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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.

    • Claire farren

      Hi Lori, I have just read your post and it could be me writing the exact same post today. I really hope you are in a better place now in March. I also feel completely alone. I am absolutely petrified and feel I have lost my beautiful wonderful kind and gentle daughter. We are just at the beginning of the hard journey I suspect. She was diagnosed 3 weeks ago and we’re waiting for services to start. The anorexia has been fighting back hard since diagnosis and I feel completely lost and am scared that I am doing everything wrong not only with her but my other daughter too. My whole family just feels broken.
      Sending you all the best wishes I can

      • Laura

        Claire, I want you to know that “My whole family just feels broken” is a place I have been, too, more than once. It is a devastating feeling. It also means you need reinforcements. What would you do if you were in a car accident and suddenly unable to help your family? Who would you call? What would you set aside? What resources would you call in? Who would be supporting YOU and helping you manage and cope? This is that time. When you feel the family is broken and you can’t fix it and the despair of that moment is the very time to get reinforcements you never thought you’d need. Ask for it, require it, Demand 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 ❤️

    • Donna

      I am in exactly the same boat. Alone. Just me and my girl Husband died 13 years ago. Tomorrow she goes in for 3rd hospital stay. Different place, I hope much better than the first two. Started this journey February 2020, just at the start of the pandemic. Could not find in-person care and the demon raged on and on and on. I feel like the pandemic has been harmful to so many, but the strength the ED needs is in-person confrontation. I’m hoping with opening up now, we are on the right journey.

  10. Debbie

    Thank you for this letter Laura. My daughters ED journey has been long and hard. 10+ years. It’s been heartbreaking fir her and for our family. As hard as it’s been for us it’s been only that much harder for our daughter. I can’t even imagine what her days of hell are like for her. Every day I am grateful that she is still here fighting for her survival. I pray for strength and a miracle that she will find recovery. She has suffered with this mental illness resulting in anorexia and bulimia.Sometime she wants to come and visit and stay with us or wants me to go visit and stay with her and to see her suffering with the bulimia and portion control is excruciating for me. I feel devastated and helpless and most the time the visits end up with massive hurt feelings and her ED raging. I want to go visit her and be supportive and comforting but i only seem to be able to just get scared, upset and angry on the inside. I need to know how to do a better job at being able to be with her and not be so devastated and sad and upset when we are together. Our time together usually end up with arguments that I think are triggered by the tension we all feel with the ED being the underlying factor. Any support and suggestions would be appreciated. I am going to visit her in a few days for a few days.

    • Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh

      Debbie, I want to send you a virtual hug and remind you that you are not alone and you DO need and deserve support. For me personally, I find that no matter what is going on for our ill loved ones there is a real benefit to you in having a very clear and updated understanding of the illness. I know it may seem like the focus needs to be on your daughter’s understanding, or her treatment team, but YOUR clear understanding can really help you support her. Have you tried the FEAST FIRST30Days series of emails yet? It is free and easy to access, and may shift your perspective to allow you to be supportive and comforting without as much of the fear and anger. There are skills that parents can learn that allow us to replace that helplessness with a more empowered stance. You may find information and perspective that reduces the tension and arguments as well.

  11. Maria De Lucia

    Reading this empowers me and gives me hope and clarity. Thanks to all parents who share their experiences so that maybe just one of those experiences might shed some light to those darkest of days when we are deeply saddened by our family member’s affliction.

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