Man, this was a hard book to read. But it was well-written and told an important story, and I’m glad I did read it. Gregory’s account of how she overcame her horrifying, abusive upbringing was inspiring and informative, as well as disturbing. *Review is kind of spoiler-y*
“I am going to shrink and shrink until I am a dry fall leaf, complete with a translucent spine and brittle veins, blowing away in a stiff wind, up, up, up into a crisp blue sky.”
Munchhausen’s, for those unfamiliar, is a mental disorder in which a person purposefully presents himself as ill (sometimes going as far as poisoning himself or otherwise creating symptoms) as a way to continually stay in the presence of doctors and in hospitals. Munchhausen’s by proxy (MBP) is when a person (usually a mother) does this to another person (usually a child). The disturbed individual drags the “sick” child or family member from doctor to doctor, demanding tests and surgeries, all the while enjoying the attention they receive from the medical community.
In Julie Gregory’s case, it was her mother, who was deranged in a number of ways, as was Julie’s father (and maternal grandmother, it seems). Julie’s parents were mentally, emotionally and physically abusive to her, to her brother (to a lesser degree) and to a steady stream of foster children and elderly veterans who came through their home. In addition to forcing Julie’s father to beat her by telling him he wasn’t manly enough to control his family, Julie’s mother became convinced that Julie had some kind of heart condition. She harangued doctors into perform unnecessary tests and procedures, all the while forcing Julie’s cooperation through mental abuse and starving her.
Like I said, it’s a tough subject to read about, but Julie presents it well. She includes medical records that she discovered as she was older. She discusses how she felt going to the doctors, how she was afraid to contradict her mother. She had one moment, at 13, when she tried to tell a nurse that her mother made it all up, and the nurse ignored her and put her under anesthesia anyway. She kept her mouth shut until she was 18, when she turned her mother into DCFS for abuse towards her foster siblings. Still, she ended up back under her mother’s care. She didn’t realize how sick her mother was and what MBP was until she was in her mid-20s.
Julie recounts times when adults failed to help when they could stepped in and saved her. The case workers who continued to place children and elderly war veterans in her mother’s care. Doctors who ignored the signs of a sick mother, not a sick child. The nurse who ignored her plea. Her teachers and counselors at school, who believed her mother’s lies when Julie tried to reach out to them. Even as she got older, and sought out professional help, she was ignored and ridiculed. It’s heartbreaking.
Still, Julie’s story has an uplifting ending, as she continues to work to battle the damaged her mother has done. Her website says: “Today, in addition to writing books, she lectures to medical, law enforcement, and cps agencies and leads writing workshops for high schools and colleges that use her work in their literature, writing or psychology courses. She offers consulting on illness falsification cases to the private sector through her LLC and provides pro-bono assistance to cps agencies for court cases.” At the end of Sickened, she attempts reconciliation with her mother and discovers that her mother is abusing her boyfriend’s young cousins. This time, Julie interferes. Hopefully, someone might read this one day and recognize the symptoms of this disease in someone else, and help.