There’s an entire chapter about hunger in Juliana Hatfield’s new autobiography, When I Grow Up. In the wake of the label politics that kept her God’s Foot album from seeing the light of day, the singer fixated on controlling what went in her mouth. A Clif Bar for breakfast, a handful of trail mix for lunch. “I came home from the Blake Babies reunion tour in 2001 weighing a hundred pounds, my lowest ever,” she writes in the book. “One of my brothers said I looked like a concentration camp victim.” Food is a frequent topic of Juliana’s song blog, too, but after an eventful summer that saw the release of her debut book and a performance on The Tonight Show to promote new album How To Walk Away, this latest post was unexpected to say the least. The struggle with anorexia that has now caused her, at 41, to seek professional help is discussed in the context of her hit “Universal Heartbeat,” keeping with the format of her online song diary. “Before computers you never would have found me blabbing (blogging [blogging is blabbing]) so openly like this about this,” she writes before explaining the ins and outs of the E.D. center that’s treating her. “We all sit in the kitchen together and there is a monitor at the head of the table making sure we eat everything on our plates and drink everything in our cups. This is called the refeeding process. It must be done slowly and steadily, with more food added on as time progresses so we don’t shock our systems. So we are not in danger of ending up like Karen Carpenter.” It’s heartbreaking stuff, though she says she is a model patient and expects to be released today. Here’s her post:
Sunday, November 9th, 2008
What a trip; I’m better for it”: that will be me, when I get through this thing I am going through.
This song is all about depression. When we make it to the other side we can feel triumphant (“landing on a crowded shore, high-fiving”) and so grateful for having survived. Also we can’t help but develop an empathy for the suffering of others after going through something so painful.
Maybe those of us who feel and think deeply, who suffer a lot inside, who are kind of mental are not to be pitied for our frequent aches, but should be patted on the back for sticking it out when it hurts so much. We who don’t ever give up and who continue to believe that things can — that WE can — be better. We are alive, we are not numb. We fight on and on and on. We fight our self-destructive urges. We refuse to close up our hearts and become bitter and dead inside in order not to experience the frequent hurts of an ultra-sensitive soul/mind/heart.
Sometimes I feel like a human pincushion. Every painful emotion hits me with ridiculously exaggerated force. And the anxiety feels like hands inside of me, squeezing my guts really hard.
For the most part I have not ever been inclined to escape with drugs and alcohol. In the drugs-and-alcohol sense I am and have always been very straight. My coping mechanism — or one of them; the one that kicked into high gear again most recently — has been restricting food.
We swim through the deep dark oceans to reach the crowded shore; lots of people have made it through the same sort of experiences. We are not alone. It just feels like we are when we are in the thick of it. And after one of us endures one of these things, she may be transformed into a more humble and compassionate person, “high-fiving” all the other freaks and mental defectives and addicts who have continued to survive and to try.
I am having to come to terms with the fact that at age 41, I found myself unraveling. Or, rather, I unraveled. I wasn’t fully conscious of it. Others around me noticed it before I did. A good friend forced me to confront the fact that I was in serious trouble. “You need to get well” were his words.
He was there when I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat — pajamas soaked, hair wet, sheets wet, even the pillow with a head-sized wet spot on it (where my head was). He witnessed my fatigue; my falling asleep every time he put on a movie for us at night; I tried so hard to stay awake with him to watch “Sunshine” and “Network” (for about the fifth time — I love that one. I never get sick of it) and “The Strangers” and the DVD with Robert Thurman talking with the Dalai Lama, but they are all blurry in my mind.
I was dehydrated and anemic — anemia caused by malnutrition — and I didn’t even know it; I didn’t realize the seriousness of my problem until I had already entered dangerous territory. My anxiety was so great and all-consuming (funny choice of words considering I was “consuming” so little) that at some point I lost my appetite completely and it was no more about restricting food but became an almost inability to eat. My weight went as low as it has ever been in my adult lifetime.
They tell me here at the E.D. treatment center that people have been hospitalized for being as low (at my height) as I was when I came here. (I found that kind of alarmist and hard to believe — I was still skeptical and in a little bit of denial, like everyone is when they first come in for treatment for anything anywhere — but it scared me anyway.) In this environment they shorten “eating disorders” — the name of our problem — to “E.D.,” and say it like a man’s name (“Ed”), like he is a bad man; an evil man whom we need to cast out of our lives, our psyches.
Before computers you never would have found me blabbing (blogging [blogging is blabbing]) so openly like this about this. This is me being modern. Damn these computers and this Interweb and the pressure on us musicians to update constantly and to communicate. It encourages, inspires oversharing. It’s so easy to say too much and to feel safe giving away one’s private secrets. But screw it. I have nothing to hide. I’ve been embarrassing myself publicly for over twenty years. Why should I stop now? A heart that hurts is a heart that works. I will shout it from the rooftop (as I contemplating jumping but then ultimately don’t [jump, that is], and walk back indoors). I am not dead inside. I still care about right and wrong. I refuse to succumb; to accept that I can’t fix this. I want desperately to be a better, happier, healthier, saner person and companion. My will to endure is, so far, unkillable.
They make us eat six times a day. Three meals and three snacks. We all sit in the kitchen together and there is a monitor at the head of the table making sure we eat everything on our plates and drink everything in our cups. This is called the refeeding process. It must be done slowly and steadily, with more food added on as time progresses so we don’t shock our systems. So we are not in danger of ending up like Karen Carpenter — she gained too much weight too fast after starving for a long time, and her heart couldn’t take it.
The bathroom doors are locked so the bulimics can’t go in and puke. (I myself have never been a purger.) When you need to go, you must ask a monitor to unlock the door for you and after she lets you in she stands just outside the door and then you must either count while you are on the toilet, loud enough so that she can hear you, right up until the moment you exit, or you must let her flush for you after you are done — so that there is proof that you didn’t vomit your food into the toilet.
Every morning they wake us up at seven and we all put on hospital johnnies, first thing, and go and have our vitals (temperature, blood pressure) checked and have ourselves weighed. I have gained five pounds so far. I’m doing well. I’m a model patient, weight gaining-wise. My mental/emo health is another story — a longer story, a work in progress.
All I want is to be well and to have energy and to get back on track and to have my quiet little life back. It was a lonely and solitary life, but it was mine. And I was basically healthy-ish. And I was free, in a sense.
I’m going to be released on the 10th, maybe before you read this.
I will play all my currently scheduled gigs, barring unforeseen acts of God.
“When the damage is done, you’re damaged goods.” I am damaged goods. Truly. But I don’t want to complain. I am what I am. Others have it worse than I do. In fact, “it could be worse” is my motto and my mantra.
“Dark and repulsive though it is, suffering has been revealed to us as a supremely active principle for the humanization and the divinization of the universe.”
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I need to believe this. I need to try and manifest this, and to live it. If nothing else, I’ve already gotten some kickass songs out of this latest experience.