The Netherlands, late 1990s: A 48-year-old woman with a history of anorexia nervosa and depression approaches her doctor and tells him she wishes to die. Her anorexia is in remission; however, she continues to struggle with depression after both her mother and husband die. She says she fears her anorexia will return and asks for help under that country's assisted suicide laws. She is evaluated and months later a psychiatrist helps her kill herself.
In spite of the fact that neither anorexia nor depression are considered incurable illnesses.
In spite of the fact that most likely her depression was situational; i.e. she was grieving the recent loss of two loved ones.
In spite of the fact that mental health professionals consistently state that depression is one of the most treatable of all mental illnesses, and that there is a wide variety of treatment options ranging from medication to cognitive behavioral therapy to ECT available.
In spite of the fact specialists treating eating disorders — including my own doctor — stress that full recovery is possible.
The Dutch woman was four years older than me.
This case chills me to the bone. It speaks of the stigma of mental illness and the lack of understanding of eating disorders. It tells me that it is easier to kill people than to make an effort to treat them.
It makes me believe that perhaps I am expendable.
This case is an extreme example of injustice toward someone with anorexia. But what about the many other cases of injustice and stigma directed toward those with eating disorders?
Recently, I found out that I did not get a position because of my illness. I was told through a third-party there was concern because of my recent relapse and hospitalization, and questions about my stability in relation to that. It was hinted that some people didn't like the fact that I am "too open" about my illness.
As the facts unfold, I am convinced that I was not denied the position due to a lack of qualifications. I was denied the position because I have anorexia nervosa.
I will continue to believe my doctor that I can achieve full recovery from anorexia and create a life that includes my wonderful, loving husband, supportive friends, complete involvement in life and the fulfillment of my long-time dream of obtaining my master's degree in English.
I will not deny being afraid. I often fear I will not achieve full recovery from anorexia, that I will die of this illness. I still struggle every day to eat and create a life of healing and health for myself. I wake up some mornings wishing it would all go away, and that the pre-anorexic Angela would come back from wherever she might be hiding.
But I will not live my life filled with fear, and I will not hide behind anonymity. I will not become a 48-year-old woman who asks for help in killing myself because of my anorexia and depression, perhaps thinking it would be easier for others.
I have anorexia, and I will continue to look for the best possible ways to achieve full recovery. But I also am much more than my illness. I will not believe I am — or anyone — is expendable.
(Footnote: "Physician-Assisted Suicide in Psychiatry: Developments in the Netherlands" includes the case study about the 48-year-old woman with anorexia and depression. The case itself received little attention in the Dutch press and the psychiatrist was not prosecuted for his role in the woman's death.)