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I am determined to win against this illness

By Charlotte, UK mom of three

Lockdown year, 2020. I didn’t think the year could get any worse until I discovered my daughter may have a problem with food. It was the week she returned to school and I began to notice a number of things:

– skipping lunches

– refusing chocolate

– drastic weight loss

– ‘making’ herself breakfast

– eating dinner alone in her room

– dramatic mood change

My gut was screaming a terrible truth that I couldn’t deny. The evidence was there, hidden in plain sight, that concluded only one thing: My daughter has an eating disorder! This would be the start of a journey through a world of hell, one I never knew existed.

There are things I know for certain:

1. Life is a mixture of hardships and happiness.

2. No one can guarantee or promise that you will avoid severe hardship in your life.

3. Humans are capable of amazing levels of endurance once they accept their fate and take responsibility to try and work their way out of hardship.

I’m human; I couldn’t help but feel sadness, helplessness and despair. They were all emotions that encircled me. However, this was too serious a situation and too important to lose myself to the feelings of despair.

If I started to spiral, started to lose control, then who would help my daughter? I can’t operate effectively out of this mindset and needed to stay focused, to take control of negative feelings and turn them into positive action.

I knew nothing about eating disorders and had to claw my way out of my head, away from my thoughts. I tapped into the rational part of my brain, the part that evaluates and assesses, the part that presents solutions and direction. Yes, this is bad. BUT I can get us out of it! I just don’t know the details…yet.

Education is power. I start there. I need to educate myself in every aspect of this illness, so I read and I read. I get the wheels in motion to start getting appointments with therapists and doctors.

While I wait for that, it makes sense to reach out to the FEAST community for support. At this stage I need strong reassurances from people that have been through this and came out the other side. I need proof, real life proof, that this is winnable. Most importantly, I need hope!

I figure if food is the issue then food is the key.

I start to make my daughter sit and eat. It’s then I start to see it–the monster that’s been living in her head and controlling her every move. I realise she is entrenched deeper than I thought. I know that I need to launch a full-scale rescue mission to save my daughter.

I learn, through educating myself, that ED was never my daughter’s choice. She is a hostage. I learn that ED is a formidable foe, one that I should never underestimate. It will control, manipulate, lie, deceive, pretend and kick you in the gut for good measure.

Happy is ED when it has a parent at arms-length, sending out signals of hopelessness and despair to you and your child. When an eating disorder has presented itself, it will already have tightly woven itself around your loved one, entwined so deep that thoughts and actions now operate on EDs rules and authority.

There is hope–lots of hope. I learn that parents and carers are one of the most important and effective frontline defences in saving a loved one, especially when using Family Based Therapy (FBT).

I believe that this battle is winnable; food and observation are the medicine. However, for our loved ones, a bitter pill to swallow! They don’t have to agree to the journey or even like it, but it’s one they must be taken on if they have any hope of recovery.

I have learnt in three months that the road is long. Winning is a marathon, not a sprint. I noticed that when I feed my daughter, ED is already pre- planning the ways it can get the food back out. It really is a battle of wills to feed them and ensure it stays in them. Spitting, vomiting, hiding food in pockets, sleeves, smearing it in hair, clothes…it’s a constant task to be observant but I have to be strong willed to see this through.

ED will appear sometimes through my child and spit vitriolic abuse my way. I’ve learnt this is a good sign! When ED is mad, I’m winning. So, I let ED says its piece and take quiet delight in “poking the beast.”

I give myself one rule, which is never give up.

No matter what I face I will not let the idea enter my head. I have to be persistent in this to win the battle against ED. Keep feeding, do not let ED get the upper hand. I will not be ED’s willing assistant in this conspiracy to starve my daughter. I will match its persistence and its endurance because that is the path out! ED will try to scare me, disempower me, sneak past me. ED will evolve, grow; and just when I think I’m winning, it comes back strong with a frightening strength. I thought my daughter would never be ‘ill’ enough that she would vomit in her room, but she did.  I gave myself no time to wallow in despair at this terrible find, I changed the battle plan and began to watch her even closer after each meal-time and snack.

I won’t allow ED to make me feel like I’m losing. I need to keep ED on the run and use the new information I find against it; I need to close down the loopholes that ED is escaping from.

It takes everything I have to run into a situation that I dread each day.

I used to be scared each morning, I don’t get scared now. The only way to win is to fight ED on its own territory and run head long into the belly of the beast. This is a combative illness; it is a terrifying illness for parents and children. I will naturally start to feel down, feel hopeless. I will only allow myself a little time out in those moments, but I won’t let them last. ED will only grow in that environment. How happy will ED be when I’m inactive and crying in a corner, lost, not knowing what direction I should take next? No, I will keep ED on the run and challenge it! I believe that is the key to winning.

I can make one promise to ED and to my daughter. I will NEVER give up, no matter what. This is a battle that I have no option but to win. I just want my lovable little girl back. So I will…

Keep feeding!

Keep watching!

Keep calm!

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  1. Rebecca Brown

    I agree with all you write but would also like to add that for my D23 her ED was a safe space. It had protected her ( numbed feelings and allowed her some form of control ) when she found herself in an abusive relationship. I almost had to befriend the ED and convince my D she was now safe with us. But the ED was her life jacket keeping her afloat in the deep ocean that was the coercive relationship. It wasn’t until we were able to guide her into the shallows that she could think about giving up her buoyancy aid.

    • Beth Bolstad

      I love this – I was thinking along these lines yesterday in relation to my 20 yo. ED has been the way to cope with trauma and it has tried to keep her “safe” from the terrifying feelings,the shame, self hatred, the loss etc. it has served a purpose, dysfunctional as it was, but it’s hurting her and we (myself and her support team and residential if she’ll finally accept it) are here now to protect her and help her become strong enough to work through those hard feelings and ED needs to let go of her and leave her be now.

  2. Carmen

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts, which could have been mine and made me crying.
    Sometimes I feel lonely and the responsibility seems overwhelming.
    Failing is no option and it is comforting to hear from another person going the same path.
    Be brave you can do it!

  3. Jean Murray

    Thank you! Exactly what I needed to hear today. I will share parts of this with my D30- knowledge is power and a good mother never, ever gives up!

  4. Tasha

    Thank you for writing Charlotte! Every single word you wrote was like it was coming from my heart. I felt exactly how you have felt and feel as you do now & I love the promise you make to ED and your daughter that you will never give up!

    I’ve told my daughter ED will be EVICTED from her living inside her head. ED was an uninvited guest and his time with us is temporary – ED needs to go!

  5. Doris Ospina

    This so much relate to our situation. I wrote a poem about it, to help me cope:
    The bully within

    Unsatisfied demanding shadow
    Cowardly hiding within
    Selfishly hijacking our feelings
    Feeding off our fears

    Intruder with no regard
    No sympathy, no reason
    Invading what is sacred
    Stealing dreams
    Exempt from prison

    You think you can remain
    You think you can find home
    Your weakness is my strength
    My soul not yours to own

    While you hide at plain sight
    While you disguise and camouflage
    I stand tall to defend what’s mine, what you will never know
    For who I am, as much as you try, you are not!

  6. Tara

    Your experience sounds so much like mine and what I had to do to support my daughter. I want to encourage you to keep at that fight as you are the one helping your daughter. My daughter is at a good place now so keep positive that the strength you have against this fight will work! You are doing a great job!

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