Letting Go: What Parents of a Child with an Eating Disorder Must Know

The once blue sky laid buried underneath a mound of thick black clouds as I sat at the kitchen table, my brain throbbing as I attempted to finish the last pieces of my calculus homework.  When I was young, this wasn’t how I imagined celebrating my 18th birthday. I had once had this fairy tale-like fantasy that on this momentous day, both of my parents would be home and I would have a mountain of birthday cards and gifts to open.

But fairy tales never come true, that why they’re called tales in the first place. As usual, my mom’s job had kidnapped her and whisked her away to some other part of the country. My little sister was in her room spending her hours watching sub par YouTube makeup tutorials, like every other vanity-obsessed teenage girl. Oh and my dad, he was sitting on his leather throne in the living room, his weary blue eyes glued to the pages of my old photo album and his face taken over by grief.

“I want Claire back” my dad said, the mournful tone of his voice weighing heavy in the air.

I turned my gaze away from my calculus book and towards him, my heart aching from the painful blow I had received from his words. I wanted to become defensive and shout back at him that his little “Claire Bear” had never left, that she had always been right here!

But my friends, that would be nothing but a lie.

The happy, adventurous Claire my dad’s heart thirsted for had perished many years ago, when a ruthless brain disease raged through her mind like a vicious cancer. With each passing day, the disease took more and more of her. Her personality began to fade away, her social skills weakened until she morphed into an emotionless hermit, her creativity and intelligence vanished into thin air, and her ability to eat  . . . well that was just completely lost.

That barbarous disease, known to the world as anorexia nervosa, had left just a shell of my dad’s beloved Claire . . . it had left just a shell of me.

Like many other people stricken with anorexia nervosa, I could have let that shell of mine perish just like every other part of me did. But I didn’t. Instead, I started the slow process of filling my empty shell with the things anorexia had robbed me of.  I began to rediscover my likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams and with that new information, I gradually pieced together my personality.  My social skills began to improve and I started forming relationships. And bit by bit, I began to rely less on tube feeds and Ensures and began to regain my ability to eat. Grant it, I have a hell of a long way to go. Every single day, I still struggle to fight against my anorexia and there are many days when that damn disease seems to win.  But despite all the psychological agony anorexia puts me through, I continue to rebuild myself and I don’t plan on stopping until I can finally say I am no longer under construction.

What I don’t think my dad realizes is that the pre-anorexia Claire that he remembers is no more. Now he has a new Claire. Sure this new Claire may be a tad bit broken. She gets anxious and keeping her weight up is still an everyday battle, but I can guarantee that she has a hell of a lot more strength and courage than the old Claire ever did. She made it through multiple hospitalizations and came out the other side ready to fight and advocate for other ED patients.

So many other parents of a child with an eating disorder seem to go through the same thing my dad is going through right now. They want their child back, the child that never had an eating disorder.  Because of that, they push their sick child way beyond their limit. They force them to tackle tasks they are not yet ready for (like eating a piece of cake or pie for example), causing the child to slip further into their disease in order to cope with the horrific amount of stress that task caused. These parents fail to accept where their child is at and hold the past in a death grip.  What these parents need to do is throw all of their expectations in the trash and let go of who their child was.  Right now, all they should and need to  focus on is the present and supporting their sick child as they battle a misunderstood disease that kills far too many people.

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The Day of the Visit

You may notice the beginning of this post is rather similar to one that was published recently (I have since taken that post down). This is because the post you saw was actually an accidentally published draft. Here’s the real thing 🙂 🙂 🙂 ! 

When I submitted my college applications, I was already mentally prepared to be pelted with rejection letters.   In fact, maybe there was a little part of me who longed for that.  I wanted colleges to deem me as unworthy for their institution, not because I wanted to discontinue  my education, but because for all of my life I have seen myself as nothing but a housefly – annoying, bothersome, and a waste.

So when I got my first acceptance letter as well as a pretty hefty scholarship, I was in a state of shock.  I had in writing that someone actually wanted me to teach me, to watch me grow, to watch me make something of myself.

It wasn’t too long after that, that more acceptance letters came rolling in and with each kindly written letter I read, the reality of the situation began to hit me harder and harder. It finally dawned on me that within a few months, my little ranch-style abode would no longer be my home.  Instead my home would be a dreary, outdated dorm room with thin-walls allowing any noise to seep through.

Reading these letters was already stressful enough, but obviously my mom and dad didn’t recognize that. Instead of seeing that I needed a break, my parents insisted I visit one of the schools that accepted me. I agreed. Not because I wanted to, but because I have been cursed with the desire to please others before doing anything for myself.

Hesitantly, I emailed the admissions counselor and scheduled a visit to meet with a faculty member as well as the school’s pre-health track adviser.  My mom happily got reservations for my dad and I at a hotel near the school and for the days leading up to the visit, my dad couldn’t stop talking about all the things we could do while in that area.  I honestly just wanted to curl up in ball and cry until I had no more tears left.

When the day of the visit finally arrived, I held back tears as I threw a day’s worth of supplies into a small suitcase and changed out of my mismatched pajamas. By the time the clock struck 6:30, everything was packed and my dad stood in the living room with a smile on his face, ready to take me.  He seemed to have this idea that the next 24 hours would be jammed with joy and memorable father-daughter bonding experiences.  Yeah . . . because spending a day just thinking about nothing but my future sounds like an absolute blast to me (I hope you sense the immense amount of sarcasm there).

After 4ish hours in the car, we made it to the college.  Now I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty of all that happened while I was there, but let’s just say I had some massive panic attacks .  The bone-chilling fall air, the seemingly endless sea of students, and the very idea of my future caused my heart to beat wildly and my breathing to become shallow. As we drove to our hotel after the horrific visit, I begged God to show some mercy by getting rid of me. I didn’t care how God went about doing that, I just knew that this next stage in my life was a burden that I didn’t believe I could carry.   I should have known better though than to plead with God because believe me, I have tried it before. Throughout my entire battle with my eating disorder, I have desperately asked Him to pull the plug on my life. Either He just doesn’t exist or the requests of a mentally-ill adolescent female usually go out His back door, because obviously I am still here.

Honestly, I wish I could write something better for all of you – something that will put a smile on your face. During this transition period of my life though, things have been beyond challenging. I feel like every waking moment of the day is a battle and to be quite frank, I am truly exhausted.

Maybe I just have to hang on and keep fighting.

Maybe all this emotional bloodshed will be worth something in the end.