3 years ago I finally faced up to the fact that all was not well with my beautiful 14 year old daughter’s health. She had over many months and in all reality a number of years been gradually changing her eating and exercise habits. I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to name what I suspected was happening to my girl. The numerous trips to the doctor, the hospital for any number of ‘presenting’ conditions hid from all of us, family, doctor, friends, consultants the fact that my daughter was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. I was witnessing the gradual diminishing of my daughter, her weight, her energy, her vitality, her general well-being and health, her concentration levels, her behaviour, her mood swings, her withdrawal from life.
What unfolded next once diagnosed is a mother’s worst nightmare – the fear, the guilt, the anxiety, the sadness, the anger, the distress, the desperation. My daughter was very sick. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her, the psychiatrist, the nutritionist, the psychotherapist, myself. I wanted to know why, I wanted to know how. This illness rocked our family to its foundation. My husband (at the time) could not handle her illness at all. I’m sure much to do with the father/daughter relationship – she was perhaps no longer perfect in his eyes, she was blemished and he was overwhelmed with grief perhaps. We have never spoken about it. My sons were bewildered. The eldest (17 at the time) feeling an enormous sense of guilt – if I’d been a better brother….. if I’d been around more…… if I hadn’t done as much sport….. My youngest (8 at the time) withdrew completely, day dreamed his way through school and cried. His words still resonate ‘I just want my sister back’. I carried the weight of not only her illness but the emotional turmoil it was causing in our family. I supported my sons and my wider family in their anxieties as well.
One of the hardest issues I had to deal with was recognising and understanding that I couldn’t ‘fix’ her. I couldn’t make her better, I couldn’t give her Calpol or put a plaster on a grazed knee. This illness was hers, not mine. She had to want to heal herself. In a way, I had to watch events unfold and be there unconditionally for her at all times. That was easier said than done. When the rage came I stood and took the full force. When the tears came I sat and comforted. When the rejection of food came I suggested something else that might appeal. When the fear came I held her in my arms.
Friends and family asked me how I did it. How I coped day to day, week to week in being constantly there for the family. I’m not sure I had any other choice (yes of course we always have choice, we can choose our attitude even when things seem impossible). I chose to get on with it. I chose to do all I could to be there for my family. I chose to allow my daughter to take control of her illness, her life.
I now appreciate how resilient I am, how I bounce back after set backs. I believe this is the case because I choose to live my life fully – ups and downs.
Even today, 3 years on from her diagnosis and I struggle to write without tears. Anorexia lived in our house for sometime casting a heavy shadow. It moved on, my daughter is well and living her life having learned like all of us from the experience.