Greta Thunberg’s mother is opening up about her daughter’s struggles, including an eating disorder that almost required the young girl to be hospitalized.
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.”
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg spoke to hundreds of climate change activists at a rally at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Friday. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC News)
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks to several thousand people at a climate strike rally at Denver's Civic Center Park, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg greeted as star at Montreal march
Swedish activist and student Greta Thunberg walks off the stage after addressing the Climate Strike in Montreal, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg signs a book as she receives the key to the city from Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante after a climate strike march in Montreal, Quebec, Canada September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Andrej Ivanov
Swedish environmental teen activist Greta Thunberg speaks after the climate strike march in Montreal, Quebec, Canada September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Andrej Ivanov
Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, right, shakes hands with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations headquarters, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg, left, speaks at a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee hearing on climate change Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, center, who has called on world leaders to step up their efforts against global warming, applauds remarks by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Climate Change Task Force, at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, marches with other young climate activists for a climate strike outside the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrives outside the United Nations to participate in a demonstration, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 in New York. She is to speak at the U.N. Climate Change Summit on Sept. 23. She'll join world leaders who will present plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, left, meets with U.N. General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at United Nations headquarters. Thunberg is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Climate activists hold a sit-down with peace sign gestures during a climate strike outside the United Nations, Friday Aug. 30, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg participates in a Youth Climate Strike outside the United Nations, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in New York. Thunberg is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on September 23. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, sails in New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. The zero-emissions yacht left Plymouth, England on Aug. 14. She is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks in front of a crowd of people after sailing in New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. The zero-emissions yacht left Plymouth, England on Aug. 14. She is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, sails into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. The zero-emissions yacht left Plymouth, England on Aug. 14. She is scheduled to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg sails underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on the Malizia II racing yacht in New York Harbor as she nears the completion of her trans-Atlantic crossing in order to attend a United Nations summit on climate change in New York, U.S., August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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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.”