By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Board Member and Volunteer
I am an intuitive person. By extension, I am an intuitive mother. When my kids were younger, I could tell when they were coming down with something before the symptoms started. I knew when they were struggling socially or academically before they came to talk with me about it.
I am the type of person who is always noticing and observing little things; yet somehow, my daughter’s eating disorder managed to totally blindside me. My intuition seems to have been out of commission while her anorexia was taking hold. By the time it was back in service, it was too late for an early intervention; we missed the train on the “early” part.
Having had my intuition fail me so miserably when it came to detecting my daughter’s eating disorder caused me to develop some serious trust issues with myself going forward. It shook my self confidence that I, the one who usually catches everything, missed something so monumentally significant; and as a result, my daughter developed a serious illness.
When my daughter started treatment, I wasn’t expecting a quick fix, but I was expecting improvement. And when that improvement didn’t come–when, in fact, not only was she not improving, she was declining–I felt torn. My intuition was screaming that the treatment wasn’t working, that it was actually doing damage, but people with professional training and experience were telling me otherwise. “Her weight is climbing,” they said. “She is getting better.” To their credit, they were half right. Her weight was climbing.
I don’t think that the clinicians treating my daughter had ever heard of the concept of “state not weight.” Their only consideration seemed to be the number on the scale. They didn’t see what I saw; the eating disorder was swallowing my daughter whole. Every day, there was less and less of her; my child was disappearing, and we didn’t know how to get her back. We knew that we were on the brink of losing her entirely, and that we had to take action, but we kept second guessing ourselves since her treatment team was insisting that she was improving, despite our protestations to the contrary. While they may be the experts on eating disorders, my husband and I are the experts on our own child, and I was absolutely positive that if we continued down the treatment path that we were on, my daughter would not survive. There wasn’t going to be enough of her left to save.
I felt like I was living in one of those action movies where there is a timer on a bomb counting down to zero, and in order to disarm the bomb and save the people in the room, you have to cut either the red wire or the blue wire. If you cut the wrong one, the bomb goes off. If you cut the right one, the bomb is disarmed. There is no margin of error, it’s life or death. That’s the reality of what we were facing, and it was terrifying. Parents shouldn’t ever be in this position, and yet we were, and we had to cut one of those wires. We chose to trust our intuition and to cut the treatment wire; because if we didn’t, we were afraid that time would run out on that clock.
Choosing our parental intuition over the advice of the professionals treating our daughter was ironically counterintuitive, but we did it anyway, and we have never looked back. We ended up finding our daughter a fantastic alternate treatment team. I have no doubt that they saved her life.
I can’t tell you how many times parents have prefaced their conversations with me by saying, “I am not really sure that my daughter/son has an eating disorder.” We all know how cunning and devious eating disorders can be, and how skilled they are at hiding when they know that we are looking for them. Parents feel that something is wrong, but the eating disorder convinces them that it’s nothing. They don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill or upset their relationship with their adolescent child, which can be tenuous to being with. Sometimes, a primary care doctor tells parents that their child is fine, that clean eating/veganism/exercise/calorie counting/food restriction is a normal teen behavior in today’s culture, and that they need to just take a step back and everything will work itself out. And so, parents struggle with the question of how much they should trust their own intuition in the face of all of that.
Furthermore, I think that eating disorders have this insidious way of throwing us for a loop; they somehow turn us around to the point that we are not sure which direction we are facing. They make us doubt ourselves as parents, even if just for a moment, but that moment is enough to undermine our self-confidence bigtime.
Part of what our daughter’s new treatment team did was to empower us to trust ourselves and to follow our parental intuition. It was one of the greatest gifts that anyone could have given us.
Just as sometimes we have to dig deep to find our child who is pushed down under his/her eating disorder, we have to dig equally deep within ourselves to find the parental intuition that we may have abandoned because we feel like it failed us, or because we have come to doubt its accuracy, or because the stakes are so high that we are afraid to trust it. Don’t let your child’s eating disorder claim your self-confidence as a parent.
Sometimes, we need someone else to tell us that we need to trust our own intuition, and that it’s okay (and absolutely necessary at times) to rely on our instincts. That is exactly what I am saying here. Parental intuition is a superpower. So put on that cape and use yours.