Sickened by Julie Gregory
Non-Fiction. Published 2003.
Read: May 2012, 244 pages
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.
Julie’s book is helpful in describing and letting other understand MBP from within. Her writing style is flowing and interesting. It details her childhood very well, but the years as she ages are much less detailed and explained. I would like to have seen a resolution or growth explained on her part, as it feels we are left hanging in her life of uncertainty. Sickened is both educational and personal.
Julie captures the awful details of her childhood and young adulthood plagued by the disease of her mother. Sandy made up symptoms for her daughter and ordered her under pain of punishment to act sick for the doctor. For years she fed her drugs and kept Julie malnourished. Sandy also beats and emotionally abuses Julie and her other children, including foster children entrusted to her care because she’s so good at acting the part of the perfect mother in front of authorities. Julie’s father, a mentally ill Vietnam veteran, is hardly any better and allows himself to be manipulated by Sandy into performing equally horrific acts on his daughter.
When Julie is old enough to escape, she has been so brainwashed by her mother that she truly believes she is sickly, stupid, and unable to properly feed or take care of herself because no one ever showed her how.
The book indicates that both parents were severely abused themselves as children, shedding light on why they would then abuse their own children, yet hide it and pretend to the public that they were a normal, happy family. It also shows how much people on the outside, including doctors, social workers, and even Julie’s own school friends, were in denial that such abuse could occur, to the point where they didn’t believe Julie when she tried to tell.
I cannot cry. I am going to die. There is no reason to cry when there is no hope you’ll live. -p156
I know what it feels like to be trapped in the person they made you into and to break free to be the person you truly are. -p243