By an Anonymous Mother
When my daughter was first diagnosed with anorexia, a good friend put me in touch with a friend of hers from college (someone I didn’t know) who had been navigating treatment for her daughter with anorexia. I knew it would be helpful to have someone who was living through the experience to provide me with some insights, advice, and support. I knew about disordered eating (I’m sure many women at least recognize the insane diet culture all around us), but I didn’t know anorexia. I just knew that what my daughter was experiencing was not an extreme diet. It was clearly something much bigger, and much scarier.
I certainly was scared. I saw my bright, fun-loving, smart daughter turn into a shell of herself. I could see the light go out of her eyes as the pounds were shed from her body. I saw fear behind those vacant eyes whenever she needed to eat – or we were around food for any reason. I wanted to understand. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to help. I wanted to save her.
So, I called this mutual friend. She was kind, she was supportive, and she was brutally honest. She told me what she was experiencing. She told me about the hell she had been through and was still going through as her daughter struggled with this disease. She told me about the suicide threats, the self-harm, and the running away. She told me about the pain of having to place your child in the care of others because they are too sick to be home. She told me about agonizing paradox of desperately wanting your child home from the hospital and then desperately wanting your child out of your home due to the vitriol that spewed daily from their mouth as they worked on re-feeding. She told me about the illicit drug use that began around the time her daughter finally got towards a restorative weight. She told me about the prescribed drugs she was taking because she started to lose her own sense of sanity and ability to find joy.
I was grateful she was so honest. I took notes of every resource and program. Every suggestion and piece of advice. I ordered the books, listened to the podcasts, and visited the websites. I valued her lived experience and her willingness to share it with me.
But I also thought – that won’t be my story. I knew my daughter was having a hard time, but I thought there was no way she could do those things. Suicide threats? Self-harm? Running away? No. Not my sweet girl.
I heard this friend’s story as her story. I heard it as her experience. I took from it what I thought was useful and I tried to compartmentalize the rest.
But as the disease raged, I felt the anger and rage start to grow deeper and stronger inside my daughter. The eating disorder was taking over. My sweet girl was somewhere unseen. My amazing girl threatened suicide, my beautiful child harmed herself, my loving daughter ran away from home.
Recently I said to myself “I just wish I had known it could get this bad.” And then I remembered. I did know. In fact, one of the first people I talked to said exactly how bad it could get. But I couldn’t hear it then. I didn’t want to hear it.
So I felt the need to write this story for those of you at the start, just so you know. It can get bad. And it may be better to know that now. You will just need to go day by day, sometimes moment by moment, or bite by bite, to get through.
Every story is unique. Every family is different. Every child has different genetics. Every person has different skills. Some people recover quickly with proper guidance; some people languish in treatment that doesn’t fit. Your path through this nasty disease will be yours.
I am not saying you should only know about the bad stuff. I suggest you read all the stories. The good and the bad. I know I find inspiration in hearing stories of recovery. We need more of them. We all deserve to know it can get better.
For example, in a year or two, you may check in on that mutual friend and learn that their daughter is loving her first year of college. She’s weight and brain restored and clean. She’s aware of her disease and continuing to work hard at her recovery. She appreciates everything her parents did for her. She is now focused on a future in which she can help others.
Will that be my story? I don’t know. But it is good to know. It is possible.
Very good post …. I found in my families experience with some of the medical professionals down played the volatility of the eating disorder. In my opinion they do this in order to not frustrate or put fear into the challenges we had as parent caregivers. As a caregiver my position is to get all the information directly and not watered down to effectively and efficiently plan appropriate strategies to counter the eating disorder.
Great post. I remember reading everything,the good, the bad, and the worse. I felt forewarned was forearmed. We were able to nip in the bud some behaviours thanks to this i read (i told my d i would call my brother if she kept kicking me for example). We kept her bedroom door open at all times even before she threaten to harm herself. I kept the front door locked and Keys on my pickets. Everything thanks to other’s experiences shared that I read.
Thank you for your honesty and transparency. My 21 year old daughter with AN is one month out from residential treatment. She came home and went directly into PHP. She’s staying at her dad’s place because it is much closer to PHP. It’s been hard to help with accountability from a distance. The first week back my daughter seemed so committed and ready to do this difficult work. The last couple of weeks she’s been more challenged and it’s been a slippery slope. I’m trying to let go, have healthy boundaries and take care of myself and at the same time reassure her and be as much of a source of strength as I can. I don’t have a support group and can see that it might help me. Can you suggest any resources? Thanks again!