One of the mind’s most powerful weapons is its ability to make you perceive yourself in a way that nobody else sees you. To make the reflection in the mirror appear subjectively “huge” when the objective view—in fact the obvious reality—would be the polar opposite.
In “Stand Tall Little Girl”, Hope Virgo tells the story about how “her” Anorexia—her so-called “best friend”—very nearly robbed a teenager of her life, a family of a daughter and sister…
And there was even a time when Hope genuinely believed that would be the best outcome for everyone…
Mental illness can be incredibly cruel; anorexia (nervosa) is a particularly nasty condition that exerts such control that the sufferer readily listens to its voice over and above all others (even if one of those voices belongs to the person who actually brought you into the world).
Hope relates how her “friend” turned her into a compulsive calorie counter and obsessive trainer, who would use any ruse to dispose of food before or even after being ingested. Anorexia filled Hope with pride whenever someone was fooled by her increasingly desperate attempts to mask the effects of her condition—to the extent of hiding weights inside her clothing to artificially increase her weight and BMI when it was time to step on the hospital scales. To the reader it is literally pathetic; to the sufferer it was a triumph…
Hope talks of her descent and gradual recovery in graphic detail. There is no attempt to glamorise a story that could so easily have ended in tragedy; and Hope leaves the reader in no doubt how hard it has been to fight such a persistent confidante. Anorexia does not simply go away; in fact, it’s almost as if it temporarily releases its grip, allows you to take a few tentative steps towards recovery, then returns to remind you how weak you’ve been for now skipping meals, missing a run, or a workout.
As well as control, the other central theme is guilt; albeit often in more lucid hindsight. The loss of her Grandmother feels like a pivotal moment in Hope’s story (and how many of us can relate to missing a chance to say those final words), but even when pieces finally seem to be slotting into place, the spectre of an increasingly unwanted companion still looms large on the horizon.
You don’t need to suffer from any mental health condition to be inspired by Hope Virgo—and her family. The fact is that one in four adults will be affected by mental illness… logically there will be very few who are totally immune (especially indirectly) from the effects and impact of mental health. For those who have been struggling, whether openly or silently, certain aspects of Hope’s symptoms and situation will resonate—perhaps uncomfortably… even unpleasantly. She knows only too well that recovery is unbelievably tough. There will be seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome; there will be setbacks, and so much pain and hurt along the way.
But Hope never gave up—and importantly, her family never gave up.
Hope Virgo is an amazing young woman; a survivor. Her story will upset you (as it’s surely meant to), but it will just as surely inspire you too.