When Amelia was 10, I found a sign in the pantry snack drawer – a hand drawn picture of her and her friends standing on weighing scales. Her friends’ scales were all in the normal range, but Amelia’s scales said the word ‘fat’.
That, alongside other behaviours, sent us to our doctor for help.
We found a psychologist, and Amelia was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. We started Family Based Treatment, which was really Mum Based Treatment.
Not good enough
Amelia was a perfectionist. She was very, very sensitive, and cared deeply about what people thought about her. She was also a very pretty child, and a lot of her friends were jealous, and would put her down and bully her whenever they could. The constant torment validated her thoughts about not being good enough.
Not pretty enough.
Not smart enough.
It was easy for the eating disorder to grab hold. Tightly.
We thought the worst was behind us
FBT was relatively easy at 10, and we (naively) thought we’d overcome the eating disorder when we were discharged from the program.
Amelia endured constant bullying throughout high school, and it was a relief when she graduated. But the change from high school to university was too overwhelming, and she resorted to restricting, and ‘eating healthier’.
We didn’t realise it had crept back in. One day, my younger daughter called me to say Amelia was measuring spaghetti bolognaise. I wish I had jumped on this earlier, but I just thought to myself ‘at least she’s eating it’.
But then she stopped eating. I started to hand feed her. We tried and failed, and tried and failed. For weeks she went without food. FBT was harder with a young adult. I kept going to the doctors. We were continually sent home. How long can a human last without food?
Back to the start
We found a new psychologist and a dietitian. I was told to treat her like I would treat a baby… that I needed to take control. This was difficult, as I had a full-time job, and two other children to support.
There were arguments, suicidal ideation, and mental health unit admissions, which were horrific. Turns out mental health units don’t handle eating disorders very well. She was discharged after each stay and finally put on the list for an admission to an eating disorder unit.
The turning point
These were incredibly difficult years, but there were two events that became the catalyst for recovery for Amelia. The first was some advice her psychologist gave.
She said ‘well, you’ve lost weight before, why don’t you try and gain the weight and see how you feel. If you’re not happy, you know what to do.’’ This was her first turning point. This allowed her control. And once the food was in, her brain started to repair, and the behaviours reduced, and she started to ‘come back’ to us.
The second was witnessing someone having a seizure when she was an inpatient at an eating disorder unit. She seemed to recognise the damage the eating disorder caused, and what it could mean for her long term.
I’m happy to say, this was the start of a long journey to strong recovery. Amelia is now weight restored, working, and figuring out what she wants to do with her life.
Changed in unimaginable ways
While I am incredibly thankful and relieved that Amelia is recovering and doing well, her eating disorder has changed me in ways I never imagined possible. I am on guard all the time, and struggle to feel the kind of joy I felt before. I am unnaturally suspicious and feel like I am always watching her. Caring for Amelia through her eating disorder has almost destroyed me. I thought I was never going to live through it.
But…what surprises me is that even in the darkest moments as parents we still get up, get back into that kitchen and think of new ways to encourage your child to eat. We still turn up at appointments. We’re still there for them. We don’t walk away. Our emotional strength amazes me.
No greater love
There is no greater love than a parent has for a child. You just want them to live and so you continue to care. You want the best for them at any cost, and that’s the hard part. It is often at the cost of friends, the cost of family, the cost of your house, your job. Parents will do almost anything to save their child.
Right now, Amelia is unnaturally dependent on me, and needs to know where I am at all times. This is something we are working on.
The choices we make
My younger daughter holds a lot of resentment towards Amelia because she was 16 and very vulnerable when the eating disorder was at its worst. I’ve apologised to her. I’ve said ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t your mum for two years. I had to make a choice – you’re either going to have a dead sister, or an absent Mum’. That was harsh. She resents it, and it has taken a toll on everyone.
My eldest daughter has PTSD, and has since moved out and is working through how she can move on. My husband put his head in the sand – he just denied it. He’s probably the least impacted.
New beginnings and Fluff Pancakes!
Amelia and I took a trip to Singapore recently to celebrate her recovery journey. We had many discussions before we left about food decisions and how to eat ‘normally’. Naturally I was worried.
Thankfully we had the most precious time together, and one thing that I will never, ever forget, is our ‘fluff’ pancakes.
Amelia said she wanted to find ‘fluff’ pancakes before she left Singapore. I had never heard of fluff pancakes, but would have searched the entire country for them.
We searched, we found them, and she ate them. To have come to the point in her recovery that she was able to do that was quite incredible. We shared a large plate of ‘fluff’ pancakes, and it was so very normal.
At that moment, I finally thought ‘we’re going to be okay’.
I wish I’d known…
..more about the disease earlier on so that I could have picked it up earlier, understood quicker, gotten her better support and help faster.
Tips for other carers
Read the resources, watch the webinars and join the support groups available.
Surround yourself with a great support team, and get permission from your loved one to receive information from the support team, regardless of their age. Engage that support team and learn as much as you can. Try different things. What works for one doesn’t work for another. And remember, you know your child best.
Recovery is possible, and there is hope.
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