Saturday, 10 July 2021

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory

Paperback, 320 pages
Published 30th September 2004 by Arrow
(First published 2003)

Shelves:  abuse, books-i-own, currently-reading, let-down, medical-conditions, memoirs-biographies-etc, mental-health, misery-lit, read-in-2021

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

A young girl is perched on the cold chrome of yet another doctor’s examining table, missing yet another day of school. Just twelve, she’s tall, skinny, and weak. It’s four o’clock, and she hasn’t been allowed to eat anything all day. Her mother, on the other hand, seems curiously excited. She's about to suggest open-heart surgery on her child to "get to the bottom of this." She checks her teeth for lipstick and, as the doctor enters, shoots the girl a warning glance. This child will not ruin her plans.

From early childhood, Julie Gregory was continually X-rayed, medicated, and operated on—in the vain pursuit of an illness that was created in her mother’s mind. Munchausen by proxy (MBP) is the world’s most hidden and dangerous form of child abuse, in which the caretaker—almost always the mother—invents or induces symptoms in her child because she craves the attention of medical professionals. Many MBP children die, but Julie Gregory not only survived, she escaped the powerful orbit of her mother's madness and rebuilt her identity as a vibrant, healthy young woman.

Punctuated with Julie's actual medical records, Sickened re-creates the bizarre cocoon of her family's isolated double-wide trailer, their wild shopping sprees and gun-waving confrontations, the astonishing naïveté of medical professionals and social workers. It also exposes the twisted bonds of terror and love that roped Julie's family together—including the love that made a child willing to sacrifice herself to win her mother's happiness.

The realization that the sickness lay in her mother, not in herself, would not come to Julie until adulthood. But when it did, it would strike like lightning. Through her painful metamorphosis, she discovered the courage to save her own life—and, ultimately, the life of the girl her mother had found to replace her. Sickened takes us to new places in the human heart and spirit. It is an unforgettable story, unforgettably told.

Sickened is a very well-known memoir that I have been wanting to read for a very long time. I am very interested by mental health and I was extremely intrigued try the thought of reading a book about the rare but highly interesting condition called Munchausen By Proxy (now known as Factitious Disorder by Proxy). Gregory certainly was very successful in bringing awareness to this illness.

Sickened is the memoir of Julie Gregory, a woman brought up by a mother who has  Munchausen by Proxy and has abused her since childhood. This book tells us about her childhood, often spent seeking out different medical specialists and being subjected to numerous unnecessary drugs and procedures. There were some more interesting and shocking scenes described in the book but I often wished there was more depth to them - I felt the book often focused on the negatives of Sandy, Julie's mother, rather than the true impact of her abhorrent actions. The memoir has copies of Gregory's medical records interspersed throughout. I found reading the medical documents to be the most interesting parts of the book.

Despite the fascinating subject matter, I have to be honest and say that I unfortunately just didn't find this book compelling. This book should have been gripping but I really just couldn't connect with it and as a result, I felt more apathetic towards it than I should have. This may partially be to the overly verbose writing style which I really didn't enjoy. Naturally, I felt both sympathy and a sense of respect for Julie but, mainly, I held a strong disdain towards her mother and father.

Unfortunately I can't say that the book had a great impact on me. I think that this may have actually been better portrayed if the Gregory had worked alongside a more experienced writer in order to tell her story. This is one of those books that I do feel bad for criticising due to the sensitive content, but in all honestly, I wouldn't recommend it. I will, however, continue to look for both more stories and factual information about the very important and destructive Factitious Disorder by Proxy. 

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