Take Sam Shoeman, who was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in the 1970s and given just months to live. Shoeman duly died in the allotted time frame - yet the autopsy revealed thathis doctors had got it wrong. The tumour was tiny and had not spread. "He didn't die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer," says Meador. "If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying."
The idea that believing you are ill can make you ill may seem far-fetched, yet rigorous trials have established beyond doubt that the converse is true - that the power of suggestion can improve health. This is the well-known placebo effect. Placebos cannot produce miracles, but they doproduce measurable physical effects.
And this really drives home the point about the importance of having a clinical team who really believes in you and your ability to recover. One of the most powerful things about my current therapist is that she believes both in the power of recovery and in the reality of the day-to-day slog through life. That struggles are normal and to be expected, but they're NOT a sign that I will never get better.
Having parents who believe in my ability to recover has been just as important, if not more so. I don't always like to admit it, but I still need people who will believe for me that I can recover, when I still am suspended in cynical disbelief. I need my parents and my therapist and my friends to believe for me, when I cannot.
Many times (even now), I doubt my ability to ever leave anorexia behind. It's like spending a long evening in a smoky bar. If it were just a few minutes, my coat would smell. An hour or so, perhaps my hair. But if you stay long enough, you realize that your underwear reeks of smoke.* The smell seeps in and permeates everything you have. And I have this wardrobe full of smoky clothes.
I don't know if things like hope and confidence are part of the placebo effect or not, but it almost doesn't really matter. They're still important, and they still mean a hell of a lot.
*Hypothetically. I don't typically sniff my undergarments.