Shell: One Woman's Final Year After a Lifelong Struggle with Anorexia and Bulimia

Greystone Books
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Michelle Stewart always knew in her heart that her eating disorder would kill her. What she didn’t expect in its early stages was that she would continue to function - albeit far from optimally - for decades before succumbing to its deadly effects. A conscientious and ambitious woman driven by a desire to make a positive difference in the world, Michelle went on to build a successful career first in journalism and then in communications for the British Columbia Ministry of Health. Michelle devoted her working life to raising awareness of healthcare issues, all the while hiding her own anorexia and bulimia from friends and colleagues. By the time she was 48 years old, more than thirty years of self-imposed starvation, binging and purging had ravaged her organs. In May 2013 she was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and given only a few months to live.

Determined to come out of the shadows and share her story while she still had the chance, Michelle began writing a very personal and revealing blog in which she chronicled her lifelong struggle with her eating disorder and her experiences as a palliative patient within the very same healthcare system in which she had performed her life’s work. “I have had a 32 year dress rehearsal for the fate I now face,” she writes. This memoir is a collection of the most poignant pieces of writing from that blog, supplemented with previously unpublished pieces of original poetry from the author.

Michelle Stewart’s book stands out against other eating disorder memoirs in several ways. As a middle aged longtime sufferer, she belies the notion that eating disorders only affect the young - or that victims tend to either recover or perish early. According to experts featured in the foreword, medical practictioners who treat patients with eating disorders are seeing rising numbers of long-term sufferers like Michelle. These tend to be high-functioning individuals who keep their disorder underground for years while their bodies slowly disintegrate. Michelle’s advanced years give her a valuable and rare perspective on a widespread mental health problem.

Second, through her years spent in healthcare advocacy and communications, Michelle developed well informed insight into issues around medical services and the relationships between healthcare providers and their patients, including palliative patients. In her book, Michelle shares her personal views on disease-specific funding, patient care and the right-to-die movement, making a valuable contribution to the public conversation.

Finally, the book is a deeply engaging and compelling tale of terminal illness progression that follows one woman from diagnosis to death. Anyone who has been touched by life-limiting illness in their own experience or in their family will be moved by this account of the palliative care journey told from the patient’s perspective.
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About the author

Michelle Stewart (1964–2013) spent ten years as a radio journalist before building a high-profile career in healthcare communications.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Greystone Books
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Published on
Sep 15, 2015
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Pages
236
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ISBN
9781928055143
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Psychology / Psychopathology / Eating Disorders
Self-Help / Eating Disorders & Body Image
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this exciting interdisciplinary collection, scholars, activists, and media producers explore the emergence of Indigenous media: forms of media expression conceptualized, produced, and created by Indigenous peoples around the globe. Whether discussing Maori cinema in New Zealand or activist community radio in Colombia, the contributors describe how native peoples use both traditional and new media to combat discrimination, advocate for resources and rights, and preserve their cultures, languages, and aesthetic traditions. By representing themselves in a variety of media, Indigenous peoples are also challenging misleading mainstream and official state narratives, forging international solidarity movements, and bringing human rights violations to international attention.

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Contributors: Lisa Brooten, Kathleen Buddle, Cache Collective, Michael Christie, Amalia Córdova,
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How to Develop Self-Discipline, Resist Temptations and Reach Your Long-Terms Goals

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“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”

Portia de Rossi weighed only 82 pounds when she collapsed on the set of the Hollywood film in which she was playing her first leading role. This should have been the culmination of all her years of hard work—first as a child model in Australia, then as a cast member of one of the hottest shows on American television. On the outside she was thin and blond, glamorous and successful. On the inside, she was literally dying.

In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn’t enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

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In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit.
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