"An emptiness that I don't know how to fill."


Joe Dunkle and Elena Dunkle waiting for the medevac


My memoir, ELENA VANISHING, brings the story of my struggle with anorexia nervosa to life, but it doesn't include any photos, so I've put together a photo album for you from my family's life during this time. Some of the photos appear on other web pages on this site, but here is where I explain them.

The photo at the top of this page shows my father and me, waiting for my transport on the first medevac flight.

Elena Dunkle at the military hospital ICU

This photo shows me in the intensive care unit at the military hospital. I have very few memories from this time.

Elena Dunkle during the second medevac

This photo shows me on the C-17 over the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Germany and the States. I remember only a few seconds from the medevac (medical evacuation) flight.

Elena Dunkle at the children's hospital

I'm at the children's hospital now, and I've been here about a week. Thanks to my obsessive anorexia nervosa thoughts keeping me awake at night, I've made sure that almost none of the feeding tube feedings have gotten in.

Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle at the children's hospital

Mom and I took a selfie in the children's hospital.

Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle at the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum

We don't have photos from while I was at Drew Center (the first eating disorder treatment center), but here's Mom and me on our drive across country to meet with Dr. Harris in Texas.

Valerie and Elena Dunkle

Backtracking now: This is me with my big sister, Valerie, when we were little. We grew up very close, and Valerie was the leader in our games.

Elena Dunkle, Clare B. Dunkle, and Valerie Dunkle at Keukenhof Gardens

This is me, Mom, and Valerie the spring after we got to Germany. I lived in Germany for seven years, from right before my twelfth birthday to right before my nineteenth.

Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Germany

I love Germany. It's very beautiful there. This is a typical view of the region of Germany where we lived, taken five minutes from our house. Because I spent my teenage years there, I strongly identify with the people and the culture. I speak the language as often as I can.

Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Germany

Here's another view from a hill near our house.

Valerie Dunkle and Elena Dunkle a few months after starting school

This is Val and me in our boarding school uniforms. Fortunately, we didn't have to wear them to class, just for special occasions. We went to a German girls' school (a Gymnasium) for about three years.

This photo haunts me because it's about a year before the rape, and I still look goofy. That goofy, completely happy smile goes away after the rape. The goofy, completely happy girl goes with it.

Valerie Dunkle and Elena Dunkle with Chip

Here I am with Valerie and our Dalmatian, Chip, a little over a year after the rape. I still look happy, but now I'm just pretending to smile. I got better and better at doing that, until you almost couldn't tell the difference.

Elena Dunkle in nursing scrubs as a volunteer during high school

This is me in my scrubs, volunteering at the military hospital. The hospital logo has been blurred for privacy reasons. During high school, I volunteered there as often as I could, and during my senior year, I worked every other weekday in the emergency room for high school credit. It was here that a veteran nursing tech and good friend referred to my sister Valerie as "the craziest patient I ever had."

Cigarette burn damage during depression

This is why. Valerie self-harmed extensively during my sophomore and junior year in high school. She spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital in England.

Valerie's hand

People would gasp and stop talking when they saw Valerie's hands. I took these photographs for a class presentation I did on self-harming during my junior year of high school.

Elena Dunkle giving a speech at high school graduation

Here I am at my high school graduation, giving a speech in German. This felt like the ultimate revenge against the psychiatrist who had told me I would miss my entire senior year because of my eating disorder.

I have hundreds of photos from high school, but they all have my friends in them along with me, so for privacy reasons, I won't post them here. We went everywhere in a big group. I loved it, but my anorexia drove me relentlessly to succeed at everything and never to waste time, and of course to eat as little as possible.

Elena Dunkle and Valerie Dunkle during Elena's first year at college

After Val ran away, I refused to speak to her for two years, but we made up while I was in a freshman at college. This is the two of us at that reunion.

The Dunkle family

Mom and Dad took Christmas photos that weekend with Valerie and Clint


This same year, Mom rescued a little Maltese-terrier cross and named her Genny.


Genny joined the animals we already had: Simon...


...and Tor. Chip had died of a mysterious ailment--possibly cancer--during my senior year.

Valerie, Clint, and Gemma at Clint's graduation

Shortly after my neice, Gemma, was born, Valerie moved back home to live with Mom and Dad because Clint was going through basic training and tech school in the Air Force. Here are the three of them at Clint's Air Force graduation. But I wasn't there for a lot of that time because I was in residential treatment at Clove House.

Elena Dunkle a month after residential and full-day eating disorder treatment

This is a photo Valerie took of me a month after I got out of treatment at Clove House, the second eating disorder treatment center I was in. My mindset at this point was worse than ever, and I felt fuzzed out on all the medications they gave me.

Valerie and Gemma

While I was spiraling downward due to my eating disorder, Valerie was building a happy life. Here she is again with my neice, Gemma.

With the help of my family, I made the decision to go back into treatment. That decision almost certainly saved my life. At Sandalwood, we worked on DBT coping skills and distraction techniques. Mr. Snaky was more than a distraction technique, though. He was a sweet pet and a good companion.

Elena Dunkle getting marriage license signed

Four years later, here I am with my husband, Matt, shortly after saying our marriage vows. My recovery is something I work on every day.