Welcome to Vanessa's Blog!

My name is Vanessa and this is my blog. I have struggled with anorexia for 20 years and self-injury for more than 30 years. It is my hope that many of the things I have written about here will be things you can relate to.

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Read an excerpt from my book, Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light, here.

Check out my other website here.

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What if Anorexia and Autism Are Genetically Linked?

I am constantly looking for scientific answers to justify what I believe to be true with regards to both self-injury and eating disorders. To an outsider, these disorders are hard to understand, but for the sufferer, it rarely comes as a surprise.

I believe two things: (1) These disorders have a biological/genetic connection and (2) there are factors that contribute to forcing them to manifest. If these factors weren't present, it's very possible these disorders could be avoided, regardless of the genetic predisposition.

In a Time magazine article today, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1904999,00.html, the link between anorexia in girls and autism or Asperger's in boys may be evident. How? These conditions share a common set of traits: rigidity in thinking, an intense focus on detail, a resistance to change and a narrow mental focus. "There is evidence that the "repetitive thoughts and behaviors, rigid routines and rituals and perfectionism" that characterize both autism and anorexia may be traced to the same regions in the brain."

What if these disorders were different because of gender? "It's possible, she [Janet Treasure]says, that the same genetic predisposition for autism and anorexia may be expressed differently depending on gender."

Think about it.

It makes sense that young women would be obsessed with physical appearance and young boys would be obsessed with things like cars or trains.

"About 15 times as many boys are given a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome as are girls, and nearly 10 times as many girls develop anorexia as boys. It's easy to see how an outsized sense of perfectionism in a female might lead to an unhealthy obsession with thinness — given society's preoccupation with physical appearance — while a male might end up obsessing about cars or trains, which is typical in autistic boys. "The reason [Asperger's] is usually diagnosed less often in females may be because it takes a different form — anorexia may be just one of the forms," says Baron-Cohen."

"Researchers may be able to pinpoint specific early risk factors to help identify kids who are vulnerable to developing anorexia — much the same way specialists can now recognize signs of autism as early as 12 months."

Isn't that amazing? Think about what this means!! What if there were a set of "triggers" that could be identified and looked for? What if there was early-intervention and anorexia was a disorder that could be avoided?

Imagine what a life-changing thing this would be!

I think of this like shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chicken pox. Once you have chicken pox, this virus stays in your body, dormant. In later years, something like a highly-stressful situation can cause this virus to become active. Minimizing stress minimizes ones chances of having a shingles outbreak.

I find studies like this very exciting. It helps to validate what I've felt all my life: I am different than others because of the way I respond to my environment, but I also believe that some of the messages I was given as a small child helped to cement some of my negative thinking that made something like an eating disorder almost inevitable.

This is something to think about and consider.

I think as a world we have always known that words had power, but science is one step closer to proving how much.

When Stress Comes In Little Packages

The big issues in life are things I can handle. Sure, they are stressful, but few are rarely a surprise.

It's the little things that get me.

For example, talking to someone and thinking you're making some headway only to realize that you are the only one trying to do so.

Here's a from a conversation I had in Baltimore, Maryland, Friday night. Now, keep in mind I'd been up for 24 hours and was exhausted. All I wanted was a hotel room that was non-smoking.

The sign said: "After hours, press bell for service".

I did and after a few minutes, an old man comes from the back room.


"I was looking for a bed tonight and wondered what your rates were."

"A bed? What kind of bed?"

"Well, I'd like a room with two double-beds if you have that, or a king-sized bed is fine as long as it's non-smoking."

He stared at me.

I looked at my watch: 1:38 a.m. I had been in heels and panty hose for more than 18 hours and wanted nothing more than to sleep.

He was still staring at me.

"What do you mean non-smoking?"

"I'm allergic to cigarette smoke so I need a room where no one has smoked... if you have it."

"Can't say if the room is non-smoking or not. Can't say at all what them people does in the room after I give it to 'em."

I was speechless, but my car was still running outside, I was still tired, so I continued.

"How much is a room?"

"$69.99 before taxes."

"That will be fine. Can I see the room first please?"

He stared at me and started to smile.

"Can't show you somethin' I don't have."

"Excuse me?"

"Ain't got any rooms tonight smokin' or otherwise."

"Nothing? Not even one free bed?"

"Nope. Sold out hours ago. You might try a few miles down the road though. Sometimes they have rooms."

Truly speechless and realizing I'd wasted a good ten minutes on NOTHING, I left.

It was another agonizing twenty miles before I could bring myself to stop again. (By then the anger-fueled adrenaline was gone.)

Why in the world this guy couldn't tell me he was already sold out when I walked in the door was a complete mystery to me.

On any other occassion, I might not have been as tired as I was, but Friday was one of those days when the hours just keep passing and passing and passing and before you know it, it's a new day and you're still in the clothes you put on hours earlier.

I hadn't planned on wearing my dress clothes for almost 24 hours, but it turned out that way and I can't say it helped my mood any.

Stress? What stress?

Easy things shouldn't be hard and when they are, unnecessarily so, it pushes me to the edge because I don't know how to handle it.

I couldn't yell at the guy. He was lonely and probably glad to have someone to talk to. But I needed a place to crash and instead of helping me facilitate that process, he extended my quest.

I shouldn't let things like this get to me, but I do.

Managing stress is a skill I continue to work on. I may not be able to control what happens, but I can control how I respond to it.

Living Up To The Hype

I LOVED the outcome of the Kentucky Derby this weekend! How extraordinary it must have been to have everyone's eyes elsewhere so that horse and rider could just "enjoy the ride" without the media pressure.

All of the newspapers on Sunday rated each horse and rider as a team and offered odds as to their chance of winning. USA Today said, to those who were considered betting on "Mine That Bird" to win, that at odds of 50-1, people should "save their money."

And perhaps in so doing, "Mine That Bird" and his rider felt no pressure to come barreling out of the gate. By choosing their path carefully, they were able to navigate the course smoothly and relatively slowly. The race on Sunday was not a speed race. Instead, had it not been for the last burst of speed "Mine That Bird" put forth, this would have been "the slowest Triple Crown figure ever."

And yet, this horse set a new record. "According to the charts in the Kentucky Derby media guide, Mine That Bird is the first Derby winner to pass 18 horses in the final half-mile."

To say that this horse and rider were underestimated is an understatement!

This is a true tortoise and hare tale. For all of the spotlight placed on some of the other contenders this weekend, very little mention was ever made of "Mine That Bird". He was seen as the underdog by professionals in the field, trained to see potential where others may not, managed to (excuse the pun) fly completely under their radar.

The right horse won this race.

He wasn't the most beautiful horse.

He may not have had the breeding that some of the others did.

But in the end, he was the fastest and blazed a new trail into the history books.

Stories like this should inspire us.

Just because others, even those perceived as "experts", don't recognize potential, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

How many times have we as human beings written someone off because of what we don't see?

Maybe it's our eyes that are the problem, and not the other way around.

I would like to think that "Mine That Bird" has a feeling of assurance now. Even if he never races again, everyone will remember what he did. (Especially those who ignored the betting odds!) There had to be a part of him that knew what he had within and finally the world knows it too.

I imagine too the jockey may have been looked down upon at some level for riding a horse no one believed could win the Derby.

But in the end, he alone stood in the winner's circle.

If each person knows what they have and how spectacular that is, it won't matter what other people see or don't see.

In end, when the time is right, the gift reveals itself, and like it was on Sunday, the whole world will be in awe.

The Power of Dreams

When I think of my mind, I imagine it to be a huge filing cabinet. When I'm thinking about something, I literally imagine a part of myself walking up and down these huge halls pulling out files, scanning them fo relevance, and then either taking them to look at further, or putting them back and continuing the search.

When I was small, one of the "myths" that went around school was that a person could control what they dreamed about by thinking about one thing straight until they fall asleep.

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have tested this theory.

When my grandma died, I mentally returned to her house and tried to summon every image, smell, texture and memory I had of her.

True to form, more often than not, she appeared in some form or fashion in my dreams.

When I got divorced, the same was true. Not wanting to focus on the negative, I tried to recall the good times, the times before the tears and angry words.

Some times it worked, but more often than not, it didn't.

In hindsight, I think the wounds were too fresh, the emotions too raw and the proximity to the situation, stiffling.

This week I have tried to test this myth yet again.

Even though on a rational level I know my dog is gone, it really feels like he's just been away at the vet, or staying with a neighbor.

My heart hasn't really been able to accept what my mind has known all along.

What if I could feel my dog in my arms just one more time, in my dreams, and let him go?

It took me a week, but it finally worked.

And last night, he was there, healthy and happy, wriggling in my arms.

In my dreams, I talk to myself a lot. And I remember thinking, "he's here! In my arms! Warm and safe."

The mind is an amazing thing. When I trip in my dreams, I imagine I jerk in real life in response to an object that doesn't exist, but that I'm sure is out to hurt me.

When I fall in my dreams, I can feel myself falling through space, clawing for something solid to break my fall.

I have woken up crying before because in my dreams, someone has died and it is so real, that I am left with no choice but to call and hear their voice just to reassure myself that it was only a dream.

And last night, I feel like my heart finally said good-bye to my dog. He was in my arms, heavy with life, and I was able to let him go.

When I woke up this morning, I felt differently than I have all week. I'm sad, yes, but I feel complete in some way that I had "one more minute" with him.

Last night, my memories of Connor created a new file in my mind. And one day, if I ever need to remember something about him, it's all there, waiting for me to pull it back out again.

Loss of any kind is difficult, but dreams make it a little easier because in them, things and people don't seem that far away.

My heart has healed a little...and it's good.

Gone Too Soon

At 9:52 tonight my dog's heart stopped.

He was nearly 15.

He was proof that there was a God, that I was never alone, and that no matter what, I could be loved unconditionally.

It's funny how you think you're prepared for something like this.

As dogs age, people say things like, "wow, he's had a really long life. Appreciate him while he's here."


Connor was my child.

Only another dog lover could appreciate what that means.

Connor saw me through graduate school, my entire marriage, a divorce, an eating disorder and cancer.

He was there for me when no one else was.

And now he's wrapped in a blanket in a freezer.

I want to throw up.

Where does all of this sorrow go? What do I do with all of this hurt? This loss?

For probably the last time, my ex-husband and I found comfort in each others arms. Connor was our last real connection, so in many ways, this feels like a double-death.

I know why people drink. Take pills.


Because what's on the inside is so painful that perhaps if it brought to the surface and exposed, some of its power will lessen.

At one point I could bleed my pain away.

But tonight I am left to hold it. To feel it. To let it overtake me.

To anyone who says, "it was only a dog", I say screw you.

Connor was better than most people.

He loved with his full heart, held nothing back, wanted nothing in return and died hearing over and over again how much he was loved.

Tonight, he's in a better place.

I envision him bounding around Rainbow Ridge with his other canine friends that have gone before him, surrounded by treats and his favorite toys.

To think of him in a freezer, wrapped in a blanket, is something I cannot stand.

Connor was my gift from God.

He was an angel on earth, and tonight, he finally got his wings.

Into The Lion's Den

Although I enjoy visiting my mother, I don't enjoy going to her house. Her house is filled with things from my past, painful things, and being there is a stark reminder of how my life used to be.

The furniture of my childhood is still there. The same dishes. The same smell in the closets.

My bed.

The same one I used to lie on and cry myself to sleep after being told by my father how worthless I was and what a disappointment I was...again.

The same one I used to bang my head against each night until I passed out.

The same one I used to crawl into after hours of sit-ups and push-ups as I sought to sculpt a body that I envisioned as being "perfect".

The same one I curled up on after I'd injured, again, and swore to myself that THIS would be the last time.

The same one my ex-husband and I used to sleep on when we'd visit, facing each other and whispering quietly in the darkness.

Such a beautiful bed.

But what sorrows it has seen.

It had been three years since I'd slept on that bed before this weekend.

The last time I was there, I'd injured and I can remember craddling my arm and crying out of fear, desperation and regret.

But this weekend was the first time in my life that I'd laid on that bed a whole person. I hadn't been sent to my room as a punishment. I hadn't been yelled at or told I was a failure. I wasn't in the throes of an eating disorder and I hadn't injured.

For the first time ever, my bed wasn't an escape.

It was a bed.

It's hard not to feel the power of such a history.

Poe called it sentience. He believed that inanimate objects could absorb the feelings of those around it.

I believe in that.

If a terrible crime is committed in a place, that place is forever tainted because of the horrors it was exposed to.

My bed too is tainted.

But I hope that by finally being able to lie on it as a "clean" person, I helped to redeem it a little bit.

I had avoided returning to my mother's house for years.

I insisted I would never go back...couldn't go back...couldn't walk into the lion's den and face the past that lived there.

But ultimately my mother's present happiness was stronger than my past sorrow, so I went.

In a way this was a victory.

When I think of how many things have happened in and around my bed (I've had it since I was 9), it's hard not to want to just throw it out and start all over again with something new and unscared.

But I cannot deny the past.

I must embrace it.

One Day, Maybe?

I'm not a patient person. I cannot say for sure if this is part of my make-up or a result of living in a family where time was constantly of the essence.

My dad used to love to snap his fingers or clap his hands. This was a way of getting my brothers and I (his charges) to hurry up.

"Chop! Chop!"

"Let's go! Go! Go!"

The WORST thing you could do was try to hurry and then forget something.

"You what? How could possibly have forgotten ____________? Do I have to do everything for you? It's not enough that I have to do __________, __________ AND ___________, but now I have to worry about your ___________ too? Come on!"

I learned early in life to hurry. Patience was for the weak. If you were truly capable, time bent to your will, not the other way around.

If there was a line moving too slow, move.

If there was someone you were talking to that couldn't help you (quick enough) then ask for a supervisor.

No rarely meant no if you expressed a sense of urgency.

"I know your policy says __________, but I am in a hurry and really need it right away. Is there anyone I can speak to about this?"

I saw this over and over again in my life and believed that if I was good enough, I too could seemingly control time and its outcome.

I cannot tell you how much of my self-injury was related to impatience.

It seemed like the more I wanted things to happen, the more time or other people's agendas seemed to get in the way.

Eventually things DID happen, but it rarely on my time scale and this was a constant source of frustration for me.

My father never seemed to have to wait for anyone or anything, so why did I?

What was it about me that didn't have the same pull or influence?

In my mind, this was just another in a long list of indicators that I wasn't "good enough".

But as I've gotten older, time has taken on a new meaning and I'm learning that just because something doesn't happen right now, doesn't mean it won't.

This weekend I was watching a show on artists who had "one hit wonders". These were people who had spent years and years waiting for that one "big hit" to make them famous.

In most instances, their "big hit" was a seeming mistake.

It wasn't planned. It wasn't considered their best work.

But something about the song resonated with people and that's what made it a hit.

There were many examples of songs that had all but died when they were released, "dismal failures" by professional standards, and then an artist twenty years later would sample the song or use it in a movie, and then overnight, the artist was famous and their song, a legend.

How many of us would feel better if we knew that something wonderful would happen...twenty years in the future?

Would we still be impatient or would that knowledge be enough to put our minds at ease?

I've always believed I was going to die young and that's why I have felt a tremendous amount of urgency in my life.

I never believed I had as much time as everyone else to do all that I wanted to do.

But this summer I will be 38 and that is a huge surprise to me. I never would have imagined that I would live this long.

When I look back on all the things I've done, places I've been too and things I've seen, I realize that my urgency on many levels has served me well.

But it has also worked against me.

I have been in such a hurry to "do", that I have not had much time to "be".

And that's a shame.

I believe everyone wants to leave a legacy.

I do.

When I die I want to leave my footprints in this world and say to those left behind that I was here and that I tried to make my time count for something.

But after seeing the show on "one hit wonders" this weekend, I can see that my legacy may still be to come.

I hope I am here to see it happen, but if I'm not, that doesn't mean it never will.

And that in some ways, is reassuring even if it's frustrating because it's not soon enough.

Faded But Not Totally Gone

On the news this week there was a story about a young girl that had been bitten in the face by an alligator. The jaws clamped down literally over one of her eyes and down to her cheekbone. But in looking at her, her scars are minimal. Extraordinary!

The interviewer was asking her about her scars and asked if she was relieved that they were almost totally non-existent and the young lady said no, the if anything, she was sad they were faded away because it meant that her opportunities to educate others about what had happened to her was becoming less and less.

This is an interesting point.

As the months pass by, my scars too have faded. If I am standing under hot water or something they become clear, but on a regular day, they aren't nearly as obvious as they used to be.

I've never obsessed about my scars really. I made them and have embraced them as part of who I am.

But now that they are fading away, who I am is slowly changing.

In the past, people asked me about them.

But it's been months since that has happened.

I used to be self-conscious about the shirts I wore.

Now I wear pretty much what I like.

I didn't ever expect there to be a time when self-injury wasn't a part of my life, so imagine my surprise to find out that the scars I always knew would be there, are over time, disappearing.

I can't say I'm sad about this fact but it is odd to look down at my arms and not have scars be the first thing I see.

I understand what the young girl meant about educating others. When people saw her scars, because they were in such a unique position, they asked her what happened and that segwayed into an educational opportunity.

But now the segway doesn't exist and to just randomly come out with her story seems untimely.

I feel the same way.

Without my scars being evident, people don't know anything used to be wrong and therefore don't ask.

As time passes, that part of my life becomes further and further something I'm removed from and I don't talk about it as often as I once did.

In the past, I felt fractured because I was living a lie and couldn't tell the world my secret.

But now I feel once again like I am two people: Vanessa as a self-injurer and Vanessa without it.

It's weird. After three years of not injuring I am continuing to learn about myself and re-define who I am.

The old Vanessa is faded, but not totally gone.

That's a good thing. The scars showed where I'd been but to have them fading shows how far I've come.

Cutting and Feelings Of Love

I just finished Robert Goolrick's memoir, "The End Of The World As We Know It". In it, he details his struggles with alcohol abuse and his use of cutting to try and deal with the sexual molestation he suffered as a child at the hands of his father.

What struck me the most about his recounting of his cutting episodes was this comment: "Cutting was affection".

I've never thought about it like that before, but how true.

In many ways, cutting was a form of self-love for me. I loved myself enough to hurt so that others no longer had that privilege.

I loved myself to take care of myself after the episode was over.

And I loved myself enough to believe it when I said, "this is the last time."

And it wasn't.

This book did a fantastic job of putting into words so many of the things I felt about cutting and just couldn't articulate.

It takes something ugly and misunderstood and turns it into something tangible, real and justifiable.

It's never easy to read about someone else's pain, but when it helps you to understand a little bit of your own, then I think it's a good thing.