'Skinny Girl' excerpt

June 1989

I never expected a simple decision to lead me to this.

Rain pelted on my window while the wind howled around our house. I hunched over my desk, frowning under the glare of my fluorescent lamp, trying desperately to focus on the assignment in front of me—writing a therapy plan for a stroke patient. My toes rested close to the radiator on the floor under my desk.

Mum was in the kitchen making roast lamb with baked vegetables—one of her specialties, always delicious. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table, unwinding from his day at work and drinking his usual pre-dinner beer. My eleven-year-old brother, Steve, was in the next room, watching Family Feud on television. It was a typical night in our Sydney home—settled, comfortable and predictable. On a wild winter night like this there was no better place to be.

Unless you were me. The storm I was enduring—the one inside me—raged fiercer than the elements screaming outside my window.

Gnawing, burning hunger pains made my stomach groan. The bitter taste of starvation filled my mouth while anger and self-hate churned within. Cold, achy and uptight, I knew my body was hurting. Yet somehow that was a triumph. Good. You deserve it, I hissed inwardly. Every pain I experienced was satisfying and I thrilled to think of the weight I was losing even as I suffered. I could almost feel the kilograms burning off.

My thoughts kept darting to our upcoming meal. I’d already made the calculations and planned what I would eat of all that was offered. Over and over in my mind revolved the image of my plate—beans and carrots only, maybe a tiny piece of meat to appease Mum but no baked potato or pumpkin, drenched in fat. I tapped my pen on the desk as I calculated and recalculated what that would make my calorie intake for the day. Determination swelled within me. There was no way I was going over the amount I’d set in my mind.

Mum was a capable, generous cook and did her best to appeal to my appetite, pleading with me to eat more, but I stubbornly stuck to my decisions. I was twenty after all. I hated to disappoint her, but this was a battle for survival. I couldn’t possibly let go of this pattern of living.

To let go of it, I thought, would destroy me.

Writer and blogger, Susan Brown, has a passion to see people walking in freedom, identity and purpose. Whether in her work as an occupational therapist, raising her four children, speaking to groups or offering learning support to children and teens, her desire has always been to help people thrive. A strong believer in the power of authenticity, Susan often shares her struggles, failures and learnings with others, offering understanding and support as they work through their own challenges. When she’s not writing or working, Susan’s favourite way to relax is to immerse herself in a good story, preferably while reclined in a deep, gently swaying hammock. In her more energetic moments, she plunges herself into gardening, cooking, walking local trails with her husband or playing in the waves at the nearest surf beach. After twenty-five years in Launceston, Tasmania, Susan has recently moved to Wollongong, south of Sydney, where she lives with her husband, Mark, and three of their children. Her memoir Skinny Girl: A Journey Through Anorexia was published in 2021.

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