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On Swann Street

February 7, 2019

I once knew a girl who lived in a peach house at number 17, Swann Street. It was not a physical place. It was in her head, but it was still very real. Some would call it mental illness. More specifically, anorexia. Whatever its name, more girls go there than you think, and 6% of them die there.



Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, and others, are mental illnesses, not poor habits, and those who have them are suffering greatly. These diseases are not driven by a vain desire to be thin or beautiful, nor are they the expression of a lack of self-control. They are a cry for help, not attention. Scarily, that cry is quiet. Symptoms can go unnoticed or ignored till it is too late: Welcome to Swann Street.


The story does not have to end this way. In The Girls at 17 Swann Street, Anna says it over and over: she is the luckiest girl in the world. She has anorexia, but she is alive. She is loved, in love, and recovering because she had access to treatment and support from friends, strangers, family.


Not everyone does in real life, but everyone should, so if, while reading this story, you recognize a behaviour, a character, a thought as your own or that of someone you know, please say something.




Talk to that someone you love. Talk to that someone who loves you. Talk to a therapist or doctor. Call an eating disorder hotline. Help is available online and via text or chat if you prefer. Heck, write letters if you want. Just, however you choose to do it, talk.


Please say something. I know it is hard. The conversation that follows will be too, but it could alter someone’s story before it ends at 17 Swann Street.


I hope this helps,

I wish you well,

and before I end this post, here is an excerpt from The Girls at 17 Swann Street. I hope you enjoy it.






“But you said—"


“I lied. I do not hate bagels and cream cheese. I love bagels and cream cheese. The texture and taste are so divine I could eat just that for days.”


My voice is rising in tandem with my despair at Matthias’s growing confusion. How can he not feel it? How can he not understand? How can I explain my twisted brain?


“Matthias, I could eat for days! I could eat for days and not stop! I was fine before I came here because I had forgotten the taste of bagels and cream cheese. And God! I worked so hard to forget, for years! I was so disciplined! I got so good! But today I remembered. All I worked for is gone!”


I can hear myself. A foreign, hysterical, high-pitched voice.


“I like cream cheese and bagels!”




“Matthias, what if I start eating them again and never stop?”


In contrast, his voice is low, a stranger’s. He tries:


“Anna, that’s not possible. Let’s look at this rationally — “


I burst into tears.


I burst into tears as I finally realize that this is where this story ends: Anna, that’s not possible. I wish he were right, I want him to be right, but I cannot see it or believe him.


He tries to reason with me, shout, cry, fight the anorexia in my head. He cannot see or believe, either, that I will never be rid of it.


An hour goes by, of arguing and crying. We are both silent now, exhausted. I look at the boy I love, who loves me, more than I deserve. Who is so miserable loving me.


There is nothing left to say now, except,


“Matthias, please leave.”


He does not understand. I say it again:


“Matthias, please leave.”


He leans away from me and exhales deeply, looking out from the porch. Then, he turns his palms up and says:


“Okay, Anna, whatever you say. We’ll finish this conversation tomorrow.”


He gets up to his feet.




He stops.


“No what?”


“Do not come back tomorrow.”


The look on his face. A full minute in stone, then:


“You can’t be serious, Anna.”


I wish I were not, Matthias. But I can see it now, horribly in front of me: the future.


He will never leave. Not of his own accord. He loves me too much for that. He will come back night after night until I beat anorexia. But I will not beat it because I cannot. I cannot beat anorexia. I will not win and I love him too much to trap him in this future with me.


I say the horrible words a third time:


“Matthias, please leave.”


I cannot eat cream cheese on a bagel. Matthias, please leave.

I cannot eat the crêpes I make that you love. Matthias, please leave.

I cannot eat if I am sad or alone. I cannot eat in a restaurant. I cannot have the baby we wanted. Matthias, why are you still here?


“Why are you still here?”


“I am not leaving, Anna. Where would I go if I did? There is no Matthias without Matthias and Anna.”


“But there is no Anna anymore.”


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