Part 1 – My Daughter’s Story
My daughter was 21 when we noticed the first signs of an eating disorder (ED). She had just returned from a 3-month volunteer trip overseas, moved out of home and was studying mental health nursing. The first time we realised something was wrong was at a family meal in a restaurant. She cried because she felt there was nothing on the menu she could eat. A few months later she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Over the period of our journey, she had 9 inpatient admissions. These included ICU visits, day programs and nasogastric tubes. During one of her many admissions, her perception shifted when she had to pull out of her duties as a bridesmaid to a close friend.
She was also told she needed to find another hospital to stay at, due to being in a viscous cycle of admission/outpatient. At this point, she decided she wanted to be free of anorexia.
During her first year of recovery, she was in and out of hospital and her mental health deteriorated. Our family struggled, we felt we were worrying about her 24/7. However, during her second year into recovery, she began to make plans for an independent future, and she was able to enjoy life more.
Part 2 – My Carers Story
We cared for our daughter for 6 years while she was suffering and recovering from anorexia. It impacted our whole family, as she was diagnosed the week of her sister’s wedding and was at her most unwell in the year her brother left home.
Her father also struggled with his own mental health and was hospitalised during his relapse. Her siblings were, and continue to be supportive of her and of us as parents. It helped that by this time, they were adults: 24 and 19. She would often seek out her sister’s support when I had said the wrong thing or disagreed with the ED. However, her relationship with her brother wilted. We made sure that he had support outside of our family when his sister was very unwell.
It took two years into recovery for them to repair their relationship. I held a lot of guilt that I couldn’t be emotionally present to my other children during the times I was focusing on keeping my daughter alive. They tell me that they understood, and they still do now, but I have only been able to let go of the guilt recently.
Part 3 – Recommendations and Hope
During our struggles, I had an amazing support system of close friends and family. I used Eating Disorders Victoria and the internet to gather information about my daughter’s illness. I made sure I did my own walking and catching up with friends to have time away from talking about the ED. Other things that helped me through it were my faith, and hope that my daughter would recover. I even had a note on my fridge when she was very sick that said ‘Piss off anorexia, you will NOT win. My precious girl WILL have the life she deserves’.
It also helped that I had a job with supportive colleagues and a caring manager, as well as a GP that knew me and my daughter.
I initially took lots of sick leave, although after a year I realised work helped me to just keep going, and when I was with my daughter 24/7 there was more resistance with her meal plans and self-harm episodes. I resisted seeing my own psychologist for 2 years, but after my first session I realised it was helpful and I wish I had gone sooner.
I also wish I would have asked more questions of professionals and not hesitated to ask for clarification. I needed to fight for what my gut feelings where when it came to helping my daughter, and not worry about ‘annoying’ the professionals who were part of her team. I think understanding different treatments would have been helpful to me too, especially temperament-based therapy.
I connected with EDFA in 2018 soon after it was formed, while we were struggling at home during my daughter’s first year of recovery. It was a godsend. I think I cried on my way home after meeting other families battling an ED. A collective experience has been so valuable, and it is so helpful to tell your story to others who truly get it. I am so grateful that we had EDFA and although my daughter is well now, I am still involved and feel so privileged to support an organisation that is so committed to changing a broken health system and supporting families who go through the nightmare of an ED.
My daughter is now a vibrant, beautiful, and independent 30-year-old. Now-a-days she even complains about meals she’s ordered not having enough carbs! She rings me to tell me about her nursing career that she has reclaimed, and she has hopes and dreams of volunteering or even working as a nurse to help others with EDs.
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