"it's such a bad cycle to be in
but i truly don't know how to stop"


Elena Dunkle shortly before therapy

The story behind Elena Dunkle's memoir, ELENA VANISHING

When I was in high school, I was put into the hospital to recover from anorexia nervosa and cardiomyopathy (heart damage).

Four hospitals, two intensive care wards, and five weeks later, I finally came home.

Did I think I had a problem?

Absolutely not.

Did I have a problem?


Elena Dunkle's therapy art: CAN THIS WEIGHT CHANGE YOUR LIFE: frustration, curvy figure, large bust, anxiety, fear, thick middle, large hips, sadness, stress, hopelessness, turn everything off, letting go, anger, I'm afraid of falling

My eating disorder began the very minute I was violently raped at the age of thirteen.

I hid that rape deep inside myself and tried to control away the rage and shame. I controlled myself almost to the point of death.

After the hospitalization, it took me another three years to face my illness and trauma and start to do the very difficult work of recovery. By then, my illness had spiraled out of control and damaged every aspect of my life. It ruled me so completely that even six months of fulltime treatment didn't budge it. I had to work on my recovery for a solid year before I started to see a little progress.

Diary excerpt
"so a lot of stuff is going on and i just don't know how to handle it. the whole heart thing i've been through before so i'm not worried as much about that but the blood coughing is really making this whole situation more real."

ELENA VANISHING is the story of my life with trauma and with this insidious and deadly eating disorder.

Half of the book describes my descent, step by step, into behaviors so severe that they almost ended my life twice. The other half describes my efforts to recover: an incredibly complex journey into the unknown, filled with twists and turns, false starts, and dead ends.

Every single episode described along the way is true, to the very best of my and my family's memories.

Diary excerpt
"Diary Dearest, so guess what? i have anorexia. i am crying, i feel so horrible because i am actually proud of myself right now, and i am scared of being proud."

My mother, Clare B. Dunkle, and I wrote ELENA VANISHING together. She is a published author of award-winning teen fiction.

Her name is on the title page of my memoir because, even though I did the bulk of the remembering, she's the one who did the bulk of the writing.

The memoir was my idea. It took me years to talk my mother into helping me.

For years, I wanted this book more than I wanted anything else. The experience I was living through didn't match the experiences in the books I read. The memoirs I read either seemed to glorify eating disorders or seemed to focus only on the rosiest, most hopeful side of recovery. The truth as I lived it was more complicated than either of those two extremes.

Nothing about eating disorders is simple.

But I couldn't write this book on my own. Saying the words, describing details, remembering snippets, answering questions, even writing paragraphs . . . okay. But the thought of sitting in front of the keyboard for the entirety of the book from beginning to end, watching the words march onto the computer screen at a painfully slow, steady pace, immortalizing my indiscretions, failures, vulnerabilities, self-hatred, fears, and destruction in a series of cold, neutral Word documents—it would have been impossible.

It took me six and a half years to say I was raped.

Not even to describe it. No, just to say the sentence took me six and a half years. Six and a half years, four schools, two countries, six therapists, three psychiatrists, two treatment centers, four hospitals, two thousand three hundred and seventy-two days, fifty-six thousand nine hundred and forty hours, three million four hundred and sixteen thousand four hundred minutes to say that sentence to my parents over the phone and hang up. It took even longer to let other people discuss in it therapy. Longer still to say the hows and when and whys.

Diary excerpt
"remember what your mother said
remember what your sister said
remember what that boy said
when he slammed his hand into your face,
you silly little ditzy girl."

What's inside this book are my words, my descriptions, my feelings, my memories, my pain, my fears, my inside look at a world that has lost me many friends and that I have been judged for my entire adult life.

This book is the purest, truest definition of those years and myself as I lived them. Without my mother, it would never have seen the light. It would still be racing violently through my head, waking me up every night, whispering softly in my ear, reminding me in spurts and flashes that my past still dictates my life and it will forever. I scooped it up and threw it out, and my mother took the bits and pieces and glued together the perfect picture of who I am.

Elena Dunkle's therapy art: CONGRATULATIONS! IT'S A MISCARRIAGE. No guarantees. Can you love someone you've never met? Red accident. Death. Hold my hand. Never ever ever give up. My vanity being my downfall. Something wonderful is about to happen. And you could get drunk.