By Oona Hanson
Caring for a child with an eating disorder can be the most painful and challenging time in a parent’s life. Months if not years of emotional exhaustion–combined with the strain on finances, relationships, and even your own health–take a serious toll.
In the throes of the illness, however, the magnitude of the situation is often difficult to grasp. Sometimes it’s the little things–the surprising, odd, and even absurd details–that stop you in your tracks. Here are just some of the unexpected things you may encounter along the way:
You spend more money on special “safe” food for your child with an eating disorder than on everyone else in the family combined.
You listen to other parents complaining that their kids are “always hungry.”
You spend far more time on the phone with the health insurance company than you do with your friends.
You use plastic or paper plates in case they get thrown.
You run out of checks before the next batch arrives because of all the appointments with providers who don’t take credit cards.
Your other children stop having friends over.
You hear a medical technician compliment your child’s thin body during an EKG or DEXA scan.
You leave your phone ringer on at all times in case the doctor calls you back.
Your vocabulary includes ten new medical acronyms and five new insurance terms.
You avoid social gatherings because friends are likely to discuss dieting.
You have the suicide helpline number in your cell phone contacts.
You have people question whether your child really has an illness because “they look great.”
You undoubtedly have your own mental list of surreal details. The painful markers of this experience may bring white hot rage or tears of despair. Or perhaps you’re leaning into gallows humor and laughing at the absolute absurdity of some of these situations.
Whatever you’re feeling, know that your reaction is normal. And that no matter how seemingly strange or unique your particular experience is, there are other families who “get it.” You’re not alone.