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“Hi, I’m Anne Mainsbridge and I’m reading from my Memoir Cold Vein, which is about the journey of a family through the illness of anorexia.
Flight to Stockholm
Malaysian Airlines Flight 311 from Kuala Lumpur to Stockholm – takes fourteen hours. Fourteen long hours. I don’t sleep at all – how can I, in the circumstances? But I do eat. I eat everything the smiling male steward in the apple green suit puts in front of me. Sausage and cheese omelette as we climb through the blazing blue skies above Malaysia, spongy pastries and strong black coffee as we head out across the Middle East, and hours later, when the cabin lights are dimmed and the window shades are down, I tuck into chicken curry and rice and drink three small bottles of red wine. It was only meant to be two bottles of wine, but the smiling man did not hear me properly when I asked for a bottle of water, and he brought me a bottle of wine instead. I did not complain.
My daughter, huddled beside me, does not eat anything, apart from a few plain biscuits that we had brought from home. This is not surprising to me, but it is surprising to the steward. He looks utterly bewildered, almost hurt, as he removes yet another untouched tray.
“Sick?” he asks me, nodding at her.
“Yes” I say sadly. “Very sick.”
What would happen, I wonder, if I told him what she was actually sick with? She has Anorexia, I would say. For the last three years, she has been slowly dying. Although she is sixteen, she weighs as much as an eight year old child. Her hormone levels are those of a post-menopausal woman. We have tried everything the Australian medical system has to offer – psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, dieticians, drugs … but nothing has worked. And now here we are, she and I, flying to the other side of the world in a last ditch effort to save her. There is a clinic in Stockholm that has a different approach to treating eating disorders and claims to have a high success rate.
But of course I say none of this because I suspect that, as with the bottle of water, he will not understand me. Even putting aside the language and cultural barriers between us, I know, from years of bitter experience that Anorexia is a difficult thing to get people to understand. Usually they will look at me incredulously. Sometimes they will come right out and say what I know they are thinking: Why can’t you just get her to eat?”
ABOUT ANNE MAINSBRIDGE:
I was born in 1960 and grew up in Leura in the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales. I now live in Sydney, where I have worked for many years as an academic and a human rights lawyer. For the last few years, I have worked with refugee survivors of torture and trauma, helping them to access and understand the legal system in Australia.
My memoir, Cold Vein, is a story about the impact of anorexia on a family. It exposes the insidious cruelty of this poorly understood disease and traces my painful journey as a mother through the ordeal of my daughter’s extended illness and our struggle to find an effective treatment.
I began writing this memoir several years ago – partly as a means of making sense of what happened, partly also as a means of letting it go. Along the way, I have been inspired and guided by the wonderful Patti Miller at her Life Writing Workshops in Sydney and Paris, and most recently, at her Memoir Writing Masterclass at Varuna.
Doing the Varuna Memoir Writing Professional Development Residency (28 November- 2 December 2011) has given me the space and solitude I needed to revisit the most difficult parts of my journey, as well as the courage to continue. Thanks to Varuna writing consultant, Joyce Kornblatt, for her affirming and insightful feedback about my manuscript and to Lis, Vera, Sheila and all at Varuna for creating a place where it is actually possible to do nothing else but write!” Anne Mainsbridge
2010 “Making the Legal System More Accessible to Refugee Survivors of Torture and Trauma” in Refugee Transitions (Quarterly Magazine of the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) Issue 24
“Employers and Genetic Information: A New Frontier for Discrimination” (2002) Macquarie Law Journal, Vol 2 61-85
“Brave New Workplace? Employers and Genetic Testing” Workalert CCH Ltd, November 2001
2007 “Under Surveillance: Australia’s Privacy Laws” in Bulletin of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, November 2007
1993 Ectopic Pregnancy – a Mother’s Letter CONTACT Magazine, SANDS (NSW) Inc
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