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.