After a really great holiday, which had a tough start, we are heading home this weekend. We will be back on Sunday night and on Monday, L has an outpatient appointment. She will be weighed and her weight will determine whether she is closer to admission to hospital.
At our first appointment, I listened and did that thing that so many of us do when faced with medical staff. Assume they are the experts, we give them information and they cure us. It’s just not like that though. They asked L really basic questions that I had asked several times. They weighed her and measured her height. They then pronounced her anorexic and told her she needed to eat six meals a day and put on a pound a week. The doctor explained the need for a balanced diet with complex carbohydrates, plenty of calcium and how fruit or salad on their own were not a meal.
And even in my “listen to the doctor” mood, I thought, “No shit Sherlock. Really, she needs to eat more? A balanced diet, honestly? And calcium prevents damage to her bones -well who knew???”. Did they think I was stupid, that I didn’t know she needed to eat more? If it was as easy as saying, “L, sweetheart, you need to eat more” and she said “Ok, mum” , frankly we wouldn’t be sitting in comfy chairs around a low table with the obligatory box of tissues.
Of course, I said none of that. I smiled and nodded and thought, when do we get to the part where you make her better?
So I have rehearsed in my head what I will say on Monday, regardless of her weight.
I know my daughter is underweight and I know how to calculate her BMI and plot it on a chart. I know what constitutes a balanced diet and I have endless ideas how to provide a variety of meals to restore her health. I don’t need you to weigh and measure her, or give me diet sheets. I need you to find a way to switch off the voice in her head that tells her the only way she can be successful is to carry on starving herself, that tells her she is fat and disgusting, a failure if she eats and drives her to make herself vomit in secret. I need you to help her see she is beautiful and that she doesn’t need to be afraid of food, of herself, of others or the world. I can’t do that, but I know I can help you to do it. I know I might need to change or all our family may need to look at ourselves and change to help L. We will all do that, without being defensive or wringing our hands in guilt. But please start to give her the help she needs.
I don’t want her to go to hospital, to reinforce that what she is now is an anorexic, no longer L, not a daughter, sister, friend or a student, or a teenager who loves Jessie J and Glee, but becomes defined by an illness so much that her fear of being cured and losing that identity may increase.
This has never been about food. Or even about being thin. I think that L is a young woman with the most tremendous capacity to love others, but not herself. She is scared and has turned against herself. What I want from the medical profession is to help her stop being scared and to allow herself to live life. And if they can’t do that- and perhaps they can’t – then we might be better off on our own.