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A mother tells us about her daughter’s battle with anorexia - WhatCausesMentalIllness.com
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I'm afraid of happy people. They're chemically unbalanced.
Shirley Manson
   

FAQ  


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Word Cloud  


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Latest Additions  


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Glimpses

A mother tells us about her daughter’s battle with anorexia

Details

A mother tells us about her daughter’s battle with anorexia

No one ever expects to have their lives turned upside down but that is exactly what

happened to our family in 2002.

We regarded ourselves as a relatively normal busy household, ferrying our daughters to their respective after school activities. Our older daughters, Jane and Louise were heavily involved in their rowing, training twice a week for local regattas on weekends. We saw lots of the Victorian countryside as we travelled to various country rowing regattas. Anne, our youngest, was also ensconced in running training four times week with Little Athletics every Saturday. Tickling the ivory keys (piano) with their music teacher on a weekly basis topped off a very busy week for everyone.

Jane and Louise were also dedicated to Air Cadets which took up every Thursday evening.

Jane and Louise had a real passion for this and enjoyed the challenge of matching and at times beating the boys with their skills in both the classroom and on the parade ground. Our front door was like a revolving door which seldom had any rest. Alan and I would occasionally comment that we should put the brakes on and make everyone slow down as ‘family life’ was suffering. People were not communicating properly and at times tempers got the better of a stressful moment.

The brakes were applied quite unexpectedly when our youngest daughter, Anne, was diagnosed with anorexia on 17 December 2001. Although we had heard of the illness and its impact on young girls we did not understand the impact of the illness on Anne or the rest of the family.

We had spent the last 17 years raising our daughters in the belief that a balanced person needed opportunities to meet and make friends through wholesome activities they enjoyed, ultimately assisting in the development of capable, happy and well-rounded young adults.

All our beliefs, boundary setting, support and guidance were suddenly tested with Anne’s illness. This insidious illness appears to have started in May 2001 when Anne, then aged 12, mentioned she wanted to lose a little weight to help improve her running. I was not concerned as the change in diet was cutting back on sweets and biscuits.

Anne started to demonstrate the ‘normal’ adolescent behaviour of spending more time in her own room in the evenings. Again we didn’t worry as our other daughters had done the same and we believed it was par for the course - a need for their own space.

Chewing large quantities of gum, a change in her moods and minimal engagement or speaking with her parents didn’t ring alarm bells either. As it turns out, we should have been very concerned and taking steps – what sort, who knows – to derail the vehicle she had boarded.

These were some of the signs posts marking the very rocky dirty track Anne’s vehicle was taking her, and unknowingly, her family.

Anorexia Nervosa was diagnosed on 17 December 2001. Anne’s condition deteriorated over the next month with the development of fine hair over her body and fluctuations in her blood pressure indicating she was ‘medically unstable’.

Anne was admitted to hospital on 29 January 2002. I have a very vivid memory of accompanying Anne into a smallish room, hearing Anne cough as two nurses inserted a nasogastric tube. I felt sick, shocked, I didn’t know what to do or how I should feel when I looked at Anne’s face. I really wanted to cry out ‘stop’ but knew I couldn’t.

Over the next month I would travel from work to the hospital. Alan would go home get a meal for himself, Jane and Louise and then, most nights, they would all come into the hospital. Jane and Louise would regale their day’s activities, endeavour to make their sister laugh or at least smile. Anne became very keen to play a game of chess or checkers when we visited. She spent her days on bed rest, embroidering and trying to read. Both of these activities declined the longer she was in hospital.

As if our plate wasn’t full enough my father, aged 86, died on 22 January 2002. Anne was discharged on 29 January 2002 and insisted on attending her grandfather’s funeral. With Anne’s discharge from hospital there was no ‘discharge plan’, appointments were made for her to visit the dietician and psychiatrist two weeks later. We had no idea of what was ahead of us, no instructions were provided as to the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in dealing with the illness at home. We were set adrift!

As I look back on my journal I’m struck by the detail and how my memory of this scary period in our lives has faded. I would like to share a few extracts with you, they may resonate with you, perhaps help you to understand the journey.

February 2002

Extreme anxiety in situations such as:

Eating

Being fat

Mum leaving her

The idea of trying another food

Whether she should put on another top to keep warm

In crowds of people - people coming close to her

Too much noise

During these episodes her breathing rate increases, she speaks quicker, her eyelids will flutter as she does not wish to look at anything. When condemning herself she will screw up her face and mutter to herself. Self-loathing, no concern for herself, displayed by such comments as:

I’m a bad girl”

I’m not considerate of others”

I should be thinking about you (mum), Jane, Louise and Dad”

I’m so fat” (at which time she pinches her thighs and buttocks)

Why am I here” (making light of it I responded by saying “because mum and dad made you”)

I’m so mean, I don’t think of anyone except what Anne wants”

I can’t cope with this anymore, I can’t eat anymore”

I just want to …..” (Anne doesn’t finish this sentence)

Her two minds confuse her because her bad mind tells her things like you don’t need to eat, you’re fat etc.”

Trying to return to school created high anxiety, even though it was only for two periods a day. Her dad would collect her from school and bring her to my workplace. The more days she attended school the higher her anxiety. On the last two days she was unable to contain her anxiety. She hid under my desk or shut herself in the female toilets.

My diary entry details the comments:

you don’t care”

you don’t understand”

you don’t love me, nobody does”

go away and leave me alone”

I don’t know why”

I’m afraid mum”

you all hate me”

I did not go away but persevered with trying to comfort her, cuddle her and offer supporting words like “I do love you”, “nobody hates you”, “can you tell me why you’re afraid?” etc. Eventually on both occasions she was talked round and this was followed by much apology on her part.”

By early March 2002 Anne’s physical and mental condition had deteriorated. We had attended two sessions with the Psychiatry Department attached to the hospital, they were less than useful. As a mother I felt useless, frustrated, and angry and I just wanted to find the right help for Anne. The feeling of hopelessness was highlighted by Anne’s comment “I want to sleep forever, then I don’t have to think” and “I can’t do this anymore”.

Anne then asked me to provide her with reassurance and support when she was eating. I had no idea what I was doing but if talking my child through a meal meant she was going to finish the food, stay alive and out of hospital I was up for the task. I could not have foreseen how this was going to develop.

The verbal support and distractions with books, newspapers, pictures and puzzles were initially successful however the meal times blew out, with a cheese sandwich for lunch taking up to two hours and a cereal size bowl of pasta taking up to four hours. This increase in the length of time to eat her meals was unacceptable but I didn’t know how to change it. The eating disorder had control!

Time ticked on; we were desperately trying to find professionals who would help our disappearing young daughter. Finally we found a young female psychologist who was prepared to treat a person under the age of 16 years and come to our home. We were now unable to coax Anne out of the house. The psychologist visited our house twice a week for a month. We could see little progress. Anne’s psychological condition was deteriorating again. With minimal speech or eye contact and a constant need to hang on to my arm, life was pretty grim for Anne.

We were endeavouring to provide a level of normality for Jane and Louise when it came to their activities, mealtimes and having ‘respite’ with different relatives and friends. Mealtimes were often strained as the person providing verbal support to Anne as she ate was constantly talking. This was not normal; it created a level of frustration and anger for Jane and Louise.

Since Anne’s discharge from hospital it had been impossible for her to be left alone, she was unable to return to school and by March home was the only place she felt safe. My husband took some of his long service leave to stay home with Anne, this enabled me to remain at a job I had just commenced in November 2001 (we needed the income now).

Alan tried to manage the day shift and I would take over in the evenings after cooking dinner. We took it in turns to provide meal support to Anne at dinner time depending on what or where the other girls had to be.

By the end of March Anne had become ‘voluntary mute’, not speaking to anyone, just using gestures. We were feeling desperate, would anyone be able help Anne recover from this devastating illness?

Friends told us of a television documentary on a private treatment clinic in Melbourne for people with eating disorders. What a relief, this might be the answer. Waiting until Monday to make the call was very stressful. Contact was made, an appointment for assessment and meeting with as many family members as possible was booked.

The 6th of May 2002 is etched in my memory; this was our appointment with the private clinic. In addition to Anne’s immediate family, her grandma, auntie and uncle attended. After providing a brief background on Anne’s condition to the Director, the Director knelt down beside Anne (who had not looked up once) and told Anne what she thought was probably going on in Anne’s head at that moment. Anne raised her head and nodded. I burst into tears (even today this memory brings me to tears).

Our journey back home was quiet. I asked Anne if she felt the people at the clinic could help her, she nodded. That was it, no matter what the dollar cost or time the clinic was ‘the one’!

Alan and I talked at length about how we were going to manage financially but never really covered the emotional aspect for ourselves when it came to Anne’s illness. Our focus was solely to see Anne break free of this life-threatening illness.

It was impossible for Anne to return to school even on an occasional basis. How do you cope when you have high anxiety, mood swings and are non-verbal? With the assistance of the local high school we arranged for Anne to be registered for distance education. We had high hopes that reinstating a level of normalcy and providing an activity to occupy her mind would prove beneficial for her. However, Anne’s illness had too much control over her. Distance education would not be possible until year nine.

The ‘three musketeers’ (Anne, Alan and myself) were initially occupied on a daily basis with visits to a private clinic for either counselling sessions or dietetic sessions. Our journeys back and forth to the clinic took an hour each way. Window shopping at Chadstone shopping centre, visiting parks to feed the ducks, buying detailed 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles to occupy our evenings and the ultimate purchase; a puppy of her very own, kept us busy.

Anne’s two sisters found the disruption to their life, increase in noise in the house generated by Anne’s outbursts, and the rituals around meal times hard to handle. Thank goodness for family and friends! Jane and Louise were able to have ‘respite’ by staying with their aunts and uncles or having sleepovers at a friend’s house. It worried us they would feel as though they were being sent away, their home was no longer a place they could relax and enjoy. It was a balancing act - trying to reduce their stress and remain a family.

Anne’s verbal outbursts in the early stages could extend to two hours. Perplexing isn’t it that a

non-verbal person has verbal outbursts! The voice was not Anne’s. It was an eerie high pitched screeching, like a torched animal in severe pain. Sometimes she would say “you can’t help me”, “you don’t know what to do” other times you could only make out the occasional word. At these times I used to think that Anne was losing her mind and would never overcome this ‘thing’!

Unwittingly we, mainly Alan and I, had played into the hands of the eating disorder supporting its control over Anne. In our novice phase, we thought that contesting Anne’s needs would be detrimental to her. We gave into her expressed need to use the same bowl, plate, cutlery and glass and to sit on the same chair in the same location at the table at every meal.

Six weeks after Anne started treatment, we had managed to reduce breakfast to 45 minutes, and lunch and dinner were now in the two plus hour range (down from sometimes four hours). The anxiety driven responses during mealtimes had also reduced. Anne would now seldom leave the table screaming and appearing completely agitated by something which had or hadn’t occurred. She may leave the table but with a speck of reasoning, a dollop of firmness and a bucket of love, she would return to the table and continue her meal. Mind you, consistency in her response could not be depended upon.

An entry in my diary at this time was:

9 June 2002

Other little changes in her behaviour / responses in the last 6 weeks:

• I can now stroke / rub her back or arms without her pulling away

• Anne now looking and wanting to buy books but not letting me – taking an interest in what she used to like

• Prepared to leave my side for short periods to ie: put clothes in her room, wash her hands; hang washing on the clothes line outside;

• Appears to be more relaxed when visitors come to the house (providing she is not eating) and will acknowledge them.

• Can have the radio on low during her meal time providing the music is not to up tempo”

As minor as these changes may seem, they meant so much to us. Anne, and her family, still had a long way to go. Achieving reasonable meal times, reducing agitation due to noise, challenging her inability to watch or listen to television (some might say that was a blessing!)

Each little improvement brought more hope to us that Anne was slowly walking the rocky track with its peaks and troughs to recovery. Reducing the time to eat her lunch and dinner seemed relatively easy, from my perspective, compared to her acceptance of the smell of food, people cooking and her inability to look at food being prepared.

30 June 2002 CIRCUS NEWS

A family outing, including my mother, to the circus on Saturday. Anne was somewhat nervous at the idea and the cost but once the show started I think some of that was forgotten. She really enjoyed it. The acts were great, she even applauded a few times and laughed quite a lot. There were a lot of other families there, food and drink were all around. Anne hid her face and displayed the usual anxiety around food but she enjoyed it nonetheless.

These two and a half hours of pleasure would not have been possible if her own meal times had not been reduced to the hour.”

Valda (the name given to the voice of Anne’s eating disorder) was constantly being challenged by the counsellor and dietician. The result was often heightened anxiety for Anne which sometimes lasted up to 48 hours. Being aware of the brewing storm we tried to brace ourselves, especially emotionally, after every treatment session for the next outburst. Boy that was exhausting especially as Anne saw the counsellor three times a week and the dieticians weekly.

This negative mind – Valda – had such control over Anne it would dictate what to wear, condemn her for being a ‘bad girl’, prevent her from walking the dogs on windy days as her hair had to be ‘perfect’, everything has to be done in exactly the same way with no variation in time or process, which was very hard to comply with. Little did we know that we were, again, being compliant with the illness.

There were times when Anne/Valda became physically aggressive with me. Lashing out, slapping me if I got within range during a high anxiety moment or a screeching session. I learnt to keep my distance from her, refusing to allow Valda to make Anne feel guilty at hitting her mum. I would also verbally berate Valda for being such a bully. I’m sure if anyone came to the house and saw my conversation with one person yet using two names they’d have thought I should be committed!

24 September 2003

Hi All, I just have to share some good news about Anne.

There are lots of little things to indicate progress:

1. More gesturing and offering suggestions on different topics

2. Smiling more

3. Seems to be starting the separation between her negative mind and her true self i.e. the one person that would not be happy with her vest showing below her top was not a real person – thus it must have been ‘Valda’ her negative mind set.

4. SHE SPOKE one word to me on Saturday and Sunday - “Hi” and “Hello”. I was rapt but had to keep it low key, just a hug and a thank you.

5. Her preparedness to meet with the dietician and the counsellors on her own now.

6. Walking around the shopping centres with her head up and looking at things.

7. Writing in her journal every day, not a lot but it’s happening.

8. Has written two “thank you” cards to people - one of them being Denny who made Anne’s dog

Tao the cushion she had spoken of to Anne when she was coming into the office. That sort of thing is important.

Anne is now having three counselling and one dietician sessions a week. She is seeing two different counsellors, one of them is an ex-sufferer and a wonderful person. I feel as though we are making “real” progress now. Still a long way to go but we are on the right dual highway now - the acknowledgement/recovery road.”

Anne managed to wish my mother happy birthday in October which, as you can imagine, brought tears to my mum’s eyes.

January 2004 heralded the last counselling and dietician sessions for Anne. It was a happy time for everyone. Anne was again the bright, jovial, chatty person she had been before the eating disorder. Periodically she would make contact with her counsellor. In July 2004 Anne needed to return to regular counselling sessions fortnightly, then monthly.

She struggled to work out why she was here on earth and what her purpose was. Anne completed years 10 and 11, was doing well, however still experiencing bouts of depression. Mid 2005 (year 11) she had started a part time job in a local bakery, so in 2006 Anne asked the owner if she could work full time. She needed thinking, living and self-discovery time.

Self-discovery included finding ‘friends’ who led Anne into alcohol, drugs and further depression, culminating in Anne’s employer dismissing her in October 2006. The next year was very hard for

Anne as she slipped further into depression.

Alan and I encouraged her to speak with a counsellor, see the GP for medication and keep busy.

It was a hard slog!! With our support and acceptance Anne searched to understand what was happening and emerged from a dark tunnel with significant insight into herself. She still questioned what she would do with her life but accepted that she didn’t have to have all the answers now.

She applied for several jobs in bakeries as she had really enjoyed this work and started a new job in September 2007, where she is still working today.

During this time Anne has read a diverse range of books on personal development, other peoples’ journeys and been reflecting on her life. Alan and I are extremely proud of Anne! She perceived. She searched. She never gave up hope.

Anne enrolled last week to complete year 12. She doesn’t know what she wants to do in the future. We have discussed this at length and suggested that is not important as she will probably discover this during her studies.

As parents we wish only the best for our children, encourage them to achieve and do their best but what exactly does this mean? For some, “encouragement” and “doing their best” equals pressure - pressure often applied by themselves as they believe they must succeed and failure is not an option. But who can say what ‘failure’ is? After all it is the perspective of an individual.

A future, there is one for Anne!


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