One summer, I can distinctly remember saying to myself how happy I was with life and how well everything was going; not sure I’ve ever done that before but I sure won’t do it again. Not many weeks after, our lives turned upside down and have never been the same again.
I started to notice a few small changes in my teen: her mood was lower, her appetite seemed to fluctuate and she had lost a bit of weight. Sounds totally obvious in hindsight but trust me it isn’t. Refusing ice cream a couple of times over a few weeks didn’t raise alarm bells – we can all go off stuff and a bit of weight loss? Well she had grown plus as a teen these changes can be part and parcel of simply being a teen. Only it wasn’t. After a few days away with family it became clear that she had an issue with food and things were worsening. A Doctor’s appointment was hastily arranged and a referral quickly made to CAHMS. We were lucky that we got seen within a couple of weeks as my daughter’s anorexia was diagnosed, her weight and heart rate were dangerously low and she was put on immediate chair rest at home – no school, no walking, just eating food and lots of it.
Thankfully, I had an understanding employer who allowed me to go on immediate leave, armed with a scary looking meal plan I vowed to get my daughter better – I would sit with her until she had eaten everything she needed. Only it wasn’t that simple, this re-feeding phase of recovery was the worst thing I have ever experienced. An anorexic doesn’t want to eat so to start eating 6 times a day resulted in each meal merging into the next, every mouthful was a battle, dreadful things were said, she threw things, she attempted to run away and I was literally on my knees. Her sibling was starting secondary at this time and was not getting the attention she needed or indeed deserved. My husband simply couldn’t get his head around the fact that for the first time in his life, he was faced with a problem one of his daughters had that he couldn’t solve – he couldn’t buy something, mend something or logically talk a problem to a conclusion so was at a total loss.
6 months after this all started we got referred to a family therapy group (MFT) which basically consisted of a bunch of people in a room for 4 days talking and doing activities. In all honesty, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less, most of us stared at the ground initially including the teens who occasionally looked up to ‘subtly’ assess the other teens in the room as only that age group can. By the end of the 4 days though, I felt tearful to leave these people whom I had come to know. A weight had lifted off my shoulders as finally I had found people who understood and didn’t judge or make unhelpful remarks. I knew what I had to do – an eating disorder (ED) wants to cause discord, it wants to hurt people, to pit parents against each other and to evoke huge emotion. I needed to be stronger and control my emotions so I could be in charge of the ED and not the other way around. Having these people to email and talk to made me even stronger and it was that support that made me fight the ED with a fresh energy.
It’s not all over by any stretch, my teen is weight restored but she still has a way to go to be fully free of the terrible illness. She has also subsequently been dealing with anxiety, self harm, suicidal thoughts, OCD and depression. Life has not dealt her a great hand on this front but we are all doing our best to deal with it and take each day as it comes. For me, the turning point was having others to talk to who had experienced something similar. Family can be great but they can also make some incredibly unhelpful statements, several parents I confided in (and that took a lot!) never checked in on me again or enquired after my child and their own children stopped being friends with my teen. Some really good friends were amazing though, they listened and let me cry and took me out for wine now and then and admitted they wanted to help but knew that they couldn’t. That got me a long way but I needed more and the MFT parents were that more.
That is why the I feel so strongly in favour of Whatever Together. Communication and talking underpins so much and having that support is vital to get through our difficult times, whatever form they come in. I only ever desired health and happiness for my children and for now, one teen has neither, but I remain optimistic that in time, those things will come. I have to remain optimistic that those things will come.
Written by Whatever Together member, Aurora