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To a parent on a terrible, terrible day

Dear Family,

You’ve opened this envelope after a very bad day. I don’t know how bad, or in what way. But I have talked with families who have faced some pretty awful days… parents whose loved one’s mental illnesses caused the worst thoughts, the worst behaviors, the most misery imaginable. Days when what seems like the only option has closed, or the hope is gone.

Indeed, on these days, the one thing that experienced parents share with one another is: you’re not alone. It’s not a position any parent ever, ever thought they’d face. And yet, we do. And it changes us.

We don’t think that tomorrow, or any tomorrow, will ever be okay. We feel the immense unfairness of it all. We just want to get back to before all this happened. Before we knew anything about eating disorders. Before this awful day happened.

I won’t promise you that it will all be okay. Mental illness is incredibly powerful and there are no promises or magic spells. What there is, what we other parents will open their hearts to share, is the power of love.

Loving someone when they are not able to love themselves. Loving our other family members when they are frustrated and tired and overwhelmed. Loving ourselves, even when we haven’t coped well.

Because it’s hard. And no one warns you, really. People tell us to try, to hope, to put on our oxygen mask, but until you live it you just don’t know how hard it is.

So here is one of the things all this gives us: empathy. We didn’t understand until we came over here to the place we NEVER dreamed we’d be, that those on this side of such experiences understand our pain, our disappointment, our fears. And we know that once we are here we can either turn bitter or turn to others. We can accept the caring of others, and we can give it. We can pay it forward to others in a way we never could have before. Because now we know. We wish we didn’t, but we do.

And: pain can make you try to reduce it in others. So, my advice is this: join those around the world trying to save other families from the same or worse pain. It’s healing. It’s strength. It’s what mental illness will try to rob you of, and tell you doesn’t matter. But giving back and helping others is the best rebuke to this thief of our happiness.  It’s what you would have wanted others to do for you.

And it is why you are reading this now.

With tremendous caring, and deep empathy,


This letter, from Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, can be printed out and given to a family for a day that is unimaginably hard.
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  1. Cathy

    Thankyou, so much of what you say resounds true, I wish it didn’t, I don’t know the way forward, I only know today, one moment at a time is what we’re trying to take, for our beautiful daughyer, to look a whole day ahead is too long,

  2. Tasha

    Thank you Laura! This letter “To a parent on a terrible, terrible day” was such a welcome sight on an incredibly challenging Sunday. You really helped me to get through yesterday with hope and strength for the days ahead!

  3. Todd Webster

    Thanks. Every day seems to have horrible moments. Three years into the battle and no end in sight. Your words very true. Hard to remain hopeful and feels so unfair. Hard not to blame and be angry.

  4. Kathy

    I’ve googled everything under the sun to help my daughter who was recently diagnosed with anorexia. I’m terrified all the time, petrified of doing or saying the wrong thing and so confused by all the information out there. No one understands, so tired of people saying “just make her eat”. Only parents who’ve been there could possibly understand. As awful as it sounds, I’m glad not to be alone

  5. Dawne Badrock

    For those at the beginning, I remember so keenly the anguish I felt. Emotional basket case was where I lived. I hated crying in front of our daughter but I couldn’t help myself. I’m an RN yet I failed her but I could listen and believe them when they said it’s not your fault! The fear, I was so scared. I think that’s the thing that I struggled to cope with. Now 13 months post discharge she still has struggles but we keep plugging along, day to day and I just hope as her brain matures she’ll be able to think more rationally, make better choices, keep standing up to ED.

  6. Lori

    I’m sitting here crying. I’m so scared for my daughter. She was just diagnosed with anorexia. Just saying that makes my heart hurt so much. I’m learning as much as I can. It’s consuming my every thought, my entire wakeful moments and am having nightmares while I sleep. I desperately want to go back, in time, when we had family dinners, Sunday morning breakfasts and Mom & daughter Friday night date night where we went out for a special treat. I feel so alone.

    • Judy Krasna

      Lori, I understand exactly what you are feeling. Please know that you are not alone. I am so glad that you found us at F.E.A.S.T. We are here to help you through this.

    • Laura

      All those feelings you are having… just reading your words bring me back to those times. I am so sorry you are there, and I urge you to keep your eyes on that prize of normal again. It is hard work, work we never imagine having to do, but the work is something you as a parent are ideally suited for. You CAN DO THIS. I have known so many families right where you are, and their stories of courage and creativity and dedication show just how special the parent role is, and how needed. I can’t tell you how many times I questioned myself and thought I couldn’t endure one more minute of sadness and worry. But we do, and you will, and while you may be alone in some ways you are very much not alone in this community. We get it, and we are here to cheer you on.

    • Dawne

      I just reread this article, not remembering I had until I seen my own comment! I still love the message. My girl is going through her first broken relationship and her heart is broke. It’s a very tough time for her and keeping her eating is my main goal. She has self-harmed and had suicidal thoughts which scare me silly but we’re getting there. It’s not the same facing this kind of rejection when you’re recovering from an ED but I refuse to keep her in a bubble and think living life with all its ups and downs is truly the beauty of living. Life is hard but worth it.

  7. Sarah Lord

    We too have just started on this journey with our normally bright, bubbly 15 year old daughter. We are devastated and totally heartbroken we are here. I am scared about what’s ahead but just pray that she will come out the other side fully recovered. She has just come out of 2 weeks in hospital for stabilisation and can already see the struggle with the transistion. Our world has been rocked, but we will hold on tight and will be okay. As ‘they’ say, the only way to get over this is going straight through it- as hard as we know its going to be. It is so comforting to read others experiencing the same heartache- gives me strength we are not in this alone.

  8. Misyy

    We had a tough night. It helps to know that there others going though this nightmare as well. I feel alone and scared. I am so worried for my daughter, and pray we all have the will and strength to beat this horrible illness.. It has already been a long journey.

  9. Maureen McNaul

    My 15 year old daughter began to ‘eat healthier’ in Aug 2020. Multiple requests to our family doc resulted in him treating her as a ‘mature minor’ and telling me nothing. A referral was finally agreed to – three days after her bloodwork abs ECG we were sent to the emerg department- I sat and silently cried while I watched her heart rate sit in the 30’s. How did I let my beautiful, headstrong girl starve herself? I felt I had failed to provide the necessaries of life – to do the most basic of safe and responsible parenting.
    I am a lone parent – my husband died almost 9 years ago. I have a good support network- but Covid has turned all lives upside down and made this battle very very lonely. I feel like I’m trapped in an evil version of Groundhog Day….
    The first 30 days series has been so helpful- the messages come exactly when I need them.
    I’ll do my best to be an empowered warrior – to keep hope and to eventually pay it all forward
    Thank you for the ❤️

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