Real Life Experience: 1
My 15 year old daughter decided to go on a ‘diet’. Little did I know this was the beginning of an 18 month living nightmare!
As she lost weight her friends all complimented her on how fabulous she looked. I thought it was just a fad and she would soon get bored of dieting. As the weeks went by, the diet became an obsession and she started to restrict more foods.
I made an appointment with our GP who referred her to a Specialist Eating Disorder Unit. My daughter was diagnosed with anorexia. Once the anorexia was no longer a secret, her illness spiralled out of control.
Anorexia is a beast of an illness! Anorexia overtook my daughter’s body, mind and life. I watched my once happy, vivacious, beautiful daughter become depressed, angry and extremely lonely. The more anorexia controlled her, the more starved she became. The more starved she became, the stronger the anorexia became. I feared for her life, as her mental health was terrible and her body was starting to shut down. I was convinced one day I would find her dead. I would sleep with my daughter every night and basically became a full-time carer. Every meal-time was a battle; things we would normally do as a family stopped – visiting family, going out for meals. Nobody really understood the illness and I would pull away from friends and family because I felt such a failure as a mother; why could I not make her better? What have I done wrong? Why didn’t I see the signs? And many other tormenting questions I would ask myself.
Eventually my daughter’s mental and physical health became so bad she was admitted into a Specialist Eating Disorder Unit. This was the most heart-breaking thing I have ever done. I had two choices – watch her die or have her admitted to the unit.
Our family was torn apart, my eldest son started suffering from insomnia. My other daughter was convinced she would die and would suffer with panic attacks. My husband buried his head in the sand, but I caught him one day sobbing. He was trying to be strong for us all. Anorexia had its clutches into the whole family.
I decided that during her stay in the unit I had to get strong, as I was a mess. I began walking for 1 hour every morning. I would walk through the forest and cry. I began to get faster and cry less. I could feel myself getting stronger and my daughter drew from my strength. I would say to her you are going to beat this illness, you are so strong you can do this. I started to believe she could too.
My daughter spent 6 weeks in the unit; when she came home she had gained weight, and physically her body was working better, but mentally anorexia was stronger than ever. Things then got really bad. I decided my fight was with the anorexia, not my daughter and splitting the illness from her was a great step forward. I would very calmly say, “Anorexia obviously does not want you to have a great life, it wants you obsessing about weight. Look at your friends having a great life, Anorexia wants you to have a rubbish life”. I can’t print her response, but I was sowing the seeds.
I got so much support from the eating disorder out-patients unit. My daughter’s nurse, Jenny, who I am eternally grateful to, would visit us and talk things through for hours. She was not only supportive to my daughter but would reassure me that I was doing a great job supporting my daughter. I needed to hear this.
Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix with mental illness. But I knew this now, I knew all the hard work had to be done by my daughter and I knew I had to be strong to support her.
I carried on running/walking and she carried on battling anorexia. Anorexia started to become quieter. She had more good days than bad; slowly her life started to get better. It’s such a slow process but she was getting there. Getting strong was the most difficult but most effective thing I did to help my daughter.
18 months on, my amazing girl is back! She is currently studying for her A level’s, getting drunk at parties and kissing boys! That feels so good to write. She says the illness has made her a stronger, more empathetic person. She also says if she can fight anorexia, she can fight anything.
Real Life Experience: 2
Once we were being seen by CAMHS, they were really great. We found family therapy particularly helpful as it was great to know that other people were experiencing the same thing.
It was hard at first and my daughter was reluctant to be seen, but we got a lot out of it at the end.
At the moment, the main sign that my daughter is getting better is when she gains weight. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she has recovered psychologically. This is something that needs more time.
I think, if I was going to give any advice to a parent in our situation, it would be to remember that, when you are being firm with your child, you are actually being firm with the illness. When the illness appears to be taking over, it is not your child.
Real Life Experience: 3
Our daughter was hospitalised due to her eating disorder; this came totally out of the blue and she was then referred straight to the CAMHS Team from the general hospital. We were advised that therapy could not start until her weight was stable; this surprised us both as parents, but now further down our recovery journey we understand.
The key was nutrition and getting her to eat. We were in shock at this time and it took us time to understand what we were facing, we struggled to take in all the information.
We have now been in services for a year and have found the service very good; we are still being offered support, she is so much better, fully engaged in school with friends and activities.
Our advice to others going through a similar situation is educate yourself and get as much information as you can, this really helped with our self-confidence and gave us strength; knowledge is power!
As ‘mum’, I decided to be very open and talked about our situation. I would advise you to talk to family and friends and get support. I focused on the positive support and distanced myself from any negativity. It is really important to maintain hope and confidence, surround yourself with positive people.