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Graphic Medicine Novels: Lighter than My Shadow

 Lighter than My Shadow

Lighter than My Shadow

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Lighter than My Shadow

 

Bibliographic Record

 Title  Lighter than My Shadow
 Author  Green, Katie
 Illustrator  Green, Katie
 Mental Illness  Eating Disorders, PTSD
 Publication Date  2013
 Publisher  Lion Forge
 ISBN  978-1941302415
 # Pages  516
 Color Profile  Black & White (on grey/sepia pages)
 Worldcat Link  http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1016082457
 Amazon Link  https://www.amazon.com/Lighter-Than-Shadow-Katie-Green/dp/1941302416
 Annotator  Tina L. Hefty

Summary

Lighter than my Shadow opens with an adult Katie Green putting pen to paper, indicating her intention to translate her traumatic childhood to the comic’s page. The reader then meets a very young version of Katie who is sitting at the dinner table poking and prodding at her food. This is where Katie’s strained relationship with food begins.

Although many children can be considered “picky eaters,” Katie’s relationship to food is different. An intense desire for control compels her to develop food-related rituals, such as counting the number of times she chews. These rituals are manageable until adolescence results in bodily changes. Upset with her self-image and distraught over being bullied at school, Katie once again tries to take matters into her own hands. Now, Katie is not only intentional about how she eats, but what she eats, and when, and how much. These behaviors are only reinforced by Katie’s pleasure over the resultant weight-loss. Before long, her desire for control produces a severe eating disorder—one over which she has lost control.

In the following pages, Katie passes through several cycles of recovery and relapse. First, she tries family therapy and individual counseling. Unfortunately, her condition worsens to the point that her life is threatened. Physicians advise that she stay home from school while maintaining a strict meal plan. Although headed in a positive direction, her relationship with an abusive therapist curbs her progress. As she battles symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Katie starts to binge eat. Embarrassed and confused over her behavior, she loses friends and attempts suicide. Survival reinvigorates her desire to get well. She continues with therapy, eventually celebrating a tolerable, if not ideal, relationship with food.

Presentation

With over 500 pages, this is truly a giant of a book. However, potential readers should not be intimidated as it’s actually a relatively quick read—many of the pages are devoid of text and focus exclusively on the artwork. Dialogue is occasional, while inner monologues are more common. This makes the book highly readable and very fast-paced.

The artwork does more of the talking. Each 8 ½ by 11-inch page has edge-to-edge illustrations. Although the drawings are black and white, they are applied on sepia-, grey-, and pastel-colored pages, which rotate throughout the book. Katie takes advantage of the comics medium to illustrate complex mental health challenges, such as by employing scribbles for anxiety and blacked-out pages for dissociative episodes.

Mental Illness Narrative

Many of the symptoms of anorexia that Katie experiences are shared by many others. First, her behavior is consistent with classic markers for anorexia, such as binge eating, vomiting (attempted), and excessive dieting. Hyperactivity is also normal, as Katie compulsively exercises to compensate for what she perceives to be eating failures. Compulsive behaviors go beyond exercise, as well, as she becomes wedded to her meal plan and diet regimens. Suicidal ideation is also consistent with individuals who see no escape from their eating disorder.

Besides behavior, there are bodily changes to observe, as well, such as hair loss and lack of menstruation. The book also highlights side effects related to moods, such as intense anxiety, guilt, and depression. On a psychological level, Katie demonstrates the inability to see her own body in realistic terms, stating: “I couldn’t see my whole body in the mirror. I only saw parts of myself. The parts I hated” (p. 118).

Although the book focuses more heavily on eating disorders, we can also observe symptoms of PTSD. For example, Katie experiences dissociation from the event, which allows for significant time to pass before she comprehends her own trauma. After understanding that she has been blocking out memories of her abuse, she is fearful of encountering situations that may trigger flashbacks. Nightmares become a regular experience for Katie, as are unwanted thoughts.

Humanistic Revelations

Lighter than my Shadow expertly reveals many of the hidden, yet shared experiences and emotions related to eating disorders. Perhaps the most enlightening is Katie’s portrayal of the slow development of anorexia born amidst seeds planted by bullies, gossip magazines, and offhanded remarks. We see a fearful response to a changing body and the damage that can be done by others’ praise for weight loss. Katie’s perfectionist tendencies are also common, as she searches for peace and happiness that are only possible if she works hard enough. We observe how her relationships with family and friends are damaged as a result of her behavior. The strengths and weaknesses of physicians are also expertly portrayed, from the bumbling suggestion of one physician to try eating more ice cream to the supportive therapist that helps Katie forgive herself for her own behavior. The list goes on, as unexpected behaviors, such as using food as a reward for hard work, become suddenly understandable.

On the PTSD side, Katie deftly illustrates the sad reality that it can take a very long time to recover, and sometimes recovery is not the same thing as being healed. Additionally, she shares how hard it was to accept the fact that the abuse wasn’t her fault. Individuals who have experienced trauma will identify with these struggles.

Recommendations

This book is both broad and narrow in describing the challenges faced by individuals with eating disorders and/or PTSD. Many will find their own experiences and emotions reflected in its pages. For those who haven’t experienced these diagnoses, the book is bound to expand their empathy towards those who have. It should be noted that the book does deal with complicated themes such as sexual abuse and trauma. Some scenes could be triggers for individuals with similar past experiences. 

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