BEIRUT: “I am not anorexic. I am out of control. I know it, but I cannot stop. I am a child in a body that grew up too soon, found adulthood and real life a scam, and now is trying to lose enough weight to lift off the ground, fly away.”
This is how Anna, the heroine in Yara Zgheib’s debut novel, “The Girls at 17 Swann Street," describes her experience with anorexia nervosa.
The story revolves around Anna, a professional dancer who struggles with anorexia and is admitted into 17 Swann Street, a residential treatment facility where women with life-threatening eating disorders live. In this treatment facility, Anna bonds with other women who give her strength to fight her disease and “face six meals a day.”
Anna’s lyrical, diary-like confessions chronicle her descent into anorexia and her reluctant efforts at beating the deadly disease in order to reclaim some semblance of a normal life and be reunited with her loving husband, Matthias.
“Anna and I share several common characteristics,” 29-year-old Yara Zgheib, who is a writer and a security consultant and analyst, told Annahar. “I had also suffered from anorexia at one point in my life.”
Zgheib developed anorexia when she was in her early twenties and had to seek professional help when she turned 26, as the disease had “become so severe it was consuming my life.”
In her book, Zgheib describes in detail how anorexia can render the patient dysfunctional, to the point where daily activities such as going to work, doing chores, or seeing friends and family become impossible.
“I used to eat. I used to like to eat, then I grew scared to eat, ceased to eat,” Anna narrates in the book. “Now my stomach hurts; I have been anorexic for so long that I have forgotten how to eat.”
But for Zgheib, the most difficult thing about being anorexic was not the disease itself, but the stigma associated with it.
“A lot of people think that anorexia is a choice, and a bad habit. They don’t see it as a disease and they don’t regard it in the same way you would regard somebody who has high blood pressure or diabetes, and that was really difficult,” she said.
It was this stigma around anorexia that inspired Zgheib to write the book and break the taboo around anorexia.
“I wanted to find an easy human way to communicate what goes on in the head of somebody who has anorexia, because I think if people can understand it more, then they can help these patients,” said Zgheib.
In the novel, Anna’s loving husband Matthias and her family struggle to understand why it is so difficult for her to "just eat." But the truth of Anna’s disease is more complicated than she wishes to admit.
“Again, anorexia is not a choice, it’s something that happens to you,” Zgheib told Annahar.
Through a series of individual and group therapy sessions, and through a minor epiphany where she realizes, with the help of her friends, that her husband is her "reason to fight," Anna makes the decision to move on and fight anorexia.
“Having a support system is very important- and rare- in the case of eating disorders,” Zgheib points out. “You’re lucky if you have a family who loves and supports you.”
Zgheib’s novel received glowing reviews from international publications such as the New York Times, and Publishers Weekly. She plans on writing another book soon.
“Writing the book was very therapeutic for me,” she said. “Anna came to me very naturally. I believe she is a compilation of a number of girls I have met and a number of stories I have heard. And the challenges she passes through during treatment mirror my own challenges.”
Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.email@example.com
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