- Anorexia, Me and Daughter Makes Three
Anorexia, Me and Daughter Makes Three
It was another noisy lunchtime break in my Primary School’s crowded playground. I was nine years old and on this particular day, I was looking around at everyone else having fun. I always liked to watch the other children, they always seemed to be happy and engaged in their exciting games with lots of friends.
I had a few friends, but they were quite fickle and I felt I never knew from one moment to the next whether I was actually ‘liked’.
On this particular day, I remember feeling ‘alone’. I looked over at a group of people and was suddenly aware that I could only see half of their faces. Panicked, I looked at everything around me and was terrified, I couldn’t see things properly. I thought I was going blind and went straight to a dinner lady (one of my favourites) and told her. I felt she thought I was being dramatic, but she sent me to the medical room anyway.
The feelings of terror, panic and of isolation, I can still feel now when I think back to that dreadful day.
The lady in the office clearly didn’t know what to make of me. By this time, I was crying hysterically and kept telling her I couldn’t see properly. She told me to lie down in the medical room.
I lay there on the stark bed, alone in the medical room, not knowing what was happening or what was going to happen. I wanted my mum.
I don’t know if the school called my mum right away and it took her some time to arrive or whether they decided to wait and see how I was, before calling her. All I know is that I seemed to be in the medical room for some time. After what seemed like a very long time, my eyes started to see a bit more clearly, but I was struck with the most terrible pain in my head that was unbearable. One of the ladies from the office was outside in the corridor doing lots of photocopying. The noise seemed so loud and monotonous that the pain it caused my head was excruciating. I thought I was going to die, and in all honesty I felt I wished I would. My mum finally arrived and took me home, telling me she thought I had a migraine. I’d never heard of it before.
When I got home, I was violently and repeatedly sick. I was in bed for the rest of the day and felt really rough. Hours later, when the headache had subsided and the sickness had stopped, I was left feeling exhausted, ‘foggy’, shocked, but relieved that it was all over.
Unfortunately, that day was the start of many similar days to come and I was soon having them every week. I can remember on one occasion, lying on the medical room bed, when a boy from my class came in. He wanted to know what was wrong. When I explained, he seemed sympathetic, but then he seemed to back away as if he might ‘catch’ what I had.
In my last year at Primary School, friends gradually ‘went off’ me, whether it was because of my migraines, I don’t know. All I do know is that at one point no one in my class would talk to me.
I felt so alone and such a freak. No one else at school had migraines. I was ‘different’. This, coupled with the daily terror I felt at the possibility of having another migraine, led me to start obsessing. It started one day, when I overheard two ladies in a shop talking about migraines.
I was immediately interested in what they were saying. ‘Shouldn’t eat oranges’ one of them said. From that day I stopped eating oranges. My doctor said to avoid chocolate and cheese as they can be triggers, so I avoided them like the plague. By the time I started High School, I was already anorexic (but no one knew).
My High School years were much happier in general, but I was still plagued by migraines and I rigidly restricted what I ate, desperate to avoid having another one. Yet I always did, no matter what I ate. The severity of the migraines got worse and I would have both sickness and diarrhoea, I would go numb all over, including my tongue and on one particular day, I couldn’t remember my address or where my Mum worked. I think I was living in a high state of alert all the time. I felt ‘different’ and I felt worthless, as though in some way migraines were a punishment. I started to analyse everything about myself. I soon felt that I was inferior to others and I started to see myself as fat. I restricted what I ate more and more and I started to exercise every night in my bedroom with weights.
In the early days, my family were blissfully unaware of what was going on and to a degree so was I. All I knew was that I had to keep exercising and restrict my eating, because then I felt better about myself. I needed something because when I looked into the mirror, all I saw was a short, ugly, fat person who wasn’t worthy of being loved, liked or who deserved to be alive.
At this time, tensions were high at home as my grandparents were both sickly and this put extra pressure on my parents. I loved my grandparents dearly and when my granddad died, I just couldn’t handle the grief. I broke down one day at school and couldn’t stop crying. My headmistress did her best to console me and I was allowed to sit alone, until I ‘felt better’. I think it was around this time that I started to self harm. I never managed to cause any real damage (thankfully), just scratches from scissors or I would pinch myself really hard on the leg or arm, digging in my fingernails. The pain seemed to be a release from the unbearable pain I felt on the inside.
Anorexia, wasn’t very widely understood back in the 1980’s. After some years, my mum and dad had both said that I was too thin. This made me feel good, but I still felt it was an ongoing mission to lose weight. I would give myself a target weight, then when that was met, I would give myself another one.
One day, when I was around fifteen years old, my dad said very seriously that he was really worried about how much weight I was losing. He had tears in his eyes and for the first time, I realised that maybe I had a problem. I agreed to go to the doctors and even though I was weighed a few times and told I was too thin, nothing was offered to help me. In fact one day, my doctor said if I didn’t eat I would end up like the thing on his computer (it was a bone!).
I started work three days after my sixteenth birthday in an office, which I loved. My habits hadn’t changed. I still restricted what I ate (I hated eating in the office and I would hide my food and eat tiny bites when I could see no one was watching). I felt they would see me as a greedy fat cow. I still exercised every night. Difference being that now I was doing a full- time job. This was when dizzy spells started and became an almost daily occurrence. Not once did I think it was related to my lack of food.
At this stage, I was just below six stones in weight. I just carried on in my merry own way, I would always give in to the voice in my head that kept telling me I shouldn’t eat because I didn’t deserve to, I was fat. No matter how much I restricted myself, I was never really ‘happy’.
When the company I was working for re-located, I went with them and in a shuffle round, my job changed and I ended up working with a no-nonsense, but lovely lady. We became good friends and she was the company first aider.
One day at work, on one of the usual visits by the company nurse, I was pulled aside and asked if I would attend their clinic for some tests. I couldn’t hide my condition from my eagle-eyed friend and boss. She expressed her concern over my weight or lack of. For the first time, I panicked that other people now ‘knew’ my secret. I felt I was backed into a corner, so went for the medical, where I was told I was underweight and they referred me to their local doctor.
On the day of my appointment, I was terrified. I hadn’t been driving long and I had to go somewhere unfamiliar, away from home, on my own. When I went in, the doctor asked me a few questions, said that people were worried that I was losing so much weight. Then gave me the answer to ‘all my problems’ – I needed a boyfriend!’, to which I said ‘ok’, and left hastily. As if any boy would want me, I thought, ugly, fat, cow.
I was supposed to have a further appointment with him, but I never went back. So scared now that I was being ‘watched’ at work, I decided to relent slowly and started to eat a little more, to keep people happy. I still exercised every day.
My migraines had eased off, I still had them, but now occasionally. One day at work I was practically pushed into eating a chocolate. My friend and boss was convinced that chocolate wouldn’t affect me. So, I relented and ate the chocolate. It was lovely, but I felt scared at the prospect of a possible migraine and I felt terribly guilty for not upholding my strict ‘diet’.
I didn’t have a migraine and in some way I think the act of eating that chocolate, led me to relax a little. Unfortunately, this was short lived. We were told that the company, after having expanded rapidly, was now struggling and redundancies started being rolled out. Working in accounts, I had to make out the cheques to unfortunate employees, some of whom I considered as friends. This started me on a long and miserable path, that eventually ended in my own redundancy when the company announced it was closing.
Just prior to this, I met someone that I instantly fell in love with. He loved me for who I was (yet I still felt that if I didn’t keep thin, he’d go off me). I found out later that he actually felt scared of hugging me too tightly, in case he broke bones!
He supported me through the last few terrible months at work. By now, we were engaged and although that aspect of my life made me feel ecstatic, I dived downwards into depression. I felt a failure. Redundancy was something I had no control over, yet I felt I was in some way at fault. I felt this was a punishment, for not succeeding and I hated myself.
That time in my life was a very dark time and I felt I had to face many demons. Things got so bad that I was put on two different kinds of antidepressants and saw a councillor. His main objective, I felt, was to get me onto a trial drug, which I didn’t want. Dreading seeing him, led me to stop the appointments. I decided to stop taking my medication when it ran out, which led to hallucinations and me subsequently feeling like I had lost control over everything.
My fiancée was brilliant during this time. He was kind, considerate and listened to all my ‘silliness’. He made me realise that I did have choices and although, he probably felt he wanted to run for the hills, he stuck by me and he alone helped me to come out of my misery.
Once the dark cloud started to lift, I could feel happiness and a future on the horizon. I relaxed more and started to eat more healthily. Constant reassurance from my fiancée helped me to see things more clearly and made me feel that I was actually worth loving.
I gradually started to put weight on, we got married and things seemed much better. We decided to start a family and were devastated when it didn’t happen. We both had tests and were told that nothing was wrong. I feared I had caused myself to be infertile. After a couple of years though, I fell pregnant.
I was the happiest woman on the planet, my focus was now my baby and I was able to give up my anorexia for the love of my baby. Even though I did have niggles of doubt as to how I would cope with the inevitable weight gain.
All I had ever wanted was a child of my own and the happiness it gave my husband filled my heart with pride and joy. However, I felt completely over-whelmed during the first couple of months and struggled with the sleepless nights and constant worry that something may go wrong..
When my daughter was around a year old, old habits started creeping in and I gave in to the voice of anorexia. I felt I wasn’t good enough a mother if I was fat. The depravation of food and running around after a toddler made me feel exhausted and fortunately for me, I gave up on the struggle to maintain the anorexia. The voices were still there and the wish to be skinny was still there, but I couldn’t manage both, my daughter came first.
Over the next fifteen years, I had periods when the anorexia would take over (a relapse, I suppose), but I never spoke about it to anyone and especially not in front of my girls, by this time I’d had another daughter. I tried not to let anything show, but I guess looking back, I have been guilty of making fleeting comments, such as “do I look fat?”
On the whole, I think that I had put anorexia in a ‘box’. It will always be there and every now and again it ‘bangs against the lid’, but I manage to keep it at bay and carry on.
Both of my daughters were healthy eaters, who enjoyed their food and their lives and I never wanted to share my insecurities with them, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I had, let alone my own daughters.
Regardless of what I did or didn’t do, when my eldest daughter was approaching 16, she started on the path of self-destruction that is anorexia.
It started (I thought) on the day of her first job interview. Just prior to going in, she suffered a panic attack. She felt she couldn’t breathe, she started wretching which made her panic more as she has a phobia about being sick and generally started to lose it. Fortunately, my Husband and I were with her and managed to calm her down to such a degree that she managed to go ahead with the interview.
At Primary School, she had a similar attack , which led to anxiety. She saw a counsellor and recovered fairly quickly. After this recent attack however, she felt unwell and it continued for days, possibly weeks afterwards. During this time, because she felt unwell and felt nauseas, she didn’t feel like eating. Little by little, she reduced the amounts she ate, until we noticed that something wasn’t right.
Knowing how quickly things can take hold, I took her to our doctor, who straight-away referred her to an Eating Disorders Team. At first, they thought (as we did) that the problem she had was mainly the anxiety and panic attacks that she now suffered regularly and that the effects of that made her not want to eat. In subsequent weeks, however it emerged that she did in fact have anorexia, she was just unlucky that she also has panic attacks.
We had regular meetings with counsellors, but she wasn’t really making any progress and the weight was dropping off of her at a rate of knots. She decided herself that she would like to try hypnotherapy. I am glad she did, because it helped her. It emerged that her problems started back at Primary School and that she had body issues back then and still has today. She had numerous sessions and she did feel calmed afterwards, but she began to feel more and more that she wasn’t gaining any more, that she was going for the sake of it. She stopped going and continued to focus on the Eating Disorder Team.
At first, because I had been through hell myself, I decided to tell my daughter that I understood and told her that, I too have had anorexia. Her reaction was a surprise to me in that she said ‘it was different’ for her. I got the distinct impression that she didn’t want to know, so I didn’t go into too much detail.
When a mention was made of a new parent group course being trialled at the Eating Disorder Centre, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. It was the best thing I could have ever done. It helped me understand the complexity of the illness (yes it is an illness) and also that I am not to blame (anorexia is not fussy about who it chooses to affect), although despite being told otherwise, I still feel I am partly to blame, maybe even genetically. I wanted to learn how to get my daughter to eat (in effect, how to ‘make’ her eat), but I soon realised that the questions I wanted answered, were not the right things to be asking. There is no way to force your child to eat (unless it is by tube, in a hospital), but you can try all sorts of encouragement and tactics, some of which will work. These sessions were once a week for twelve weeks and were, I feel very useful. A few were very intense for me and on more than one occasion, I cried on my way home in the car, such was the overwhelming feeling of emotion. On finishing the course, I remained in contact with a few of the other mums and we still meet, which is so nice, just not having to pretend that everything is alright and not having to explain things, everyone else has been and are still living ‘abnormal’ lives. I found it refreshing and as though a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders to know that we were most definitely not alone.
Shortly after my daughter’s diagnosis, I read many books available on anorexia and other peoples experiences. One in particular mentioned cooking with high calorie content ingredients and it listed recipes that you could try.
Almost like a woman possessed, I tried all sorts of new things. I was baking muffins for my daughter to eat for breakfast, cookies for snacks and different dinners. She tolerated a few things for a short while, but gradually went off everything. I was wearing myself out and frantically tried to cram as many calorie rich foods into my daughter’s diet as I could. The upshot of all this was that she was still losing weight and my Husband and I put on weight!
I decided then that I should be a little calmer in my approach and now I add things, such as bread and butter with her dinner. This should have helped and it did temporarily, but she was still losing weight week on week. I just couldn't understand it. Either she throws food away at college or the other conclusion I have come to is that maybe she was just burning off more than she was taking in. Trying to get her to see that and act on it is another hurdle that we have yet to master.
We have to take each day as it comes and each day is different. Her moods change all the time and that affects her willingness to eat. I find myself foreseeing situations and I am always thinking full speed ahead, trying to think of responses and ways out of difficult situations. The trouble is, anorexic behaviour seems to morph into other avenues and at times, it feels you can never get one step ahead. What is a problem one day, will be something entirely different the next.
In my experience, anorexia is a very secretive illness and it is very much a case of ‘us against the world”. I felt it was my own personal ‘thing’ and nothing to do with any one else, which made me defensive. I wonder if I would have coped with the amount of counselling that my daughter gets now, she doesn’t have the luxury of privacy. She is weighed at every appointment and her every movement is closely watched and behaviour and inner thoughts questioned and analysed.
Through my daughter, I have come to realise that Anorexia is a very selfish illness. It completely absorbs your time, energy and mental wellbeing. How ironic that an illness that causes starvation, gorges itself on its victim’s insecurities and that it uses its victim’s strength to refuse food and in turn make them weak.
Anorexia has a way of warping the way that it’s victim sees things. They see a fat person staring back in the mirror, they think other people are talking/looking/judging them on the way they look, yet in reality they do that all by themselves. If people do look at them or talk about them, it is probably because they are shocked at how skinny they look!
Most anorexics seem to have familiar traits, being high achievers, low self-esteem, sensitive natures. I myself was always just an average student, but I do remember that however well I did, it still wasn’t good enough. That feeling of not being good enough is still with me and plagues my life. How can someone succeed in any area of their life, when they don’t have faith in themselves?
One of the biggest problems is that because anorexia is an eating disorder and eating is a natural necessity every single day, the battle is there each and every day, a relentless uphill battle.
I feel a hypocrite telling my daughter to eat up and I find I ‘lecture’ her about the effects of not eating, as I have done it myself and know first hand how difficult it is to put the common sense into practice. I don’t think anorexics (and I speak from personal experience) want sympathy or pity or any kind of attention, they just want to be left alone. Yet at the same time, something inside is screaming for someone to reach in and pull them out of their despair.
With my daughter, I feel I am the one trying to pull her free. I am faced with all sorts of excuses and reasons (some valid, some not).
I tried the softly approach first, but she said that made her worse, so I then tried to take a firm hand. This worked for a short time, but after a while, I needed a different tact. I decided to back off and leave her to get her snacks. This worked and tensions seemed to ease, but as before, was short lived. Some days, she takes charge, other days if left to her own devices, I don’t think she’d eat at all and so my inner (rhino) comes out and I get more forceful.
During our worst times, I felt my daughter was not there. I would look at her face, but it wasn't my daughter looking back at me.
At times, her eyes seemed cold, dark and they seemed to hold contempt and at times, hatred. The ‘mask’ she wears shields us all from our lovely, beautiful, happy, bright and caring daughter and valuable family member. I felt she was trapped within herself. Any mention of food or pleading with her to even have a basic need such as a drink, are sometimes met with a ‘how could you even suggest it?’ look in her eyes.
Despite having had my own personal experience with anorexia, I have had (and still do have) trouble trying to deal with my daughter. I can’t help mentioning how skinny she looks, if she wears something that doesn’t conceal her bones so well, I guess it is down to the shock I feel. Afterwards, I always wish I had kept my feelings to myself. Yet if I don’t hi-light these things and the dangers, how do I know that she even knows?
Anorexia is an illness, but unlike other illnesses, there is no real time frame for recovery and no ‘medicine’ to get rid of it. It is like fighting against something in the dark, it can see you, but you can’t see it. You just reach out at what you can and hope that it is enough to make a difference.
I did not come through anorexia unscathed. I have osteopenia (a deviation short of osteoporosis) and osteoarthritis. I really thought that I would be a living and breathing reason for not going down the anorexic path. Sadly, I also realise that you don’t get to choose and it is probably already too late or too far into the illness for my daughter to come out without any battle scars, that breaks my heart.
Anorexia to me is like an evil force that sweeps through not just its victim, but also their whole family and life. It picks everything up and messes with it and leaves carnage in its wake. It rips up everything you thought you knew about yourself and other people and leaves you with nothing but questions, the biggest one, WHY?
As my Daughter approached 18, we suddenly found out that the Eating Disorder Team we were going to would not be able to see her much longer as she needed to be under Adult Services. This caused a lot more anguish and stress. We were told that the criteria for being seen in Adult Services was high and to maybe expect that our daughter was not ill enough.
I took my daughter to her first appointment. She didn’t want me to come in, so I sat in the waiting room. She came out at the end close to tears and said that the counsellor wanted to see me. She told me that she would make another appointment for her, but with someone else as she was leaving, in a few months time and she gave my daughter some mood sheets and a food diary to fill in. She also prescribed tablets for her to take prior to stressful situations, which at that time was a once a week work placement. Outside, my daughter said she felt that she wasn’t being listened to and that she felt silly for feeling the way she felt. I tried to reassure her that wasn’t the case and that next time if she has trouble getting the depth of her feelings and anguish over, maybe I could come in with her.
Her next appointment came around and I was allowed to go in to the meeting. My daughter made me very proud as she spoke clearly and exposed all of her feelings. I was then asked to wait outside while she spoke to my daughter alone. After this appointment, she came out with more drugs, this time anti depressants. Another appointment was made with someone else yet again, as this lady was there temporarily.
A couple of weeks later, I came home to find my daughter shut in her bedroom and I could hear her sobbing. After some pleading, she opened the door and let me in. I held her in my arms trying to comfort her asking what was wrong. She said she didn’t want to be here anymore and that she had contemplated taking an overdose. She also revealed that she had been self-harming over the last year and could no longer take the pressure. My initial thoughts were panic and horror that she felt that bad and how could I not have noticed her self-harming. Then I just held her and said that she was not alone and that we would do anything to help her. I revealed my self-harming, which I think helped and made her feel ‘less of a freak’.
We saw our Doctor as soon as we could and she took her off of the anti-depressants as she felt they were heightening her black thoughts. She tried to get us an urgent appointment at the Adult Services and also gave us details of a Crisis Team if things got worse. Unfortunately, the appointment never materialised and we attended her next session as normal. At my daughter’s request, I didn’t go in. This time, my daughter came out happier. The counsellor she saw, would now be her permanent one and she diagnosed her with a borderline personality disorder, more medication!. She felt that this counsellor understood her and took her seriously, which was a feat in itself and she has agreed to take part in group therapy (something I never thought she would entertain). Although she is not being seen specifically for the anorexia anymore, she has been told she can see someone further along the line if she needs to.
Since then, things are a little better. It is still early days on the medication and my daughter still has good and bad days, but when I think back to the beginning, she really has come a long way. The side effect of the new medication is weight gain, due to feeling more hungry. This has had a positive effect. My daughter thinks nothing of feeding her hunger now and although her weight is still low, she has put on a little. I think that her weight was so low that her muscles were being used up and to make a real difference she needs to eat a lot more, but she now realises that and is really trying hard herself to make the changes.
I want to hear my daughter laugh again, really laugh at life itself. I want her to see a future filled with love and happiness and everything she has ever wanted to come to her easily. I want her to enjoy food again and re-discover the pleasure that food can give. I want her to have ‘meat’ on her bones, so that the clothes that she used to wear and look fabulous in, no longer hang off of her skinny frame. I want her to feel healthy and have plenty of energy to go out and explore the world as a teenager of 18 years should be. I want my daughter to have her life back.
After two very long years, I think there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. I know there is still a long way to go, these feelings are not going to disappear overnight, but I really feel as my daughter does that she is exactly were she should be and seeing the right people to help her move on with her life.