It is astonishing to realize that almost one year to the day (I'm thinking off by about a week), Mr. Fix-it, Social Butterfly and I were in Flagstaff, looking at Northern Arizona University. I'd been taking SB to the doctor because she was having stomach problems and the doctor was thinking it might be lactose intolerance, but she'd also just started her on Prevacid to cover all the bases. I chose a restaurant for dinner that was an upscale healthy pizza place because they also had gourmet salads.
SB had a meltdown at the table--she purported being angry with me for picking a pizza place because of the lactose intolerance issue--over choosing something to order. I pointed out salad after salad after salad that seemed like healthy options she would enjoy. She finally stormed out of the restaurant to go sit in the car. Tired after an 8-hour drive and peeved that we were in the midst of dropping $60 on what was supposed to be a relaxing and delicious meal, but had turned into we-had-no-idea-what, we gave the waiter the distinct impression we were a very unhappy, dysfunctional family. Mr. Fix-it point blank said, "She has an eating disorder," while I allowed that it seemed to be heading that way, but maybe we could pull her back.
I ended up driving to her to the Subway across the road for turkey sub while he settled the bill. I remember telling her, "Your dad thinks you're anorexic; I'm not sure that's true, but you'd better get a grip on eating enough and without all this drama or you will end up that way." The rest of the weekend was enjoyable on the surface, but with an undercurrent of us watching every bite that went into her mouth and her eating just because she knew the sh*t would hit the fan if she didn't.
The next few weeks were a steady and rapid descent into full-blown anorexia and the social withdrawal that accompanies an eating disorder, but thankfully also with lots of doctor's visits to a pediatrician who knows both ED and teenagers and was prepared to be a fierce advocate for us with our insurance, culminating in SB's admittance to the world-renowned UCSD Eating Disorder Treatment Program.
For our part, Mr. Fix-it and I followed a thought process evolution that went like this:
- Clearly she has a problem; We caught it early, so we'll be fine.
- Treatment, absolutely--having caught it so early we'll likely do some outpatient therapy type of treatment--maybe a few nights a week.
- Okay, I can see from the website that's not an option, but sure 1/2 days, 5 days a week, we can make that work.
- You want to put her in the Partial Hospitilization Program--all day 6 days a week? Good idea--let's do intensive so she only has to miss two or three weeks of school.
- Thank the universe we are here; early diagnosis or not, ED is a disease that can kill our child, we will stay here as long as we can because this program is giving all of us the tools to save our daughter's life.
It was four months that she was in the program. She never went back to high school.
Today, she leaves to begin her second semester of college (she's majoring in psychology and women's studies and plans to be a therapist). She maintains her weight independently. She uses all the tools she has (including both medication and her Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills) to cope with the anxiety she still sometimes has. The last month has seen her anorexic thinking retreat further and further as she has begun to eat intuitively (something I wasn't even remotely interested in pushing her to do as I felt that her eating what she needed to to keep her weight up was enough, thank you very much) and her social life is as bustling as ever, filled with old friends and new.
In what was such a full-circle moment that if it were part of a movie plot I would have labeled it predictable and scoffed at the screenwriter's lack of imagination, last night SB suggested a night-before-going-back-to-college farewell dinner at the Mexican restaurant that has been our favorite family restaurant for our entire marriage.
We all partook of the piping hot chips and outstanding salsa that make the restuarant a local favorite. We discussed how the food was just greasy enough to be delicious, but not so greasy as to be disgusting. We acknowledged it wouldn't be healthy to eat like this every night, but it was just the thing for an occsasional celebratory indulgence. We recognized food for all that it is to people--both nourishment for the body and a social experience that reconnects us with friends and family. We enjoyed our food and each other in the relaxing way that is the reason people go out to eat. It was at once just a regular dinner and yet at the same time so much more--it was a watershed moment.
Please don't take this post to mean I think this journey is over--it is my belief that the road of recovery is one that SB will walk for a long time and possible the rest of her life. This is not a book where you turn the last page and pronounce yourself finished--it is a volume where you way well need to find yourself re-reading Chapter 2 several times over the course of your life. It may be put on a shelf for so long that you think you won't ever look at it again, and one day you find it in your hands.
My picture of recovery--from anything--is not that you expect to be done for good with whatever it is you're recovering from, but that you are dealing positively and healthfully with your issues and you are leading the life you want to leave. For those that see hopelessness in that, I can only say that I believe--with the experience and wisdom of (almost) a half-century of living--every single person on this Earth has some struggle--whether it shows to the rest of the world or not.
I share our story for many reasons--the biggest one being that I believe secrecy and shame are tied together in a way that increases suffering and prevents healing. I also hope that our story is told and shared by anyone that reads this blog and sees a family member or friend that they think might have an eating disorder and is able to highlight the message that early intervention--versus denial, minimizing or a wait-and-see attitude--is powerful beyond measure.
If you saw your child drowning in a rip current, you wouldn't wait to see if they could swim out on their own, you would call for lifeguards and do all you could to pull them out--and anyone that has ever taken their child to the beach knows that you don't sit on the sand with your nose in a book while they swim; you watch, ever-vigilant because you are the parent and it is your job to keep your child safe.*
I am happy to speak with anyone directly about ED and am a master-googler who can help you find resources in your area if you are feeling there is nowhere to turn. Clearly, I'm not a professional, but I am a mother who knows how to get things done :) My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Please know this is not an indictment if, for whatever reason, you did not get your child help immediately or if your parents were not able to get you help. This is a message that looks forward to how I hope ED can be destigmatized and people--parents, teachers, doctors--can become educated on how to proceed. Wherever your are in the process of your recovery or getting help or helping your child, I send you positive vibes from the depths of my heart.