The past five years have been tough. Actually, tough is a soft word, and there are many I could (and should) use but perhaps not on this platform.
Each Christmas we spent with my daughter, and Anorexia, was nerve wracking, heartbreaking, and just bloody hard. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Invariably she was discharged from hospital near or on Christmas Day, to spend the day with immediate and extended family; we were on edge, and just doing the best we could.
What I learned…and some advice for the not-so-faint hearted
I learned a few things about how to cope with big ‘events’ like Christmas Day… and they had almost nothing to do with food.
- Revise your expectations. Reframe the moment. This is particularly hard if, like me, you are a true Christmas nut (pardon this pun) but it helps to keep expectations low.
- Talk to your child, partner, loved one in the lead up and validate the way they are feeling..and talk them through what will happen on the day so there are no surprises.
- Try to keep the routine as simple and regular as possible. This is difficult, but if it’s 6 meals a day on a regular day, at the dining table, with crosswords and distraction fidget toys, then that’s what it is on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or whatever the event may be.
- Give everyone in the immediate, and extended family a pre-event team talk. Focus on what will make the day easier for your child / partner / loved one and focus on making sure everyone is aware of helpful language to use. What to say… and what not to say.
- Focus on the rest of your family. You’ll read lots about focusing on yourself, but I personally found that if I tried to take time for myself, or focus on me, it made me infinitely sadder because I kept thinking about the past, and what wasn’t happening this year.
- Cook. Put the music on loudly, feed and love your family – it helped me in ways I can’t describe.
- Take lots of pictures. I know it goes against everything you feel, but trust me, you’ll barely remember the day (and the holiday period) so take pictures of your family to remind you of who you are.
The whole Christmas period will be challenging and upsetting. It’s okay to cry. I cried lots. More than I care to admit. I cried until I thought there were no more tears left.
In fact, I still cry – the smallest thing will happen and I’m off. It’s okay. It’s cathartic!
Take each moment as it comes - and although it's cliche, practice gratitude
Alongside the fear and anxiety that goes with almost everything about the holiday period, are the little moments we need to be grateful for.
Gratitude can look very different for everyone. Christmas is a good time to reflect, and last year mine felt a little like this.
I felt gratitude when I looked at my husband and knew that if we could get through our daughter’s illness together and intact, we could get through anything. I was grateful for that.
I looked at my Mum and will be eternally grateful that she was able to provide the exact right amount of care and love to my daughter when she was at her most unwell. I will be forever grateful for that.
I look at my two younger children, and am deeply grateful for the bond they developed during those stressful and challenging years. They are now best friends.
And I am grateful for the parenting lessons I have learned. I do believe I am a better parent for having been through this.
So this Christmas Day. If you have an unwelcome guest, remember to breathe, prepare, find joy in the small things, and know that following every Christmas is a new year bringing new possibilities.
Please consider making a donation to EDFA this holiday period to help us continue to support and educate other families impacted by an eating disorder. Make a donation here