There was a fairground ride when the children were young that they loved – called The Pirate Ship. It swings up and down and the kids would shriek with delight the higher it went. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen, but the best part was the look on their faces as it swung high into the air.
Life with anorexia is like the Pirate Ship, but with the delight removed, replaced by dread interspersed with fleeting glimpses of hope which then slip away as quickly. L feels overwhelmed, oppressed, drained and despairing of the huge task ahead of her. when we talk about recovery she is tentatively positive, but when the food is in front of her and she has to put it in her mouth and eat it, she is agitated, fearful and distressed.
After the food behind the sofa incident today, she came home. I had spent most of the day asleep and had visited the doctor, who diagnosed tonsillitis and prescribed antibiotics. She gently reminded me that a throat infection like this could be brought on by stress and fatigue – when she asked me how I was, I blinked back tears and said, as well as could be expected. Kindness can sometimes be our undoing. So when L got home, I wasn’t cross. I placed the food she had left, plus a further snack in front of her and then left the room, asking my partner to supervise her eating. we talked afterwards in the living room away from the kitchen. I asked her to try and explain to me why she could not go to school with food and what we would do about it. We agreed on a smaller but higher calorie lunch. This meant eating proper wholemeal bread. In our world this counts as huge progress.
We snuggled on the sofa with our beloved furry blanket and watched Buffy. An episode from Series 6, the ongoing saga of the young woman who fights demons. I have noticed how L loves doing things that we did in the past – we used to spend hours on the sofa watching Buffy. We eat bacon sandwiches for supper in front of the television. K seems suspiciously disoriented – is this because Mum or L is ill?
Then we start on my next bright idea. We write our own menu cards. Different colours for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. L wants to know how many calories each meal will have. I give her a minimum limit. I know that’s almost certainly wrong. But food is the cure and I have to find a solution she will eat. Each category has a stretch food – something that she will find hard, but has in the pack in case she feels up to it. I flag up that as it becomes easier, we will add new cards, or think about how we can increase the energy value of each menu. Sometimes we might make a random selection – but for now she will choose
She is pleased by this. It suits her neat methodical nature. Then we get to the hard part, to choose a meal from each and three snacks. The meals are easier. Something about selecting a card from each pile seems ok. Three snacks are harder, but eventually we agree. As we discuss this, she tells me more about the battles in her head, how she longs to be the life and soul of the house again and how much she hates the moping and ‘feeling sorry for herself’. I try to help her see that those feelings aren’t a sign of getting better, just more self loathing and she needs to accept that she is ill, that it isn’t her fault and that she can only get better for her, not for me or her friends. She tells me her ultimate fear food is fish and chips, which she loves and she describes the whole process of watching them being made in a fish and chip shop. I tell her that one day she will be better and we will go to the sea together and eat fish and chips on the beach and paddle in the waves. I add that it would be much better if she could get better in the summer rather than January.
Perhaps she will be better in the summer. Not this summer though. Perhaps the next one, or it may in fact be many years. I don’t know and I am learning that I have no way of knowing. I cannot make it easier for her, I can support her through the effort and the inevitable pain that she will go through, but we can’t avoid it.