On May 18, 2016, our daughter chose recovery. 3 years, 2 months and 11 days later she has fought like hell to recover and to kick ED to the curb. She truly is a warrior in our eyes.
It was the Spring of her 8th grade school year and she was 13 years old when we started to notice something wasn’t right. She was busily involved in many activities, middle school track, competitive dance team, cheerleading and advanced school courses. Her body was physically changing, loss of weight, and her emotional state of mind was all over the place. At first, we chalked it up to hormonal changes with the age she was at. As it progressed on, we started to notice the changes in her eating habits as well and some OCD behaviors developing. Finally, too many emotional breakdowns began when she cried out to us one night, “something’s not right” and we agreed and said we needed to get her in to see a doctor. At this time, neither her dad nor I had any clue or information about what eating disorders were. The only knowledge either one of us had was from a textbook chapter in our high school health class 20 years ago where it briefly discussed eating disorders.
So we got her in to see her family physician on May 18, 2016, the day we like to state she chose recovery. When her doctor walked in, the first words out of her mouth were, I’m glad you came in because if you didn’t, I was going to call you. She proceeded to tell Haley and I how she had an eating disorder called Anorexia Nervosa and she went into great detail on what it was and how she was going to help her (us) get through this. Ultimately, tears were flowing from both Haley and myself. I find myself explaining it to someone like hearing the news that you have cancer. It’s no different, right? It’s a disease, it could be deadly and why wouldn’t we fight like heck to kick it to the curb just like you would with a cancer diagnosis?
So her journey began from that day forward. Our doctors created a treatment team for us, a therapist and a dietitian, both that specialize in treating eating disorders. We were (are) lucky. As I’ve learned over these past 3 years, this isn’t so easy to find here in Iowa and the demand is far more greater than the supply. I’ll be honest, little did we know what we were in for. Like any parent, you want to fix whatever may be wrong with your child. You take them to the doctor, you get them the proper treatment and 10 days later, voila it’s fixed. Wrong. At that time, our oldest daughter was graduating from high school and about to start the next chapter in her life. Looking back, the summer of 2016 may have been the toughest time in all of our lives as we walked alongside Haley trying to support her and also understand her on what exactly she was going through. Two months into the recovery, we were faced with an ultimate decision on whether to put her into a treatment center as she was not progressing well. After many discussions as a family, with her treatment team and our insurance company, we decided to take the FBT approach. So from July 2016 forward, we literally took all control away from her. We created meal and snack plans, we made her plate, we ate with her as a family (for hours, if needed) and I do recall one time it took us approximately 2 hours to get her to finish a meal. We talked with her, we supervised every single thing she had going on in her life from friends, to school, to social media sites, to activities, etc and we continued to take a more aggressive approach with her treatment team appointments as well.
It’s hard to put into words how it’s impacted our family as a whole. I like to look for the good in all bad situations and this one definitely brought our family closer in all ways I can describe. Honesty, unconditional love, open communication and trust on all levels. I don’t expect everyone to understand exactly how deep that is for us as a family but it’s our story and that’s OK. We never take for granted each day we have with each other as a family and with Haley. We realize this will be a lifelong journey for her and for us but we know she will fight with all we've got to continue to kick ED to the curb.
My piece of advice I would give to anyone that may be going through this, hold on to HOPE (Hold On Pain Ends). I’ll never forget that word as I came across it the first therapy appointment we had for Haley and it’s been near and dear to my heart ever since. It WILL come to an end, be patient.
I’m a researcher/reader so I found great comfort in finding all the resources I could to educate myself on what exactly this AN ED was and how do you treat it? So far on this journey, I’ve found the following resources to be useful:
Jenni Schaefer’s books
The Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders
My Kid is Back
Online support groups
I will continue to keep reading, educating and understanding everything I can about EDs and know this journey is not over.
Thanks for listening,
Mom to Haley
It all started in eighth grade. My family and I were about to go on vacation for spring break, and all we could talk about was getting that “perfect summer body.” Each week as a family, we would weigh ourselves on the scale and put our weight on a sheet of paper and see how much we could lose by the time vacation came around. Looking back, that was probably the worst thing we could have done, but we didn’t know any better at the time. In my mind, I figured that once vacation passed, I would stop worrying so much about my weight, but I was so wrong. While we were on vacation, all I could truly focus on was making sure I ate less than everyone else around me and only consuming “healthy foods.” Again, I chalked it up to vacation and assumed that everything would return to normal when we got back home. When we got home things only continued to worsen. I remember having a friend who was in my PE class, and I would talk to her about how I was “starting to eat better” and “trying to lose weight” and she totally encouraged me and talked to me about all the different methods I could try, such as going as long as I could without eating. Hearing that sparked the flame, and from that point on, I did exactly that and more.
In the beginning, it wasn’t too drastic - I would make my portions just a little bit smaller or skip on a snack that I would normally have- but after about a month of this, I was eating close to nothing. I was constantly google searching the serving sizes and calorie amounts for every food I was about to eat and made sure to eat less than that. When it came to dinner time with the family, my anxiety reached its ultimate high for the day because I didn’t know exactly what was in each meal and couldn’t perfectly calculate what I was consuming. I could barely focus on anything other than food because it haunted my every thought; I was always concerned about what I had eaten the night before and what I was going to eat next. It felt like there was this voice in my head that controlled my every thought, and everything circled back to food. My anxiety levels only continued to increase, and eventually, I would break down in tears to my mom every single night because I didn’t know how else to handle this new emotion. After quite a few nights of these breakdowns, I couldn’t handle it anymore; I had to tell her.
When I told my mom that something was wrong, she wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, it’s almost like she cared so much about me that she noticed when something wasn’t right with me, even if I wouldn’t admit it. After that night, my mom took me to the doctor and she said some foreign words to us - “you have an eating disorder.” I was mortified. The only other time I had heard these words was the two days in health class when we discussed them. I had no absolutely no idea what this meant and I was so angry that my doctor thought it was okay to call me out on something like this. From that point on, I was scheduled to start meeting with a therapist and a nutritionist on a weekly basis to get my health back to where it was. I put my guard up as much as I could and was forced to go to these appointments; I couldn’t fathom the idea of having to put on all the weight I had worked so hard trying to lose.
Since it was the start of summer, my parents claimed that it was the perfect time to “focus on myself” and “work on my health,” whatever that meant. I started to meet with these professionals on a regular basis, but I was just going through the motions. At every therapy appointment, I never truly shared how I was feeling, and at every nutritionist appointment, her food advice went in one ear and out the other. I claimed that I was feeling better and was close to being “recovered,” but in reality, nothing had changed. I was still the old me and was still secretly practicing my old, unhealthy eating habits.
Around the beginning of July, I had my weekly nutrition and therapy appointment, and at therapy, she called both my mom and I in and said some pretty grim words - she suggested that we look into sending me to a treatment center because my health was only continuing to decline. I immediately burst into tears, and at this point, a million questions ran through my mind; what was a treatment center? What did that even mean? Why would they send me to one of those? My mom and I then had to go home and tell the rest of the family the news and we had to make a decision together as to what was the best course of action for me. When we told the rest of the family , they were in shock, as were we, and together, we cried for a long time. I felt terrible and ashamed for having put my family through this pain. After many more tears and many long conversations, we decided to not send me to a treatment center and instead do an at-home recovery, also known as the maudsley approach. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if my family sent me to a recovery center, but they will never know how thankful I am that they decided to tackle this disorder head-on with me and as a family.
From that point on, I decided that I needed to be serious about this thing called “recovery.” I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I knew that I could not stay living the way I was. For the next two years, I spent all of my time and energy on becoming the person I used to be and working towards recovery. I’m not going to lie, it has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, and even still is today. At the beginning, I lost full freedom with what I consumed. My parents had complete control over everything that I ate and if I refused to eat, they would sit with me until I did eat it. This, of course, resulted in many tears and many breakdowns, and it seemed like I was never going to go back to “normal.” There are so many more stories I could tell about the low points of my recovery, but to sum it up, it seemed that every meal I ate was just about going to kill me because the voice in my head made it seem like that. Rationally, I knew that that wasn’t the case, but in the moment, there is nothing else you can focus on besides what’s blaring in your head.
After quite some time, though, I started being able to focus on other things besides food and was able to eat the food my parents gave me without much of a fuss. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a complete cake walk, I still had my ups and downs, but slowly, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I started to realize that there was more to life than what you consumed. Eventually, I got my privileges back and was able to start making my own plates again, and that was harder than I thought it was. It took quite a bit of time and practice before I was able to do so without having the voice in my head fire up again.
If I could have had words of encouragement from someone who had been through what I was going through, it would have been this; you are so worth it. I can’t count the number of times where I questioned that. I didn’t understand why everyone around me was spending so much time and effort towards trying to help me get better. Why me? Why did they care so much? It would have been so easy for them to walk away or give up, but they didn’t, and that’s because I was worth it, and you are so worth it too. Never question your worth.
I’d like to say that I am completely recovered, but I still have my struggles, even three years later. I know that my life is never going to be the same, and I’m always going to have certain things that upset me or things that trigger me. Even when I feel like I’m doing really well, I’m going to have to constantly check in with myself to make sure that I’m on the right track. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to be easy, but it’s so worth it because I know that I am worth it. And so are you.