writing this novel helped me process my own recovery on many levels. Many days, I could only write for short periods because the content was so intense. It was a labor of love to be sure. As I wrote, I felt validated, angry, traumatized, sad, regretful, motivated, and inspired. I grieved for my 11-year-old self as well as my adult self, for all the years and energy wasted while living in the clutches of anorexia. I also grieved for everyone who has or has had an eating disorder and for all the life this illness has stolen from them. The anger comes from the realization that many people suffer silently and are even encouraged by society to stay on this very dangerous and often deadly path.
Many people are living their lives surrounded by a thick wall of shame, insecurity, and doubt, believing that they don’t deserve any better, that they aren’t good enough as they are. I am inspired and motivated by the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way. The eating disorder wants to keep you all to itself, to maintain control. Life can be far more enjoyable when lived fully and freely, without the eating disorder voice whispering (or screaming) in your ear.
Prospect of helping others overcomes feelings of apprehension
While I was eager to send this novel out into the world, I was also a bit apprehensive. As with any novel I’ve written, even though it’s fiction, there’s a lot of myself within the pages.
Prior to the publication of each new book, I feel much the same as I did when my children went to school for the first time. I feel very protective, not only of myself, but of the characters I’ve created. The thought of putting them into the hands of strangers is always a little daunting, but the prospect of helping others who are going through the same thing is far more important. And this, after all, is the point. The intended audience for A Battle for Hope is women of all ages and preteen and teenage girls. I wrote it with a young audience in mind, but adults can relate to it as well.