The day my daughter was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa was one of the worst days of my life. I thought anorexia was an illness for people who refused to eat. How wrong I was!
At first I had so many questions. Why? How sick is she? Where do I get help? Will she die? Anorexia nervosa is an illness that not only affects the person suffering, but the entire family and everyone who cares about them.
I couldn't believe how quickly she became gravely ill. I had to build an army of professionals who knew what we were dealing with and could educate me to save my daughters life.
As a family we learnt patience, commitment and to fight for each other. Our motto became never, never, never give up! When things got really tough all we had was hope. But we survived and there is joy in our lives again. I want to share the lessons we have learnt, so other families going through these challenges can overcome this devastating illness.
Five tips if your family is faced with an eating disorder . . .
Access appropriate services
Finding the right GP is essential for recovery. They will investigate the symptoms, diagnose and refer you to services available in your area.
We started with family based therapy but within a few months our daughter required hospitalisation. This is where we formed a great team that included a dietician, psychologist and psychiatrist.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
I had to learn to allow my daughter to have full responsibility over her health. It was too easy to step in and take over, but I found this only enabled her disorder. I had to learn a new way of communicating.
I found myself a great counsellor through Eating Disorders Victoria who told me that my daughter needed her mother more than ever, as she already had enough medical professionals. It was not my responsibility to weigh her and tell her what to eat. I just needed to listen, be comforting and give lots of cuddles! The best thing I could do was lead by example, listen and let her know I had faith in her.
When things got really challenging it was too easy to allow my daughter to stay in bed or lounge around. With this attitude days can turn into months.
My daughter was a professional dancer with a severe exercise addiction, so when she was told she couldn't dance until her health improved it was like we had chopped her legs off. With the advice of her doctor we set short term goals, and when she started to function again she was able to make decisions about her future.
Studying was a great option as it enabled her to be around like minded people and the support she received from university staff was encouraging. She thrived in this environment.
Remember your health
We tried caring for our daughter at home after her first hospital visit. Due to the severity of her exercise addiction I would supervise her 24 hours a day. Very quickly my health declined as well. I thought it was my responsibility to do everything to help her.
I was weighing her one morning when I realised she'd lost more weight. HOW could this have happened? The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital, I'd had a minor stroke. It was a big wake up call. How could I help her if I wasn’t around?
My son also suffered terribly during this time, we didn't realise how much her eating disorder impacted his life. He became withdrawn, his grades suffered and he didn't want to leave his room. It was also hard on my marriage. Luckily, I have been blessed with a very supportive husband. Faith, communication and counselling have kept us strong.
At first we felt shame, sadness, disappointment and very alone. We told most people to stay away so we could care for our daughter. Some people would bring over meals trying to help, but this only added to our distress.
The more I tried to talk to family and friends about it the angrier I became as I didn't have the answers. We had to set boundaries to protect our child. It has only been the last 12 months I've been able to talk to poeple about how hard it was.
I wish I had been more open and accepted help from others, maybe those that chose to walk away may have stayed and been inspired by her.
It took five years to fight this life threatening illness, but I am proud to say my daughter is completely recovered. Last week she graduated as a nurse and is working full-time. She also volunteers to help others overcome their eating disorders. I couldn't be prouder!
My greatest moments now are listening to the clarity my daughter has when sharing her story. She has her life back and is proof that recovery is possible!
Lani is a volunteer with Eating Disorders Victoria.
More to read . . .
- Getting help for family, friends and carers - Eating Disorders Victoria
- Eating disorder factsheets - Eating Disorders Victoria
- How far is too far - A new tool to aid early intervention in eating disorders