Do It Anyway

Trying to chuck stuff out, to get a handle on the bits that need culling. Of course thinking about Gemma, Julie, and anorexia. In the past couple of years I have written to various agencies asking that vulnerable people be protected from frightening assumption we, as a society have, that people prefer to be left alone to make their own decisions–and I write as persuasively as I can about what I figure needs doing in order to save people from dying of a treatable mental health problem.

I have complained for changes (to understanding and to ways-of-doing) to the various colleges for health care professionals in BC. I have written pages, trying to persuasively explain how, simply, the use of “discharge AMA,” which recognises a person is not safe, is inexcusable–ensure a health care professional IS passing responsibility for a frail person’s physical health to somebody, instead of shrugging, and pointing to implied-confidentiality as an excuse for not helping potential supporters understand what a discharged patient’s needs might be when care is abruptly ended. Everyone was clueless, experts and amateurs.

Gemma didn’t tell. She worried about being secretive but she didn’t want to be a burden and she was embarrassed that she could not control her own behaviour while controlled by irresistible behaviours, intrusive thoughts, irrational perception of judgement coming from everywhere (friends, family, teachers) while there was none or no intention to wound, and certainly not fatally.

Today’s insight. Only half of the Good Samaritan’s story is really told. The guy that was robbed and beaten–he had an opinion, and when that stranger approached him to see if he could use some help, of course he said, “No! Go away!” because he was hurt, scared, and embarrassed, having suffered at the hands of other strangers.

The Good Samaritan, stranger in a strange land, didn’t listen though. He somehow intuited all that about the poor victim feeling distressed, frail, frightened, disbelieving of genuine help being offered, and under-compliment (how could I pay him?) The Samaritan felt rebuffed, but he did it any way.

“Do it anyway” is conveyed by Dr. Keith’s when-to-do-it anyway (kindness, support, love, the decision to be generous belongs to the person), and Mother Theresa’s version too. Dr. Keith’s, I figure Gemma came up against EVERY one of his leadership illustrations. “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred. Love them anyway. (Forgive them anyway).” Sam and I were certifiably stupid, she knew it, but she never blamed anyone for anything. “People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.” Dr. Keith THOUGHT of the Samaritan’s conundrum before I did. “The Paradoxical Commandments” were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders.

Anorexia as the textbook example of, “Help people anyway.” “Is it my job, my decision, my problem if YOU can’t cooperate? Suit yourself.” Please, no. Convoluted is the idea of “the fight for freedom to be controlled.” Anorexia. They just needed someone thoughtful and bold, a single good person to say, “You have to trust me on this one,” to guide someone to do the hard things. There was no one like that–everyone was under its spell.

That’s all I can think is that everyone, friends, family, health care professionals, everyone, was under its spell and the disease followed its natural course. The point was, the Samaritan was nobody special–except, he was in a foreign land. The locals were uncaring when at home. It was the outsider who saw, maybe with fresh eyes. Either he, as an individual, was simply like-that, or he, as a person unaccustomed to the local landscape saw with clarity.

“She can’t see the trees for the forest,” was school assessment when Gemma was tested in about Grade 3. The big picture wasn’t available because of all of these … distractions. The big picture as hidden to those. Maybe politics and war are the big picture, or, right after she died I remember thinking “Vehicles and buildings all seem out of place now.” Suffering of individuals is the part that needs fixing before those individuals are neglected and prematurely ended.

Suffering gets to be common place. We step over people in downtown Vancouver–“apparently” they prefer to sleep in the sun and on the pavement. Civil society has to figure out how to do better. Lots of individuals are at work on it every minute of every day. Gemma and Julie died in plain sight, no one felt the freedom to help figure out what to do to help–excuses, doesn’t want my help, too busy, someone else will know what to do. People with a lot of faith in others. Patience and independence are overrated.

God help us if the only one’s that can see properly are strangers.

It’s Just a Letter

She came to see me at school perhaps weeks after she left the hospital treatment program, probably May (2018). 

She had come from outpatient group on Hastings, gotten a ride (probably told me she got a ride with another patient attending outpatient day programs, which I know now was true), though I was skeptical so thought “she probably walked; typical.” 

She didn’t sit near me to chat. I should have hugged her and asked, What’s up. I was mad at the disorder (that she could not control, but I assumed she could) and thoughtlessly I took it out on her. 

She said program hadn’t worked out in April, she had left—been kicked out for not complying. possibly asked me “What should I do?” Without much thought all I offered was “Well, can you get back in?” I continued to work, doing simple marking, and after a few moments resting on the back table she left in a hurry, and I thought she was being dramatic and willful. As she, fast, headed to the classroom door I said, whined, “What about me?” Let’s talk about me, stupid, to realize I was so screwed up, all the pieces that were not in place, and the one I landed on just then was my personal marital woes. One hundred chances to show compassion, respect, humanity, curiosity, and I was consistent—in not seeing a role.

I was my mother—but this was a time when I should have been happy, contented, settled and open to hear Gemma out. Instead I was my mother—feeling ripped off without a nurturing, fulfilling, supportive relationship, menopausal, looking for ways to either revive or create my married relationship, trying to dutifully follow while believing he knew what was best because he said he did.

She ran from the room and found her own way home. If I never told you about it it was because I felt I was justified and that she was merely being willful and cranky short-term. That she would feel better in a while and we would have better days. Eventually, certainly by spring 2019, I had the recurring thought in my head “something’s got to give.” But I thought it would be we sell the condo and move or split up, rather than that our daughter would go into psychological free-fall, no supporters professional or personal, shrink, and die unheard, October 2019. Woe is me.

Unloved, unloving, unlovable, four generations of women. I resemble mother and grandmother so much (to my mind), unhelpful, self-centred, bystanders. The final victim, the only real victim of our generational self-preservation, selfishness, depression, sense of rudderless reliance on others and reliance on “fate that-would-change,” was Gemma.

Here I am, wallowing in self-examination, self-revelations, not much that is new to me (been at it for years), except to acknowledge how damaging it was. This is why therapy, a proper counsellor, and writing even compulsively, to reveal truths to yourself, are important. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Plato, Socrates. Woe. Regret. Selfish was my angst. Woe is me.

~ Edit. A total aside. I found this whole chunk (that follows) on the Internet. It speaks to me for me of us. Reflecting or wallowing in regrets. “Who am I,” not realising one only sees self reflected in what others say, relying on that. Upshot is that you fail people. You aren’t you, no substance. Get support or step out of the shadow–something that makes you whole and strong.

I love my boyfriend, but he twists things so they seem like my fault

Annalisa Barbieri ~ Fri 22 Dec 2017 15.00 GMT

I want to spend my life with him, but our constant arguments make me feel sad and like a shell of myself. ‘I always try to do right by him, but a lot of the time things seem to get twisted as me doing the wrong thing.’

Three years ago, I moved to Australia after having spent my 20s in the UK, where I had been in a serious relationship for 10 years. Moving to Australia was supposed to be my time. Nine months after the move, I met a wonderful guy. He is the complete opposite of my ex – outdoorsy, fun and outspoken, and we have many a debate, which is something I have felt I needed. Although we do have many differences in personality, I feel it works because my ex and I were so similar that there was no spark.

My boyfriend and I have a lot of spark. By this, I mean we have a lot more arguments than I am used to, or that my nerves are used to. I am by nature quite an easygoing person who avoids confrontation if necessary (this doesn’t mean that I am a doormat). At first, I thought it was fine. We are both passionate people and I feel a bit of fire is healthy. However, the arguing is becoming more and more of the central focus. This has led me to start questioning the overall relationship.

I love my boyfriend and want to live with him and spend my life with him. But he makes me very sad. I feel as if, to an extent, the level of arguing has driven me to become almost a shell of myself. I no longer argue as passionately or “stick to my guns”, because I can’t bear it. My boyfriend can be very abrupt and argumentative. He is very good with words and perhaps I am not, or I am not used to having to make such an effort to win arguments because it is not in my nature. I always try to do right by him, but a lot of the time things seem to get twisted as me doing the wrong thing.

I honestly don’t know what to do or how to turn this around. In the back of my mind I have had the thought that it should end.

~ I think when a relationship leaves you as a “shell” of yourself and “things seem to get twisted”, it is time to look not only at what the relationship is giving you, but also at whether the relationship may be abusive. I was not absolutely certain from what you have said whether or not it is: the wheel of violence is good to refer to here (despite the name, no physical violence need be used to make the relationship abusive).

You didn’t mention feeling scared for your safety, but I know you are isolated without many friends or family, so, before you do anything, I would like you to look at the link below, which leads to helplines that you should ring to talk through your situation with someone. Please do this.

Because I don’t know if your relationship is abusive, I also need to talk about this as if it were a normal relationship that has gone wrong. In healthy relationships generally, you should be able to argue/disagree freely and the other person should listen to how you feel – if not immediately, then at some point when you are both calmer. You shouldn’t routinely feel silenced. It is not uncommon to come out of a long-term relationship (in other words, your first one in the UK) and look for the complete opposite of what you had and sometimes this is a mistake because, in so doing, you are ignoring the fact that the first relationship did have some things that were right for you.

You want to spend the rest of your life with someone who makes you, in your own words, very sad

You know you are with the right person when that person loves you when you are most yourself, whatever that self is: quiet, exuberant, whatever. It sounds to me as if you are trying to talk yourself into thinking that this relationship is right. You say in the same breath: “I love my boyfriend and want to live with him and spend my life with him. But he makes me very sad.” I want you to read that back to yourself. You want to spend the rest of your life with someone who makes you, in your own words, very sad.

I contacted Penny Pickles, an analyst ( She feels that, “you are a woman who has lost her confidence, and yet this is an articulate letter and you know a fair bit about yourself.” You are not only articulate, but aware, too.

We both wondered about your past, why you left the UK and went to the other side of the world and why you felt you needed “a debate”. You were quite emphatic in your longer letter about having “me time”. Pickles wonders “what familiar buttons you are trying to get away from and which are being pushed” [in this situation].

“The thing about choosing a partner,” says Pickles, “is that sometimes you can choose a partner who is the opposite of yourself, and they hold the thing(s) you feel you can’t be. In your case the ability to be confrontational. But after a time, this can become difficult to accommodate. As you see, not only are you finding this situation difficult but it [all the arguing, etc] is not who you are. How you feel about this relationship is not how you should feel in a relationship.”

I want to stress that if this relationship is abusive, nothing you do or don’t do deserves that behaviour – it is his responsibility. He needs to own it.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter.

My leg is sore – metaphor

She was 12, it was October. I heard her from inside the house and went out to her, “Mum, mum, my leg is sore.” An anguished tone to her voice that I had never heard before. I figure even then she didn’t know how to address a problem she didn’t think she should speak of. I joined her outside on the steps. Gemma had wanted to start out on a run–the idea cut short because of physical problem.

“Where, here? Just below the knee?” I took her to the doctor. In Gibsons there was a relatively large medical clinic at Franham Road and Gibsons Way. You could get an appointment straight away with one of the doctors there, even if your own doctor wasn’t in, and it didn’t matter, “a doctor is a doctor.” I can’t remember if the doctor she was seen by was a male or female. This being Covid-19, September 2020, I picture the doctor with a mask on.

The doctor wasn’t interested in the knee. “I know what this is. I don’t know enough about it. This is serious. Your weight is one-third less than it should be. Your whole body is affected–your organs, brain, and heart.” I didn’t know what to make of this–she was too thin, but in danger? I looked at her and she was unconcerned and didn’t seem in physical pain any longer. The doctor continued, “A paediatrician will be on the Coast next week. In the meantime, you cannot take ballet, you cannot run cross country, you cannot walk to school.” I was taken aback–not even walk 15 minutes to school?

I felt bad, there must be some wiggle room here–to be able to run cross country with the after school team and with PE, and ballet–she was taking two classes per week with a ballet teacher, new to her, who encouraged more classes, and I really should have turned that down, but what is easy, and what there is enthusiasm for? No one would want to dampen enthusiasm! But, no. The doctor was unwavering, serious, a big Stop sign in front of our faces. We left the appointment intrigued and quiet. Discussion ought to have started there. But we were both dealing with our disappointments and the unexpected.


The hospital program was in the City at BC Children’s Hospital. It was November and my mother was ill in St. Paul’s Hospital. She had been sick for about 10 years, with a stomach ailment that meant her digestion would not move along, no peristalsis taking place to move stuff along the digestion tract. I figured she broke her stomach–a lifelong smoker, she couldn’t taste food very well (was my theory), so lots of pepper and spices and piles of food at dinner time. Too much food at once, and, I reasoned, she broke her gut. She was also a Scotch drinker. I have heard hard liquor called “rot gut” and I think that’s the reason–your gut can only take so much, and then, it rebels, just quits. Truth is Mother’s condition was considered congenital–she was born with it, an anomaly, and it was going to happen no matter how she lived.

Upshot was I had my daughter in one hospital, my mother in another, I was commuting an hour and a half by car and ferry to teach high school, and both of them could die. My mother loved to eat, she couldn’t eat, she survived on TPN for 10 years. Mother died November 27, 2004. Gemma was admitted to Children’s November 8, 2004. My mother was concerned about her. In the spring when there was a high school zone track meet at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, my mother, who was in a weakened condition but cheerful, had accompanied Gemma and me to the meet, sat with the team, and cheered Gemma on. Gemma refused to eat lunch until all of her events were done, then Mum offered her a chicken salad sandwich, beautiful, with mayonnaise, and I was surprised Gemma ate it up. “See?” said Mum. Nothing to worry about. Fast forward to autumn. I can’t remember whether Gemma was at Grandma’s funeral.

At Children’s Hospital Gemma gained 1 kg the first week. I think she was upset–and she never met the goal again. She was in hospital, with a school room, regimented times for preordered meals and snacks, sitting down to eat six times per day. The ward closes over Christmas, empties out and she was home in frail condition. In February I went to visit her and the psychiatrist said, She is uncooperative and we cannot treat an uncooperative patient. So I put her and all her stuff in the car, phoned the school that I would not be back for the foreseeable future (a year and a half), and took her home on the ferry. I remember taking her to school in the car each day. I remember going at lunchtime to see that she was doing her part–I remember checking with the band teacher, who said she had left early for the washroom, I remember waiting at her locker, and I remember her arriving in time for the end of lunch, all red in the face, having been on a run. Another time a neighbour phoned, having seen her in the neighbourhood, Grantham’s Landing, running, and I was grateful and got in the car to go and find her and return her to school. I was patient, I could do this, could do it forever. Gemma would come back to us with time. And she did. There were monthly appointments at Children’s–we took the car on the ferry, drove to the hospital, physical check-up with nurse, doctor, and then psychiatrist, and home by 6:30 PM, picked up her brother at Michelle’s house, and made dinner if her dad hadn’t already. The process was crazy-making, but I had a leave-of-absence, a lot of supportive acquaintances.

Dissecting Behaviour: why not act?

I wondered why I didn’t act, to do something that would have prevented catastrophe. This morning I woke up, very little sleep, thinking I understood something about my past that predicted my inaction when it counted.

Perhaps experimenting with feeling threatened and feeling threatening my brother would chase me around the house–at home alone together or if our mother heard she would shout his name with an angry tone. I think we considered it a natural sibling thing. I didn’t know what I feared, but I knew the right thing to do was run. We would start out angry or intense, he would say something disparaging about my friends, or knock something from my hand, or I remember he turned off the tape recorder, I was taping music from a movie on TV and he had to interfere. I would be defensive, verbally or wack him and, run. Eventually he would laugh and leave me alone. Maybe I laughed too, with relief–it was over, I was okay and only a little literally bruised. It was all in fun though I had no fun. At dinner time we behaved normally. Nothing wrong, we had run it out of ourselves. We might have our secret (sibling-rivalry), but for the moment, all was apparently well.

When it didn’t serve my brother he sometimes lost his temper, in sports getting penalties for poor sportsmanship (smashing the ball against the floor after a whistle), and at teachers, losing out on academic recognition because he had an attitude and a bad temper. Years later I heard a radio interview, “Depression in youth is not sadness; it is anger.” I found the information shocking as a revelation. It fit with what I knew–an angry boy, suffering depression as an adult. Something else I heard was, an infant that experiences trauma at birth can have psychological scars in adulthood. Mother said, “He was black and blue” (and probably should have been a C-section) but in those days, who knew.

Children of royalty are surrounded by influencers and our children are no less precious. People try to help them. I would have treated a pet better, a voiceless thing. She had excuses, explanations, and only me, so the effect was reassurance but not happiness for either of us. I should have recalled that, with other hospital admissions to regain weight she would be happier straight away. Angst, irritability, continued and it was contagious.

From the time we met, my husband had occasional melt-downs of apparent anger or angst. After quite a few years (when it was affecting the kids) I realized there was a pattern and pointed it out to him–every 3 to 5 months he would disintegrate; bellow about being misunderstood, world against him, and us siding with the rascally world. We had small children and my husband would get out of sorts, erupt in a sort of argument, “Things shouldn’t be thus, and, there!, you are!, (me), disagreeing with me–always siding with them (whoever).” I think it might be a socialising reflex to respond to grumpiness intending to sooth or reveal the benign truth, with things like, “Possibly you misunderstood. You feel this way, but they probably never thought of it as a put-down. Possibly they misunderstood,” or whatever.

2016, twenty-seven years into our marriage, husband experienced occasional visual migraines, experiencing loss of time. Going to evening class, 5th of 6, on Anger Management, he had to pull over. He thought he was hungry, but then couldn’t remember his PIN for debit purchase at 7-Eleven. So he called me, got an ambulance, and we met in Burnaby emergency. He was diagnosed with epilepsy, spells he could predict from how he felt. He was told to avoid flashing or blinking lights on TV, and given medication. Some of “our arguments” over the years may have been after TV news or shows that included blinking lights. Driving that night would have included oncoming lights. He was disoriented.

About 8 years into our marriage we had a typical argument battling for affection or intimacy. Of course this never makes sense, you don’t get angry when your partner is uncertain of the answer for, “Can we have sex.” But, there you go. I ran (a familiar feeling) from anger in the house. I ran out the door and onto the deck, on the snow and ice. I ran around the perimeter of the house and he was outside so I ran back in, made my way to daughter’s room and lay down between the wall and the bed in her room in the dark to sleep. I was aware he searched and was awake when he peeked into the darkened room and could probably see my feet, and I slept, there on the floor.

Recently my husband simply corrected me and I was aware several times that it gives me an awful feeling through the chest and stomach, say when we are working together on painting, things like that. And it cuts, I can feel a stone in my stomach and I think I have always been this way. She experienced this from both of us.

All this to say–this morning I recognised my behaviour last summer, as incapable against the confident, irrational eating disorder (aka my daughter, my pet) telling me what to do and think. And my husband, deciding for “us” to sell the condo and move to the interior–in spite of having a daughter across town struggling with mental health problems. She seemed fine, text and phone calls, but I think I knew better. Did I know? I convinced myself to concentrating on staying-the-course, by reflex or habit, as someone else is in charge. The object is to maintain the status quo, accept what is provided as a framework. There’s been a study of crabs in the ocean, they are bold or shy. Action decisions are personal and not predictable across all individuals. Responses may not be altogether unpredictable, but it depends on circumstances, like influencers.

If I understood in my subconscious that the ED was driving her (making stuff up), then my own behaviour was to smooth things, make what was dealt appear to be fine. It seemed a much bigger a-ha when I woke today (very little sleep last night and working at 3 PM today).

I did not act. I felt crazy, but was maintaining control by sticking to habits. She called to get picked up and taken for a drive. “There is a little bit of white fluff on your cheek …” “Oh, that is probably from the tape from the feeding tube,” but it was just a speck of white satin. How did she have an answer ready?

Visually, things were seriously dangerous. We stopped the one time at the back of Lions Gate Hospital and I wanted her to get out and I could take a photo with the sign, “HOpe.” But she wouldn’t, “Let’s go Mum. This is annoying. Take me home.” We spoke of mild things, not too much about recovery or treatment–because she said she was in the intensive programs at St. Paul’s. Her weight was low, the light on the panel for the front passenger seat was on–indicating 65 lbs or less, if I had cared to look up what the light meant before she died (I looked it up after she died).

I think the idea of treating the most valuable relationship in my life, as no more deserving of attention and appreciation as I had been given, had to do with being accustomed to despair and making-nice. Act normal and things will settle down to being normal. I figure we were both terrified. I wanted the status quo to begin to work–behave like normal, including the assumption that she ate food when she was at home. And she wanted me to guess, to figure out her lies, and to save her against the disorder that made her lie.

Personality and experiences worked against us. We were out of sync. Fear took away common sense. Words and reflexes meant both of us were disarmed. No one to intervene, even the slightest concerned comment would typically have steered me in agreement towards appropriate suspicion, realisation, and determination, and dramatic action, against dread, fear, and indecision. But the disease ran its natural course. Service to others is perhaps treatment. I am in prison and there is no parole.

What if … (what she wanted)

The evening I keep going back to was sometime between Jan to Mar, 2019. Gemma and I have arrived at her building after a drive, we get out of the car, I walk her to the door and, as we start to say good bye, Julie comes out the glass door.

Reframing what happened, what it meant, and the long-term upshot of not acting when “doing SOMETHING” would have saved both of them–the reframing provides me with satisfaction of knowing how the story should have ended (or the encounter at least). Everything that hinges on that brief moment.

“Oh, hi Julie. How … are you doing,” Gemma said. Julie looked gaunt, tired. She had makeup on, and a coat that I admired, and high leather boots on the skinniest legs, except that I couldn’t see the legs for the boots. I had seen Julie before. I found from Facebook Messenger, Aug 28, 2018, I had left the book, Orange is the New Black with Julie to pass on to Gemma, and Julie messaged Gemma to hand it on. But here was going to be a conversation.

I thought, Poor thing, she looks like a former lady-of-the-night, broken down and, sadly, she isn’t taking care of herself. If only she would decide to look after herself (how naive). I should have known better. Gemma had an eating disorder, obviously Julie had an eating disorder too. My thought was, “Ask about her fine coat, it is top quality, it reminds me of the fabric and tailoring in the dress that I got in Italy years ago,” but I didn’t ask. I recoiled. Visually my response was to look away and then look from one to the other with only mild interest.

“Oh, I’m alright. Just going for a walk I guess. How are you?” Julie asked.

“This is my mum,” Gemma introduced us, and I acknowledged hullo. I was feeling uncomfortable. I think I felt visual pain on her behalf, but annoyed with Julie for not taking care of herself, impatient that the conversation was happening–signs that I needed to act. Ache with regret. I waited until the two had greeted, commiserated about “Okay, and not bad,” with some undercurrent of understanding. But I decided for myself that Julie had lead a rough life and that the two of them hardly knew one another. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Stop me if I’ve told you all this already, but? What if I had acted? Worksafe for safety on the job says, “See, Think, Do,” See it, think it, do it. I see that Julie is in terrible shape. I think: Julie is in trouble, I must help. I do “an intervention,” so that Julie is not left vulnerable, so frail that I must have known she could not last long in her present physical condition. I don’t know when this was, January? March? Julie died mid-April.

“Julie,” I would say, “That is a beautiful coat. It reminds me of a dress I bought in Europe, beautifully tailored. I have never owned anything like it since.”

“Oh, thank you,” Julie would say. “I made this myself,” (I learned later that Julie took courses in design and fashion construction), or she said, “I got this in Italy a few years ago. I am into fashion, I like nice things.” People who are emotionally stuck, with anorexia for example, cannot label their emotions–it did not occur to me that I was experiencing any emotion.

“It is so nice!” I gushed (was I too tired to put thoughts together? Was I so visually shocked that I could not be polite and helpful?) “Julie, I feel sad.” I got her attention. “I am worried about you. I think you have been bullied … by anorexia. I can take you to safety. Gemma and I just got back from a drive–the car is right there, see? You and Gemma climb in the back, buckle-up and we will go to the hospital, near where I live.” She would have said no. No she wouldn’t have. Gemma would not help me. Yes, she would have. Gemma was trapped–if Gemma got involved in helping Julie it would trigger her own anxiety about anorexia and she would feel like it was pulling her under.

The two girls, women, in the back of the car. Every night I drive the two to the alternate hospital–a second opinion, new venue. Evening surrounds us, city lights, we cross the bridge, right lane into North Vancouver, up Capilano to the Upper Levels, three exits until Lonsdale, down Lonsdale, slide into emergency and quietly, friendly, invite the two to come inside and register at the desk to be seen, treated, feeding tubes, vitamin k, hydration.

The most recent addition to this nightly saga is that–maybe in real life Julie waited for her moment to exit through the main entrance of their building. I feel Julie may have waited for Gemma–with her mother and a car. Julie may have thought, “Gemma’s mother will help me. Take me to safety.” I reframe things that happen, I make stuff up–but I believe it is possible this is true.

Until I saw their correspondence (same building, but using social messaging), I didn’t think that Julie knew Gemma. Their communications back and forth, Gemma was so kind–Julie began by sending a Photoshopped painting that she had come across that resembles Gemma (a proper oil painting, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, that was altered to make the subject look in worse shape than anyone could be in). Gemma saw it and agreed, it looked like Gemma, but then kindly asked, “How are you?” It is all there.

Then a half year later I knew Julie was in trouble. I didn’t think to do something, it didn’t cross my mind. I did not think one inch in front of me. Instead I was relieved when they finished chatting. For another half year I didn’t think about the meeting, until after Gemma died. Then I realized, to save Gemma, I, we, would need to save Julie first. Even Erin–with two additional allies may have been okay. If even one thing had been different, nothing would be the same.

The expression, “one thing lead to another …” down that same rabbit hole. Life, instead of looking forward imagining a future, is looking back imagining a past. I think the only cure for being this stuck, is service to others. It has been mentioned down the ages. Filling life, which may have helped Gemma with her OCD, can be the answer for what I’ve got. Sure hope so. She believed in God. I thought I never would understand. But I do. God have mercy.


Their dialogue. Aug 6, 2018 Julie messaged Gemma with the distorted painting, to communicate, “does this remind you of anyone ???!!!” and “even her little hands look like yours !!!! how uncanny.”

“Oh my god! Ha! Where is this from?,” replied Gemma.

“I think from a digital design site …it has peoples’ portfolios done with [A]dobe programs,” Julie said.

“I want to look healthier but yes the resemblance is uncanny! Especially when I had longer hair!” and “How are you Julie?”

“I know and also the painting is such a classic style and i know you love to read…. I’m not doing very well to tell you the truth. Something is really bothering me lately but i don’t know what !! 😏” and “Even your hair in your profile picture is the same style and texture as this image !”

“Ha yes! You’re right about the hair! I’m sorry you’re not doing well. I’m in [hospital]. I’ve been here before but not for a few years. I’m doing the right thing though and using the support. There is always a bright side- I’m taking this as an opportunity to jumpstart my recovery, and also to learn about health care/occupational therapy (my career goal),” replied Gemma.

Julie wrote, “Oh dear…yes i am all too familiar with that place. Good for you for taking advantage of the resources. I always thought it was weird how they made me go there so much and then the outpatient program suddenly ended. Sometimes the hospital is a safe place to be. I used to have to go there at least 4-6 times per year but that ended in 2012. I never thought i would EVER say this; but i kind of miss it. I hope you get a little bit of nourishment b/c you are so capable and adept at so much. it’s really quite rare…but i guess alot of very intelligent people suffer 😘🌷

“How come you don’t have to go anymore? Are you not with VCH?” Gemma asked.

“I am with vch but I’m on my “step-out”…plus it is very hard for me to trust care providers because of issues in the past so i don’t know if i want to “step back” in.”

Aug 8, 2018, “I think I understand a bit how you feel. It’s hard for me to trust doctors who have certified me before. Even though I know it was to save my life. I hope you continue to look after your health and best interests, and to pursue your wonderful artistic passions dear Julie ❤️

“Yes…it is the most terrifying thing to me. It made my ed so bad. I hope you are tolerating things. Let me know if you need anything or if you ever want to chat i’m here. Just went to the quest store in new west. Such a cute little town here 🌸😘

“You are a tough cookie Julie. You have been through a lot of hell but you’re not alone. I know it’s hard but it is the eating disorder that creates all this shit and fear for us. Quest in new west? Is it a new one?”

“Pretty new i think it’s always got nice veggies for SO cheap. Yes i know ultimately it is the ed that is the culpit …but i get suicidal from any weight restoration so it’s hard for me to find motivation for anything beyond maintenance. Would like to put more stuff back in my life….ie work & school …. Are you going to be in any groups at vch? I have to go back soon or it will be past the 6mo max for step out.”

“I liked insight into action. I’m so sorry that happens to you with weight restoration. That is incredibly painful Julie. Maybe when you are healthy again and no longer need to restore those thoughts would diminish?”

“…unfortunately for me it doesn’t work. I know alot of people suggest that your brain gets better when u get better nourishment but of all the years (25+) that i have had experience it’s only made things worse. I wish it were not like that b/c i love my family very much.” and “You would be such a good occupational therapist !! Vancouver definitely needs more that’s for sure !!!”

“Thanks Julie. My goal is to recover from anorexia and to help others. I love talking to you and I appreciate your honesty. You can always be honest with me. I know how difficult this is. And it’s different for everyone. Hold on to your truth ❤️

“That would be lovely if you could recover. You are so smart and charismatic. So much to offer the world …and you have alot of life ahead of you too 🙌” and “Omgosh forever waiting for the 17 oak errrg”

“Yes I know the feeling! I used to take that bus when I was an inpatient at Children’s to my choir practice downtown at Christ Church Cathedral. It takes forever”

Julie replied, “It just broke down too!”

“Ack typical 🙁

“That must’ve been weird in childrens hospital. Did you always live in vancouver?”

Aug 12, 2018, Julie messaged, “How have you been doing? Do you ever get panic attacks? I have been getting really horrible ones l8ly”

“Nope I’m ok! I’m getting through my Saint Paul’s stay. Although it’s mentally and physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I feel awful, I have good support through friends and family and I’m fighting the thoughts myself. I have some autonomy I feel despite being certified, and I’m working hard to get stable. I’m sorry to hear about the panic attacks Julie. What do you think they are about? Is there anything that helps? Can I do anything?”

“I don’t know why….usually i get them if i’m feeling weak in body but not tired in brain. There has been no hot water for about 2-3 days except for a brief hiatus last night. Can’t wait for bedtime and it’s only 4 😣😣 want a shower !!!!”

“Hot water is important! What are they bloody thinking turning it off for that long!? Did you get any notice at all?”

Reframing: ED as AN + OCD

So I came to conclusion, probably part of the grief process. Woke up feeling push-pulled through the time she had left. Doubt, guilt, should want to do this or that. Should want to go on a road trip, should want to buy a different house.

All these shoulds represent going against one’s own nature. I felt uncomfortable doing things, thinking I should want to do things–travel, visit, socialize. In my heart of hearts I wanted to remain open to paying attention. I wonder if it is part of agoraphobia? I don’t like earphones, headphones, movies, concerts, TV. Let me read a book or do a puzzle and then quickly I am available. I can jump up and come or go for her. I can think.

I had a compulsion to stay busy with paid work. That is the opposite, that means I was not available quickly. But these were little, short-term temp jobs. I asked her just once, “Hey, I’ll come for a visit, we can play Scrabble, I’ll just …”

“No. I told staff at the front, no visitors.” But, I only asked her the once. From there I thought I was being obedient. It was rigid thinking. She had rigid thinking because of the anorexia (or the OCD). I was the dutiful person who would help out by doing what I was told–but what is required is flexible analysis, and revisiting. Ask. Then ask again.

Ask yourself, “What would she do?” Answer to that was, “She would do something cheerful, like bring flowers (even though request was no visitors).” She would not be stuck on texting. She would try Facetime–that would have revealed her secret. Gemma would pay a surprise visit, even just to the staff–to meet them and ask after the patient, “How is she?” She would be kind. She told me the expression, “Given the choice whether to be right or be kind, be kind.” Healthy Gemma would have chosen kind. Happy and kind. Not concerned, disappointed, and doubtful. She would have got it right.

I heard from Erin’s mother today. Erin died an accidental death at home but it may have been ED connected. She had been on the unit in, maybe sometimes at the same time as Gemma. The doctor being scrutinised was the same, or at least the name was familiar, one of multiple medical people involved on the ED ward. Her daughter spoke of Julie, and how “the system” let Julie down (there is no system). Erin’s mother said the psychiatrist released Julie to her own care, to go home. 100% predictable result. For sure the doctor can point to the Mental Health Act, which says a patient has a right to refuse treatment. But I see it as negligent, that the patient who hasn’t the capacity to make a decision, nor the mass to be a viable human, then keep them, persuade them, section them, to stay on the ward–you cannot be “conflict averse” and uphold the oath to “Do no harm.” To release a patient that is a threat to themselves is unconscionable. I don’t think they will get in much trouble over this–doctor, doing the best they know how, under the circumstances, to treat, or release girls, women, one after the other after the other. People indifferent to recovering. Ambivalent about feeling better than indifferent.

I will never know who or how many, over at least five years, have been turned out because “they decided” to go with the anorexia, rather than recovery. While I thought that the definition of anorexia is refusing treatment–it might be the combination of anorexia plus OCD. After researching OCD on the net the other night, I think what drove Gemma’s illness was OCD. She could treat the noisy, bossy, nasty, self reproaching accompaniment going on in her head, by focusing on something. While she focused on food and restricting behaviours, the noise was not so bad. Giving up anorexia meant the OCD was back with a vengeance.

She could quiet the OCD her with restricting and thinking of food 100% of the time. Mental health is complicated. Medical intervention helps. But medical people can be conflict-averse and cave easily to the demands of the mental health monster. Once the supporter sides with the illness, the patient feels they were not worth the trouble. Patients with eating disorders can feel unworthy of treatment thinking, “I’m not sick enough.” Or even, I’m not sick at all.

I was a supporter who believed Gem when she said, “It has to be for myself; I can’t recover if it is a demand from other people.” She said it was the reason other attempts failed. I figure other times did not fail–she gained weight and health and her happy outlook came back. If she got busy she became vulnerable to not maintaining her weight–the OCD came back as her defences got frail, and she lost weight and judgement.

“I’ll recover for myself,” is a fake goal that maintains the illness. “If I do it for myself, it will stick.” You just have to do it and not for anyone, because the illness will find a hole in motivation–“Me? I don’t feel like it just now. I think I’ll take a rest and someday decide to do it myself.” Cod-swaddle. She was tricked by her own sense of purpose.

Anorexia is a monster. OCD is even worse. Patients would like to keep the anorexia, because they feel it defines who they are (whether that feels like strong, restrained, confident; or sick, needing care and attention). On the other hand, the patient would like to get rid of the noisy OCD. One article said, “With a tumour on your brain, would the surgeon decide to remove some of the cancer, and leave some of the cancer?” To rid yourself of OCD, and keep the compulsion to restrict–not going to happen.

You will always have the OCD but you can learn to keep it under control. Mask it with mal-coping behaviours that relieve the OCD, and now you can’t stop the behaviour or the noise–self-chastising talk becomes overwhelming. Overwhelmed people seek help.

What siding with the illness sounds like, “You’ve chosen discharge? You’ve decided it will work for you to isolate and treat yourself?” Death sentence. Eleven specialised years of education and a naive or ill-prepared psychiatrist can be just as dumb as the next person. Disaster.

Not Dead, Just Gone

We admitted to each on the drive home that we each had a hard time at points today. Went for the walk, Dundarave by streets and seawall back to Ambleside. We dropped Elena’s office chair at the transfer station, having painted at her’s last week. We stopped by Home Depot for hooks Sam needs for ladders on the van. I read my book and iced my arm–texting on the phone last night, or using the roller last weekend, or dishwashing at Mangia E Bevi Monday and Tuesday.

It’s June and she died in October. Nights are a few hours of sleep and then wide awake, redoing some episode of interaction with Gemma in the 20 months prior to her death. Reworking the conversation, saying things that should have been said, explaining my loneliness to her, when she said, “no visitors,” and avoided our prying to find her admission was fictional. She got us; she got us both, she really did.

The book I’m reading, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” Lori Gottlieb, fits right in. The idea that I should have sought therapy last summer–but everything seemed so transparently understandable. I thought I was worried about my relationship with Sam, I thought he would be worrying about us too, while he and Ian (26) worked in Gibsons and stayed in the fifth-wheel, and I was working temp here in Vancouver.

We thought she was in hospital, safe in recovery. The irritability didn’t diminish, and whenever she was hospitalized for recovery one would notice she would be more cheerful and talk about people and things. There were no people in her calls with us. We should have remarked to each other how boring her calls were. Her days seemed pretty dull and it all sounded like work, “Oh they are calling us for mealtime now.” I didn’t ask much about things like the name of her personal care worker while she supposedly had the feeding-tube. A staff member who would be right there with her, if there had really been one, if she were really in St. Paul’s. We both admit that we know the hospital so well from past admissions, we were relieved she found her own way there and could get an admission when she needed one. Stupidly ignorant of how those other admissions were big plans and not sudden and simple. She learned about the OCP bed at outpatient from one of the girls at outpatient programs who explained how she had been in it on an emergency basis while waiting for a bed. The OCP bed would not have a phone bedside, so her cell would make sense.

Tired. Going to bed early. The thing I sat to say is, She stopped living and that’s all. True, there is a hole in our hearts. While she was across town in her place, she was there, living. Now she’s not living. And that’s all. We can go on having conversations in our heads with her. We can examine the mistakes we made, agony, thinking of the wasted opportunities, silly, foolish. Like in June, a pedicure? No thank you. Messing around on the computer. I figure she went to the library. Why didn’t I go with her, even just for her to have her toes done? And a 30 minute swim five nights in a row, instead of calling her, in August. Not wanting to stress or trigger her about exercise. If she were in hospital she would not be stressed about my walks or swim. I could have just gone to the hospital, didn’t need her invitation, “no visitors,” how stupid. I felt good about Gemma in recovery, Sam and Ian working away together, enjoying each other’s company. I felt good working days and being home on my own evenings, tidying just my things, the place for sale, enjoying the place on my own.

Is it only frightening and sorrowful because I have so many regrets? I feel like I’m going down a too-steep slide, when I remember writing the letter of complaint about the therapist, and ending with saying, You got to know her thoughts. It was too much to ask that she repeat her feelings for me, or us. Now, I’ll never know her thoughts.

The world is the same though it seems so foreign. She didn’t die. She’s just not living.

It Gets Worse

May 21, 2020. The middle of the night angst, routine, but now it includes Julie.

Memory of standing by the entrance door to their building Gem greeted Julie, dressed in nice clothes, a nice coat anyways, small and shrunken like a little old bird. I cringed inside, at the sight of her, felt pain crease my brow, thought something like, “God, why would she do this to herself?” The “God” part should be seen as a question to oneself, the why part is because compulsive behaviour is not a choice. They actually knew each other quite well. I didn’t know. I thought theirs was a nodding acquaintance.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Late night studying in the dark I have concluded, I should have collapsed right there, prayed out loud, “God, help me to figure out what to do for these girls?” Taken them by the hand, hugged them, asked them for an answer. Asked them to get in the car, I’d drive them to Lions Gate Hospital, an alternative to St Paul’s where they’d both apparently been felt to be worthless (unknown and unremembered by me), for their apparent decision to restrict.

It wasn’t one person that I didn’t act for. “Forgive me the things I did and things I left undone.” It was the two of them. I cringed and didn’t act. That is a crime. I was in a position “to know better.” But I didn’t. I honestly didn’t know that I should do something. I thought they barely knew each other.

“Let me drive. Get in the back. Hold hands. I will take you to safety. I will drive to urgent care entrance at the hospital. They will know what to do. They will do things that will make you safe.” Perhaps it was February or March when we encountered Julie at the door. I think she died in April and Gemma died in October. It all came together these last two nights in the middle of the night. I play the encounter over and over, I stand aside, the two meet, I say nothing, I worry Julie is too ill to continue. I feel that Gemma is headed that way. I allow myself to think that Julie’s is a decision. I let myself believe that Gemma is going to programs in order to be admitted to intensive treatment–even while she is doing courses. I think I felt we were walking a tight-rope, don’t upset the apple cart, things are in motion … the illness had me in its grip. Bystander syndrome, watching like it was a stage.

There Was No Secret

It occurs to me, there was no plan. She was backed into a corner. I figure we put her there.

Sa Jul 20, we (Ian, Gem and I) had got back from the lake, on way home had stayed at Auntie Susan’s condo at Whistler. Shoulda coulda gone right to hospital when we hit town. We dropped Ian at the condo. Sam saw Gemma and was agitated. He says he saw her and was upset. She was at home and we were here. But I can’t understand, how could he be all riled up if she was there. But he figures we had dropped her at home. Maybe he and I drove her on to hers, we could have stopped at emergency instead, we dropped her and her stuff off at her place, and then came home. And that’s when Sam started in about 911. Kind of a delayed reaction …

The secret was spontaneous–Sam remembers something like, she asked me on the phone, “Is Dad serious about calling 911?” He was concerned. He had tried Barbara, “Confidentiality means I can’t tell you anything.” Gem said, I have an appointment next week, I’ll be ready to go in then.

M 22 Jul Gemma texted, don’t worry, I’ll be seeing Dr. Klassen tomorrow. I phoned the ED clinic office, “I can’t tell you anything, due to confidentiality–but I can tell you Dr. Klassen is not in tomorrow.” Sam texted Gemma–Oh, said Gem, I was mistaken, I’m going on Friday. Sam texted, Get back on track. Gemma texted, Okay, thanks Dad.

There was no Dr. Klassen appointment. She hadn’t been to the ED clinic since Sep 18. It was Sam that said, “I’ll call 911,” to have her hospitalized. So, hospital was our idea, and, no visitors was her idea. She didn’t plan to lie. She didn’t plan a secret. It was where we were going to put her, so, she sort of … went there herself. Only it was fiction. She thought, “They will figure it out and come for me. Then I’ll be in trouble. Then I will really have to go to hospital.” She was annoyed. But that’s the way it would have to be.

Only we didn’t pick at her story. I didn’t go to her landlord to check her “empty” place. I didn’t go get some flowers and take them to her in hospital–even if I can’t see her I can leave them for her with staff. I didn’t do that. I didn’t go buy a Scrabble game and take it for her, even no visitors, a visitor unseen would still be heartening. I took her at her word.

I thought I knew, good things were happening–recovery, and I figured not to bother her, or burden her with me or my thoughts or news good or bad. I didn’t want to tell her I went for a swim at the rec centre, I didn’t want to ask if she knew about the fugitives on the run–a terrible news story.

I could have stopped at the library and got her a big bag of books. But I pictured the unit, so familiar, and the book case in the walkway by the TV, and the books there. She told us she was reading and watching movies. Anne Frank, she said, hadn’t read it in a long time, she said. Just like me, she said, up in her little garret.  I don’t think she said, Hidden. Hiding. But she might have.

I was itching to go see her, but I thought I would refrain from ruining it, behave. Stay away as she thought it was helping.

After 6 weeks I saw her and she still looked terrible. Gemma! But, she told me she was in the program, just a weekend at home. I have get various evening drives mixed up, maybe she had “a pass,” one time, too. Another time she texted me to pick her up at 3:00 at the hospital, but not if I was too busy. And I texted her quite a while later that I could do that. And she took a while to come out of the hospital … she was never there. She had to hurry from wherever she had gotten to and come out the hospital door by the parking. And I had no problem with that. I must be the stupidest person in the world.

In debrief letter Barbara told Gemma, You feel terrible about lying to to your parents, but you can go forward anyhow (about the spoiled admission, the discharge that came after a melt down, she told us she was discharged a couple weeks after she was). We knew she was on the unit that time, Clara helped her take her stuff for that admission. But she had let us off the hook, “No visitors,” her idea. I didn’t know family supporters are considered essential or “no visitors” would have been the give-away. I only learned things after she died. I thought no visitors sounded reasonable. That she had her own way to recover, and I would honour her wishes.

She painted herself into a corner. The fake hospital admission, a lie, she figured we would be mad about that. The no visitors–she probably forgot all about that, and we were staying away to honour her–but she figured we wouldn’t stay away, we would find out she had lied once we finally came to visit.

Hints that I can remember were, emails and texts, reading Anne Frank reminded Gemma of herself in her little garret (did she say, hiding, in her garret?). Another hint was, “on a pass, Burger King.” I accidentally texted back to Sam though, “Burger King??” And late in the day he wondered what that was about. And Sam got, “Went to Denny’s.” And he asked her in phone conversation, and she listed what she had had.

By that time she was probably thinking of food 100% of the time.

Past admissions to intensive treatment and she would start to sound happy and relieved right away. Control was wrested from the anorexia, she was forced to give it up, and things were all good, she could relax. That’s all it is. She didn’t mean to lie.

We were going to call 911. She had to think of something. She didn’t want to lose the anorexia. She could recover all by herself at home.

In the Age of Covid-19

Covid is hard on people because it leaves you inside your head. Having lost Gemma, I find her there, again and again.

What if. What if I couldn’t stand to be lied to. What if I subconsciously knew the story she wove didn’t make sense–but, to keep the peace or something, I didn’t disturb the fabrication, just played along? This can’t be exactly true, but it’s been 6 months, and I can sort of see. I was stubborn about the lie. I thought she was being silly, sure. But I pushed to get past the lie–something’s got to give.

She said in the spring, “I’m not like them.” We were by front entrance of Glynn Manor public housing, Gemma’s place. I was dropping her off, she told me about ‘Julie’ that died in the spring, and that other girl, the one that lived in Glynn Manor, too, bird-like and too frail to last long. But we didn’t speak truth to her either. We chatted, as if starvation is normal. Gemma wanted to know, should we, would I, should we go to the funeral? I don’t know whose, must have been the bird-like woman, maybe her name was Julie.

What if. So then Gemma asked, Can I come stay? Better if she had simply said, I’m coming to stay. I was annoyed at the time, Sam had the condo on the market. If it sold and the subject-to place sold, we’d be homeless. What were we selling for anyway? Had I agreed with him to sell? No, I was dragged into it, agreed, but with a mind to maybe this will fix something. Gemma had said, “That’s weird. And I won’t be moving up there.” Sam thought it would be perfect for her. I felt cringy. Even now he says, “It wasn’t really for sale anymore. It wasn’t really on the market.” But I had said at the 3 months mark, Good let’s take it off. But, no. It’s not really on the market anymore anyway. But.

What if. I was mad at Sam (all about me). A year earlier I was working in classroom after school and Gemma came by. Where had she been, where had she just come from? I don’t think I asked, assumed it was from programs, at East Hastings clinic, I don’t think I asked, “Hi Gem! Good to see you, how are you?” Kept working, marking at the centre table. “Not good. I got discharged from inpatient …” I think she explained about the burnt pasta and panic that ensued. I expressed encouragement, “Can you get back in?” That is what she meant when she said things like, “You need to validate me! My thoughts and feelings.” I needed to say, “Gee that’s too bad. Would you like my help with anything? Want to try for some sort of plan?” But instead I asked her, told her, “… back in the program.” More of the same.

I could have got a cab, or maybe I had my car that day. “Get in the car, we’ll go to the other hospital, to emergency, get you some help.” But I didn’t. That time or another, she left the classroom in a huff–I should have gone after her–grabbed my purse and caught up in the hallway. But instead I called out to her, “What about me?” I think I was annoyed with Sam that he didn’t care about me or anyone (all about me). God. Selfish girl, no insight into Gemma’s pain. Just let her go. I don’t know whether she went home? She must have. I could have gone with her. We should have talked. Was I playing “tough love” or something? Bear the consequences of your decisions, if it’s leaving me, or panicking in the program and discharging–but you can initiate another admission? What did know about it though? What a terrible human being. Sam blames everyone else–being distant or something. But I know it was me (all about me).

I see similarities in my relationship with my mother. Today is her birthday (she would be 90 today. It’s 4/20, she didn’t like when it became marijuana day, though she loved her cigarettes. It had always been “Hitler’s birthday,” she sighed). My mother looked at me without seeing anything that needed help. We talked, but I think in the same way she was distracted. I thought of her as sort “other” as well. I’m sure I tried to ask for help, and she wasn’t there for me either. I am my mother. Only, way worse.

What if. It was really the end. Gemma had pretended to discharge F Sep 27. Greta Thurnberg was in town and the streets had been full of protesters. I was working temp and all I had to do was take a bus after work, “But she’ll be tired, and happy to be home in her own place.” I went over the next day and we went for a drive. Was Sam with me? He denies having seen her in months. I don’t think that is true. Did Gem and I go visit Maple Wood Farm petting zoo, and then I drove to the back of Lions Gate Hospital, “Look at the place that Dad painted,” Shakespeare House. She wouldn’t get out of the car. And I looked in the windows admiring Sam’s work, realizing my phone was in my purse in the back of the car, and, I looked up and down the street trying to figure out geographic names to … What? To call 911, an ambulance. But Gemma was just out of hospital, I thought, and poised to go back in, she said. She was invested in the St. Paul’s program, she said. I should have figured, “Let’s get a second opinion.” I should have driven around to emergency. I should have called an ambulance. “Gem, look at the sign, HOpe Centre,” and I wanted a picture, I really did. “Hope … Gem.” But she wouldn’t get out of the car.

The last night, the Monday before the Wednesday that she died, October 7. We went for a drive. Southlands, and I stopped the car to chat, I think at the top of the treed path that leads to the water, by the First Nations reserve land, evening. She seemed to find some humour, “Would you rather be a …” walrus or kangaroo, whatever it was. Her game from forever. No one liked it. Maybe it was a sign, from forever, when she tried to get us to play she wasn’t well. I wanted things to be better, or at least feel better, another game, an adult game, how about Truth or Dare? But I didn’t say it. It would have been perfect.

When she was supposedly in inpatient treatment I should have noticed–other admissions, as soon as she got help, her mood relaxed, she was cheerful. The whole “no visitors” thing would not wash. She loved us to come. She didn’t get more annoyed, she got happier. In July that should have occurred to me. Now this was October.

What if. I knew it was lies, and I didn’t like being lied to, and I felt she owed me some … I don’t know, respect? All about me. So I said, No, to the game. Drove towards home, her eyes weren’t seeing any of the scenery. Up Cambie, then right on 70th or so, I slowed and swerved slightly to maybe pull in, in front of some random house to … talk. But something felt urgent. Nothing was right, something was desperate–don’t stop, something needs to be done. “I thought we were going home?” Small voice. Me, covering up my desire to “do something” but I knew not what, “I just wanted to extend the drive, I wanted to have a look at this area, always something I haven’t seen …” What if I didn’t like the lie, I was annoyed and angry, semiconscious of being lied to. She couldn’t tell the truth–anorexia wouldn’t let her.

God forgive me. There is nowhere to do to get back time or take back words. Brainless is no excuse; she is the one that was undernourished. A rock and a hard place. She couldn’t tell the truth and I couldn’t stand the lie. What if I was that mean on purpose. “Where is Gemma? What have you done with her? Give her back!” But I didn’t say it. I didn’t park the car, fall down in the road, call 911, get an ambulance, minutes from help. I let a lie carry her away. She didn’t let it–she could not help it. Illness is cruel. Selfish confusion and I didn’t do, anything. To help her. Can’t you tell me? No. I can’t. Anorexia took her choice and her voice. What if I knew?