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Handling This Well

By an anonymous mother

“You look like you are handling this very well.”

After months of turning down invitations to go out, I had decided to accept an invitation to connect with a friend I had not seen in a while. Going out with friends within my inner circle – a circle of moms with children at my daughter’s school – was not possible. My daughter, who was struggling with her mental health and was not currently present at her school, had forbade me from telling anyone what was going on with her. This made social interactions complicated. My world had been her school. She was part of an athletic team, she was active in school clubs, she was a dedicated student. And then she disappeared. In the matter of a few short months, our world fell apart.

Over those months, I cannot count the number of times I broke down in tears. There were the many times in the bathroom, stealing an opportunity to cry while having a rare moment of privacy. But there were also the moments I simply fell to floor consumed by tears while trying to cook dinner for my family in the kitchen. There were the panic attacks in the grocery store when I was grateful for social distancing so I could have a tiny bit of space between me and others. Or the many times my facemask turned into a sogging tissue to wipe away my tears, like during our frantic trips to the doctor’s office as we aimed to figure out what was going on and how to help.

But my daughter was now in treatment, and I was being encouraged to find ways as a caregiver to do some self-care. This is not something that came easily to me.  Much of my self-worth had always revolved around being the best mom I could be. Volunteering at the school, donating items for the bake sale, advocating for my children and other students for whatever issue was going on in their lives. Self-care was unnecessary in my life before. I felt good just doing what I had to do. I took care of those I loved and that gave me comfort.

At nearly 50, I was truly falling apart for the first time. This was unchartered territory for me. I knew I had to find a way to stay healthy and strong for my daughter, and my family, and myself. So, I finally accepted an invitation to get together with an old friend. I confided in her. She was kind and gracious. She listened and tried to understand. I was grateful. We laughed and joked about the absurdity of the situation. And then she said those dreadful words. “Well, at least you look like you are handling this very well.”

It was meant as a compliment. It was meant as a kindness. It was meant to lighten the mood. Unfortunately, it wasn’t taken that way. In fact, it led me to feel uncomfortable accepting other offers for social activities. Do I share what is going on in hopes of getting a moment of empathy and understanding? Or do I pretend nothing is going on in the hopes of having a “normal” time out?

As time has gone on, I’ve found more ways to navigate this difficult situation and I am working to build a network of people who have lived experiences that allow them to understand a little better what I am going through.  I am also trying to listen for the meaning behind the words that can often hurt unintentionally, because very often the intent behind the words is generous – even if their impact doesn’t hit the mark.

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7 Comments

  1. T Jones

    What a beautifully written post and so very relatable. It struck a chord with me on so many levels and particularly how people mean well but sometimes their words or suggestions can be hurtful or just irritating. Thank you for sharing. I wish “handling it well” brought some comfort to us, even though I know it is borne out of the best intentions. Until you’ve had a child with an eating disorder and you look at your life and don’t recognise it from that day on, it’s not about handling it well, it’s about surviving and keeping your child alive. The pain and sadness are so overwhelming and unbearable. Sending lots of love your way.

  2. Random Wizard

    Thank you. I completely relate. Over a year since my daughter completed treatment and I still haven’t rebuilt a network of friends. Between the pandemic and my daughter quitting her sports, I lost most of my social contacts. It’s a strange time.

  3. Kylie

    Thank you
    A friend said to me last week after my daughters 40 day inpatient admission ‘ well that went fast!’
    I shared with her that’s not the case for us.
    Having friends who have lived experience of ED really helps. For me having a counsellor To chat to has also given me support at the very challenging time.

  4. Tina

    Thank you for sharing your story. It definitely validates the disease and the devastation that affects our lives. It is a very lonely road at times, your child, your friends and family, and even medical and health care professionals treat you many times like you are the enemy. ED is hard to get out of your child’s life and everyone in the family often suffers pain in silence, but not today, thank you for giving a voice to our pain and stories.

  5. Tina

    Hi T,

    Sending love and compassion to you also…thank you.
    That is well said and so true, it changes your life, and it is hard to thrive when you feel like you are trying to help your child and family survive.

  6. WRP

    Congratulations and stay strong! As a dad with a D that is still in her road to recovery, 5 years post, and now navigating PCOS…appreciate and celebrate those small wins. The journey is tumultuous, heart breaking, and foggy…continue to remain firm, be open to vulnerable moments, and remain resilient. Somehow our D recognized we weren’t giving up and she had to personal destroy the “bad boyfriend” sitting in her brain. 5 years on…we are survivors with scars that only show from the inside…

  7. Jo

    Hi I’m going through the phase of where my daughter has just finally accepted help and is in a clinic
    She is now 35 with a 2 year old
    High achiever but behind her public life
    She falls apart she has eating disorder plus PTSD plus a touch of bi polar
    I have been her support for 20 yrs since it all began to manifest itself
    I’m now 71 and just can’t go on
    Ii don’t know what the future will be
    I’m going to see go next week

    But how do you say no to a person you love but I’m getting ill a lot now with the stress
    she can be and often is verbally abusive to me and her siblings! She’s lucky her husband is hanging in there
    I know I’m not alone and others are going through similar
    But for some reason it’s borders on DV as when you aren’t strong then you’re at fault

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