If This is Therapy, Why do I feel So Crap?

Today was Family Therapy. Despite the family’s gallows humour about it, actually I was looking forward to it. I felt encouraged at our review session when we discussed the sessions and I shared our view that they seemed, well, a little random, and as if there was constantly something the team weren’t sharing with us. We agreed to talk about this at the next session – today.
When we arrived, the therapist was holding a vase with folded up pieces of paper like a raffle. We went in and she explained it was Pandora’s box. All the questions inside were designed to help us explore difficult issues. This sounded a good start and we talked about some of our concerns about therapy. I described how, at our last session, the therapy team had talked about us while we observed and had stated they had a number of observations about our family but didn’t feel able to share them in case they ‘alienated’ us. On hearing this we all felt, well, alienated. So getting the big difficult issues sounded hard, but possibly really useful.
Then the therapist said she felt I had always been resistant to family therapy. I was genuinely puzzled – actually, I’ve always believed in this kind of stuff and early on, tried to convince L’s dad of this approach. I told her I found it slightly confusing and wondered where it was going a lot of the time. She then said she had decided to share a hypothesis that she thought might be controversial and for us to discuss it, as we had asked them to be honest. Essentially her hypothesis was that L was stuck because having anorexia was the only way she could get attention from me and that all my efforts to coax her to eat, were in fact why she was still ill. I tried to respond constructively – but any mother reading this will know my instant thoughts. That it is true I don’t give my daughter enough attention, so she had to get anorexia to feel more loved. I described my efforts to share the responsibility, detailed in this blog. How it was that when I went away, L lost weight or made herself sick more. The phone then rang, from the room behind the mirror. The clipboard team told the therapist something. She sat down, gave a kindly smile and said that, in effect, that proved the point. If L didn’t eat when I was there, then it was obvious my efforts were the problem. I tried again and detailed my efforts to send her to her father’s house to have tea – only to find she hadn’t eaten. or had eaten and been sick. I was asked why I was so critical of him and of C. She seemed in full flow now and asked what would happen if looking after L was less important to me. I started to cry, I couldn’t imagine what that would feel like. S then started to say how my sheer brilliance had always been difficult for him, how he had never measured up to my high standards and this hd been really tough. Sympathetic nods all round. L was then asked what she imagined the effect on her family was and how she seemed determined to stay unwell. She started crying and ran out. I wanted to go after her, but was told the team would take care of her.
I tried again to describe the effords I had made to share the load and was met with a blanket response – that this showed I was wholly resistant to change. I was really upset and angry by this time but stayed calm and stated that I was willing to ‘explore change’ but was sharing this with them to try explain what had gone wrong. They didn’t buy this at all.
C intervened and said that we had changed access arrangements so the children went to their father’s for dinner. This seemed to meet with their approval and K was asked how it was going. Really bravely for her, she told us how she worried about L and that her father was less assertive as he didn’t attempt to make L eat. She said tentatively that he went on about how he didn’t like doing this and seemed to make it about him. K was then asked why she didn’t prompt her father to be more assertive. This was the last straw and I became really angry. Why, I asked, isn’t it C and S’s job to take more initiative? Why aren’t they the ones being pulled up here? Why is it my job to make it happen, to help C and S share the load or K’s job to ask her father to be more assertive? Why can’t they just do what I do, and bloody get on with it. Perhaps, came the response, it might be helpful for me to have some therapy, as I clearly had ‘issues’. My issues, I retorted, were that my daughter was in the grip of a powerful mental illness and until she could make choices, I would make them for her. Apparently, L can make choices – and no one ever starves to death of anorexia, not when they are in treatment.
So I kept quiet. Because I knew that I just had to take it. Until the end, when we were all asked how we felt. And I told them – that their words had confirmed every worse fear that I had, that L’s anorexia was my fault, and that I had only tried to do my best. Because no one tells you what to do when your daughter has anorexia – so I had tried to work it out for myself. If I had got it wrong, then it wasn’t for want of trying. But I would back off. Or leave everything to S and C. Or do whatever I was told, as long as it led to L getting better. I was told I was dramatic. So I shut up again. Throughout the whole session I cried and Lcried. L’s father described at the end how he was a good person and had nothing to apologise for – how he was perfectly assertive and he didn’t need to be constantly found wanting – he was perfectly happy the way he was and knew he was doing a great job. More sympathetic nods.
We filed out. L and I crying still. C drove us home, the car silent except for sobs. I left C to cook dinner and to eat it with the girls. I am here,still tearful, in bed, with my laptop, writing tis blog, catching up on the work I missed today and wondering what the hell I do next.

5 responses to “If This is Therapy, Why do I feel So Crap?

  1. As someone with parents who either ignore, berate or reinforce the darkness I’ve been fighting with for what feels like forever. As well as, removing me from the hospital, preventing any support or treatment after I ended up in a&e crying out for help in the only way I knew how.
    Believe me, I can only imagine what a committed, supportive parent would mean in the situation.
    I don’t think you are doing anything that should be “told off” in this way. Moe than that, you are doing everything within your power to help L get better.
    My family have no idea of the last 8 years since my night in hospital because I can’t trust them to care or even listen. Sometimes I wish that I could tell them and dream that I then wouldn’t have to hide this all the time.
    You are doing great things by being there, listening, being willing to try new options and loving L no matter how hard this struggle is.
    Thank you for being you. xx

  2. I am sitting here, reading your blog, crying for you, because you don’t deserve this, you are doing the right thing, I can’t believe they let you feel this way. It’s not fair. I wish I could do something to make them see, I honestly think they’ve got it wrong. It makes me so sad. Just know that I believe they’re wrong. xxx

  3. This makes me seriously angry (and I don’t get angry very often). Part of the reason I love reading your blog because I think you’re such an amazing mum and it fills me with hope to read about your unwavering love for L (and K and J) and the brilliant job you’re doing in such a hard, heart-breaking situation. The way those clinicians are behaving towards you does NOT reflect reality. I’m sure their intentions are very good, but it seems like they’ve just got a pet theory about how mothers of girls with AN are, and they’re smugly and serenely applying it to you. That’s happened to me before (as the patient, being put into neat boxes and everything I said being twisted or interpreted in a way that supported their view). I wish I could tell you what to do next, but obviously that’s not possible. The one thing I can tell you is that NONE of this is your fault, and ANYONE can tell you’re an amazing mother.

  4. I have no words for you, but you must believe that this is not your fault. You are with L every step of the way and I am so full of admiration for you. Underneath it all, L knows it, and will one day tell you how much it helped and how she appreciates you. Is there anywhere you can go for support for YOU?

  5. I too just wanted to say how angry this blog has made me for your sake. Please remember that the professionals aren’t always right, your L’s mother – you know her better than anyone else. Reading your journey you seem like the most supportive and proactive mum anyone could wish for.

    Perhaps your team are frustrated at the lack of progress and are just looking for something, anything, to blame it on.

    Please don’t blame yourself. You’ve always acted for the best and one day L will be able to tell you just how much she appreciated xxx

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