The Zoology of Caring for L

This is a post I’ve meant to write for ages now, because it describes something that made such a lot of sense to me and helped more than anything else.

When I realised L was ill and in the grip of an ED I had no idea what to do, how to behave or if anything I did would.just make matters worse. We have a counselling service at work and I called them, to seek advice and also some support for me, because I knew I needed to be strong.

The psychologist I spoke to recommended a book by Janet Treasure, Grainne Smith and Anna Crane. At last, I thought, an instruction book! And as far as any book can be when dealing with.ED, this is what it felt like and below is the most useful part for me

Early on, the reader is asked “What kind of carer are you?” it uses animal metaphors to.describe the reactions we all.feel.and divides carers into three categories. In terms of behaviour, there are Kangaroos, Rhinos and Dolphins.

Kangaroos want to protect, to keep their loved one safe, to avoid any conflict. And then, Rhinos. A rhino charges at the problem which WILL be solved, to make their loved one better by force of will. Finally, Dolphins. You know already Dolphins are best. Dolphins swim alongside, nudging, encouraging, sometimes leading and sometimes holding back.

I told K, L’s twin about these. She patted me on the arm and said, Mum, you’re such a Rhino. It’s true, I can out argue anyone and am known for making things happen. But sometimes I’m a Kangaroo too. When L was first ill, all I wanted to do was lie down and hold her and then sleep until everything was better, to hold her for so long that love would make her well.So a dolphin I must be. Ironically L’s favourite animal is a dolphin and she now always wears her dolphin necklace. And sometimes, we have Kangaroo time (obviously.she read the book too) where we sit on the sofa entwined and sometimes doze, exhausted by anorexia.

The book also uses three animals to describe carers emotional responses. An Ostrich buries their head and avoids. If a problem is ignored, it doesn’t exist, thinks the Ostrich. On the other hand a Jellyfish becomes engulfed in the emotion and despairs, needing support themselves. I don’t think I’ve been an Ostrich, but sometimes my inner Jellyfish screams to be allowed out. Its all my fault, it wails, I am a terrible mother and I can’t cope. I have a question that I put to the Jellyfish each time. Does this situation need more drama? No? Thought not. The Jellyfish is always quietened then. What L needs is a St Bernard dog. Dependable, reliable, organised and giving warmth and companionship. To reinforce this I sometimes woof while L eats. I like to think it helps.

I wrote this because nothing else helped as much as this. I needed to know how to be, whether to encourage L to eat or not,.and permission to follow my instincts. If you are where I was, this book and this part of it will really help, I promise. Listen to me, all experienced and wise! Obviously I still have so much to learn. But this was the best thing I have learned so far


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