A mother shares her journey caring for her daughter and her eating disorder.
We are keeping all mothers, parents and carers in our hearts this Mothering Sunday. We hope you find some comfort and hope in reading these words.
I never dreamt I’d be Mum to a daughter with an eating disorder. Such a happy, chatty, confident teenager, she is always laughing, full of energy and so carefree riding her pony. Then she turns 17 and everything changes.
It starts with a desire to run. She and her Dad used to sit on the sofa watching films and sharing a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but now they are comparing steps on their Fitbits! Alarm bells set in when she starts walking around and around the kitchen table every evening in an attempt to increase her Fitbit steps. A keen interest in food and cooking develops – she gives up meat, then fish, and then becomes vegetarian. “It’s cruel,” she says and “bad for the environment,” so you can’t argue.
I go on a mission to keep her healthy and well fed. At least she continues to eat Sunday roast. Little do I know that most of it is being fed to our dogs under the table. She still looks healthy and is bubbly and bright amongst friends but, I watch her walking out of the school gates when I go to pick her up and I know she is unhappy and sad. Her posture and expression has changed. Maybe it’s the pressure of A-Levels, the demands of being Head Girl or the stress of raising money to do world challenge in India.
I try to find a logical explanation for the dramatic change in her behaviour but deep down, I know she’s unwell. We go to a festival with friends and share a tent. That weekend I know for sure that she is suffering from an eating disorder. She insists that we share food then only picks at a few sweet potatoes. After choosing pasta for supper she wants to go and see an obscure band on her own. I know it’s an excuse to throw the pasta in the bin. She also packed lots of porridge pots and wanted to eat them instead of meals insisting they were healthy.
She senses my concern after that weekend. Unbeknownst to me, she goes to see her doctor.
“I need to talk with you Mum and Dad. I have an eating disorder and I’ve been to the doctor for help. I’ll be starting CBT soon”.
Such relief, she’s acknowledged she’s unwell and wants to get better. It’s all going to be fine now…
I could never have imagined the journey that lay ahead. Despite lots of support, she cannot shake “this demon”, the eating disorder off her shoulder. She writes about her feelings, frequently talks to a therapist, keeps a food diary and reluctantly tries to eat 3 meals a day interspersed with snacks. I continue to try and nurture her and plan nice trips and shopping sprees in the hope she’ll be encouraged to eat properly again and gain weight.
There are lots of tears and dark days. It’s heartbreaking and I feel helpless. Nothing I say to try and help her feel more positive helps. Then, as part of her degree, she makes an animation film about her eating disorder. I can’t believe she can produce something so fantastic yet feel so out of control. It’s so hard watching her withdraw from her friendship groups and avoid every occasion that involves food.
Her years at university are tough, sometimes unbearable, but I know I’ve got to remain strong for her and get on with my life. I visit her as often as I can. We always talk openly about how she’s feeling and she’s honest about how little she’s eating. I feel physically sick having to leave her as I get on the train back from Leeds.
She meets her boyfriend in her second year at university. Her self worth sky rockets and for the first time in years she is smiling. However, she is still suffering from anxiety so I encourage her to speak with her doctor about medication. She feels much calmer and agrees to try and find a psychotherapist and dietitian. She meets with them on alternate weeks and slowly but surely begins to enjoy eating again.
I start to believe that she is going to get better. There is more heartache and it takes huge perseverance but gradually she regains her “joie de vive”.
The best ever Mother’s Day present is seeing her out and about with the friends she came so close to deserting. She is eating, drinking and laughing, without a care in the world.
The hardest thing that has ever happened in my life is finally over.