June Alexander worked in newspapers for more than thirty years as journalist, columnist and editor. Besides journalism, she has written and edited several books. At eleven years of age, she developed an eating disorder that went undiagnosed for twenty-one years. This experience, along with that of her recovery, inspired her interest in family-based treatment. June says, “I would like to emphasize how much the writing of this book has been a TEAM effort. Everyone, from the researchers and therapists to parents and kids to hospitals and eating disorder organizations, has contributed, which is just like the team effort required in achieving recovery from this illness. I especially thank Daniel le Grange, for believing in me, from the moment we met. He has been wonderful to work with, all the way through.”
We’re happy to say that June is also our very good friend at Maudsley Parents, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
June, first of all congratulations on your wonderful book! I’m sure it will help many. Will you tell us a little about why you wrote My Kid is Back?
I wrote My Kid Is Back because parents who suspect or suddenly find their child has anorexia nervosa often feel worried and confused, unsure when or where to turn for help. The story behind this book began in the early 1960s. I was growing up on a dairy farm in the south-eastern corner of Australia and had just celebrated my 11th birthday when I developed anorexia nervosa. Several years later, my illness evolved into bulimia; I didn’t know I was suffering an illness. Unfortunately, my parents and sister did not understand I had an illness either and as the decades slipped by we gradually became estranged. This is why I have written My Kid Is Back. I don’t want kids who develop anorexia nervosa today, to lose their parents in their recovery battle. For many years I tried to ignore and hide my eating disorder by trying to appear ‘normal’: but it remained a silent combatant. Seventeen years went by before I began seeking treatment. In 2007, 45 years after developing anorexia nervosa, I was sufficiently recovered to confront and expose it in my memoir. My research immediately drew me like a magnet to the Maudsley Approach.
“I wish this had been around when I was a kid,” was my first thought. “Then we would still be a family today.” The Maudsley Approach empowers parents to help their children recover from anorexia nervosa. I wanted families to know about this treatment as soon as possible! To save even one child from the isolation and rejection I experienced as a result of my illness would make such a book worthwhile.
The families in your book are all from Australia, yet their stories will resonate with parents of kids with anorexia nervosa everywhere. Do you feel it has an Australian perspective?
No, this book has an international perspective and message for families everywhere. Anorexia nervosa knows no bounds – it is the same, no matter where you live. As I interviewed each of the children who share their experiences in My Kid Is Back, I felt an eerie connection as they related their thoughts and feelings—a replica of mine, in another place, another time, another century. If I needed proof that anorexia nervosa is a pervasive and insidious illness of the mind, this was it.
Anorexia nervosa can happen to any child, anywhere in the world—whether in a corner of Australia, Iceland or South Africa, in a rural district or in the middle of a big city like London or New York. It can happen to any child from any social status—wealthy or poor, it doesn’t matter.
The one big difference today is that with growing awareness of symptoms and with early intervention through family-based treatment, a child has a much greater chance of recovery. As the provider list in book shows, family-based treatment is available in a growing number of countries around the world.
Are there any parts of the family stories that really stand out for you?
Each of the 10 families is different, like your family or my family; the only constant is the illness. Readers may relate to some of the family experiences more than others. The parents in each family show varying elements of disbelief, self-doubt, pain and despair but empowered with family-based treatment, they demonstrate compassion, courage, resilience and above all determination to get their child back from anorexia nervosa.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Besides providing hope and inspiration to families My Kid Is Back can make a contribution by helping professionals and others understand what dealing with anorexia nervosa is really like, for both kids and their families.
Any plans for a next book?
I am putting the finishing touches to my memoir and am researching family-based treatments for adults with eating disorders with a view to writing the sequel to My Kid Is Back.
If a child misses out on early intervention with family-based treatment for their eating disorder, it can impact greatly on their life. I believe many adult sufferers are suffering silently, in prisons created by their eating disorders, not knowing how to ‘escape’. I was one of these people and, although I live with remnants of my illness, I have ‘turned the tables’ so to speak, and today I put the energy formerly sapped by my illness, into fighting it with my pen. My new book concept will address this plight of the silent sufferers and their loved ones.