In the family’s new book, Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, the Swedish environmental activist’s mother, Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman, details everything from her daughter’s autism and eating disorder to panic attacks and bullying at school, the Observer reports.
“She was slowly disappearing into some kind of darkness,” Ernman says. “She stopped playing the piano. She stopped laughing. She stopped talking. And she stopped eating.”
Rapidly losing weight and only eating small amounts of rice, avocado and gnocchi, Thunberg had lost over 20 pounds from her small frame, and could no longer climb stairs.
“After two months of not eating Greta has lost almost 10kg, which is a lot when you are rather small to begin with,” writes Ernman, according to an extract published by the British newspaper. “Her body temperature is low and her pulse and blood pressure clearly indicate signs of starvation. She no longer has the energy to take the stairs and her scores on the depression tests she takes are sky-high. We explain to our daughter that we have to start preparing ourselves for a stay at the hospital, where it’s possible to get nutrition and food without eating, with tubes and drips.”
Thunberg also dealt with extensive bullying at school, being wrestled on the playground and hiding in the bathroom to cry. Despite her struggle, the school was unsympathetic, says Ernman.
“It’s Greta’s own fault, the school thinks; several children have said repeatedly that Greta has behaved strangely and spoken too softly and never says hello,” she writes.
Doctors diagnosed Thunberg with “high-functioning” autism, which Ernman describes as Asperger’s, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Around the same time as her diagnosis, Thunberg was struck by the climate change crisis after seeing a film in school.
“Greta can’t reconcile any of this with any of what she has just seen,” her mother writes. “She saw what the rest of us did not want to see. It was as if she could see our CO2 emissions with her naked eye.”
She soon began protesting outside the Swedish prime minister’s office, even though it was clearly taking an emotional toll on the young girl. But her passion for the cause also invigorated Thunberg’s desire to live a full life, and she moved to a new school and started to eat again.
“What happened to Greta in particular can’t be explained simply by a psychiatric label,” says Ernman. “In the end, she simply couldn’t reconcile the contradictions of modern life.”
Despite her fame, Ernman recognizes that Greta deals with an extensive amount of criticism, particularly online. The family received death threats on social media, and was even delivered excrement through the mail.
“She is mocked by anonymous troll accounts, by right-wing extremists. And she is mocked by members of parliament,” says Ernman. “But that’s no surprise.”