Beyond The Sufferer: My Mom's Experience With My Eating Disorder
I’m 16, eavesdropping on my parents in the kitchen from the top of the stairs. I think my dad might be crying and mom certainly is. They’ve known for a while that I’m not okay. They’ve suspected an eating disorder and I’ve just confirmed it to my mother. They’re trying to figure out a game plan - the steps needed to help me overcome anorexia. Mom is considering taking a leave of absence from work. I feel sick for causing my parents this pain. I can’t listen anymore so I creep back to my room and cry.
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I’ve told my story many times but anorexia nervosa, and any mental illness for that matter, has many victims beyond the sufferer. Most often, the people we are closest to, who love us the most, feel our pain. Writing for Healthy is Hot has been therapeutic for a lot of reasons, one of which is remembering the love and support my family and friends provided me during this time, most notably, my mom. She has always been my best friend, but when I was sick, mom became my hero.
I want to know more about her experience, what was going through her mind when she considered, and inevitably took, that leave of absence from work.
It’s a chapter we haven’t opened in awhile but I’ve asked her to chat to me about it on our back porch, this is our happy place.
Hi sweetie, she says somewhat nervously.
So, when did you first know something was wrong?
You were 16 when I first began to notice you weren’t eating food you once enjoyed. Even before the weight loss, the way you were eating had changed dramatically. You would move food around your plate and chew so slowly. You also became obsessed with fitness and working out. You were at the gym longer and more often than ever before.
Did you suspect anorexia?
At the time you were modelling so I wasn’t as alarmed at first because you kept telling me you just had to lose a couple inches on your hips. I thought that was okay, but once you started losing weight it was almost an addiction. The more weight you lost the more excited you got, the more motivated you felt to lose more, and the harder you seemed to work at it.
So when did you know?
My breaking point came one very hot day in June on one of our trips to a modelling audition. You were trying on a dress and as you entered the room, I had to stifle a gasp. The dress hung on you like a clothes hanger. To my total horror, the designer exclaimed, “You look wonderful. Your body is perfect.” You were ecstatic about landing that job, but I was irate and, unfortunately, took it out on you. I screamed, I cried, I pounded the steering wheel on the drive home. How could this weight loss be a good thing? I was losing my daughter. You were a former shadow of yourself, not just physically but emotionally as well. Your laughter was gone and vitality disappeared. I felt like I was losing a battle and I knew I had to rescue you.
I’m sorry you felt helpless mom…
When I knew what you had but you wouldn’t say it, I felt helpless. I felt like I couldn’t say anorexia until you admitted it first. It’s like any addiction, the first step is admitting it, but until that happened I felt like there wasn’t a thing I could do.
How were you feeling
Anger was a big emotion. Anger at the modelling industry but more than that, anger at society for how we reward women for weight loss. But the pain I felt seeing you suffer is something I would not wish on any parent. I saw your body literally fading away in front of me.
Do you remember when I finally told you?
We sat on this very porch. It was a sticky, humid night and the air was still. There was silence between us and I felt helpless knowing that unless you acknowledged your illness, there was little I could do. Then the words came and you finally shared your burden with me. My soul was overcome with relief. This was the first step to recovery, but there was much to do and I needed assistance. That’s why I took a leave of absence.
What did you learn from this experience?
I don’t judge anyone for their weight and I know when someone’s suffering, I just know it. Both your father and I. Our awareness of the disease is much more acute and I think we’ve both become more compassionate people.
What advice do you have for other mothers who may have children suffering from an eating disorder?
Looking back, intervene sooner. Say something sooner. Don’t wait until your daughter says, “I have anorexia.” Intervention as early as you can, whether it’s a family intervention or one-on-one, just seek assistance at the first thought of it. I wish I saw a councillor immediately and asked their advice on how to broach this with my daughter.
How would you describe our relationship?
There is a bond between you and I that is so deep - I can’t describe it to people. When you hurt, I hurt. When you feel, I feel. That experience with you just strengthened our bond, I remember you were always cold and I bought you a blanket for the car and I’d wrap you up and take you for car rides to get you out when you were depressed. We became so close, you were, and are my best friend.
Mom is my best friend too and that is in large part thanks to anorexia. Mom waited for me to open up about my illness, and for me that’s what I needed. Maybe that’s not what’s best in every situation, but in my eyes mom was perfect. She took a leave of absence from work, drove me to every doctor appointment, monitored my food intake, and did everything she could to bring me joy. Perhaps what my mom doesn’t realize is that she did everything right because there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to a parent trying their best.