Please enjoy this personal story by one of our community members.
My daughter’s story begins during the summer of 2015, between her 7th and 8th grade years. She was 13 years old. That summer I remember her becoming interested in cooking and exercise. For me this was so great. I enjoyed the help and companionship in the kitchen and she inspired me to be more consistent with my workouts. What I didn’t realize was that this was the beginning of her struggle with anorexia. The slide was very slow and subtle, at least to me that is how it seemed. A lot of the changes I witnessed I explained away due to her becoming a teenager. My daughter is an exceptionally intelligent, independent, and head strong individual, just how I wanted her to be raised. Again, what I didn’t realize was that these same traits are common in eating disorder patients.
The summer turned into fall and she was involved in sports and continued to excel academically. Suddenly she was a vegetarian, which again I was excited about because I am not a huge meat lover, so I relished in her bringing new options to the kitchen. She continued to work out despite her sports schedule and her meals became very regimented. I remember she would get so upset if we changed our plans for eating at all, to a different time or god forbid to eating out. She suddenly would refuse to eat what I made at times and would eat a sweet potato and salsa instead. Sometimes I still hate the thought of sweet potatoes!!!
Throughout the fall my husband and I noted her weight loss but she was a teenage girl right? They are always body conscious so I, naively, wasn’t overly concerned, yet. Her behavior was also changing. She was suddenly in her room by herself a lot, but isn’t that what teenagers do? So how worried should I be? She couldn’t seem to sit still and would pace at times or bounce on the exercise ball. She was in middle school, some of the most difficult years, so there was friend drama. She began to be left out of her friend circle and more isolated. I still don’t know if this was by choice or not. All of these changes were not our daughter. She went from a happy, social girl who loved food to a shell of who she used to be. Isolated and compulsive. And shell is a good word to describe how she began to look, not just thin but empty.
My husband finally was the one who voiced his concern to me. I did not want to admit anything could be wrong. He was adamant and for that I am thankful that he kept pushing and we eventually sat her down to discuss our concerns with her. She of course was defiant but we reached out to our primary care physician who was worried that she had developed anorexia. By now it was January and our daughter was so very thin and my husband and I were scared. Our friends and family were also worried and some of them reached out to us to express their concern.
Eventually we began having her see a therapist. Personally, I am very good at denial so I just kept plugging away with my daily routine that now included therapy appointments for my daughter. I distinctly remember receiving a phone call from her therapist. She asked to be placed on speaker so that both my husband and I could hear what she had to say. Words that I will never forget. In her opinion, our daughter would make faster and stronger progress in a residential treatment program. Ok, how do I sign her up and where is this located we asked. Again the answer I will never forget. Nothing in the state of Iowa. She recommended programs in Minnesota, Illinois or Colorado. There was absolutely no way I was dropping off my daughter for strangers to care for. We decided on Minnesota due to it being the closest. Next hurdle was finances. We pay an exorbitant monthly premium for health insurance so I was shocked to learn they would not cover 1 cent of her treatment. We were fortunate enough to have been able to self pay for her care but this made me think about all the individuals that would benefit from residential treatment that are unable to afford this option. Something I am hopeful that can be changed in the future.
Next hurdle, remember I was not going to just leave her so I planned on moving to Minnesota for her treatment duration. During her evaluation at the Emily Program I asked someone where the housing is for parents. I innocently believed this would be provided because I felt that family involvement would be an integral part of treatment. After all, the goal is to have her come home and I need to know how to continue to help her. They told me I could get a hotel room. For 6 weeks I thought?? I began looking for a rental unit and was finally lucky enough to locate an apartment. This allowed me to see her every day as well as eventually have her live with me during her last 2 weeks of therapy so she could partake in the day program. I am forever indebted to the couple who rented their basement to me. Keep in mind I have 2 other children and a husband that I left behind in Iowa and missed out on 6 weeks of their lives. In no way do I regret this decision but it was hard on all of us. I feel strongly my involvement helped our family continue her care when she returned home
I am happy to say my daughter is now in college and thriving. She is one of the strongest people I know for being brave and making the decision to be receptive to treatment for her anorexia. If anyone ever asks me about her journey, I always say she was excellent at starving herself but when she decided it was time to get better she did it. I witnessed her struggle first hand by being there during her residential treatment which was not easy for either of us at times. She seems to have moved on and doesn’t look back, occasionally I will check in with her to see if she has any urges to restrict. As her mom, I will always have that nagging worry, especially when she eats a sweet potato, but I also have to have faith in her strength. Her eating disorder affected our entire family but we are so very thankful for her recovery.
Be on the lookout for Part II, coming soon!