Shopping with Your Anorexic*

*with apologies to Laura Collins for the plagiarism.

L and I have had a good couple of days. Yesterday I was off work and had to rush into town, and L came with me. I was reticent. We are starting a new eating regime, stepping up from our previous menu plans, aiming for an intake which will hopefully turn around the weight loss, if not help her regain. We are also feeling wobbly. Yesterday the hospital wrote to us, offering an assessment appointment four days after we are supposed to be on holiday. I called, asking if it could be brought forward. No one could tell us until next week. I asked if there were any beds free in the ten bedded specialist unit. No one could answer that either. So I decided that whatever they said next week we would go on holiday. This is a decision which obviously depends on stability.

But L ate her new look, boosted breakfast with even a smile, so we headed into town. We did the errand I needed to do and then L asked if we could go shopping. Not to buy clothes but to try lots on. I was slightly worried. I noticed that the feverish recipe searching had been replaced by online shopping, looking at endless outfits and the night before I had stopped her, held her hand and told her that the answer to being happier wasn’t in the perfect jeans or outfit, but in taking control of her life and deciding today, I will be happy. Today, my life starts. She smiled, as she always does.

Shopping is as much a minefield as eating. How do you respond to your daughter when she shows you a new outfit and you want to weep at how gaunt and angular she is? How do you tell her that, no, you won’t buy her the jeans that fit, because she needs to gain weight and these jeans will be a loaded weapon in her wardrobe, goading her for every ounce gained? Except no jeans fit. Each pair has ruching and gathering where normal shaped legs should be. Even through thick denim, I can see her bones, like an almost person, a line drawing that the artist forgot to complete.

I feel dizzy. In the tension over breakfast, I realise I forgot to eat. I tell L I need to have lunch and then we must go home for the lunch we have planned for her. We go to a cafe. I don’t ask L what she wants but I tell her two or three things she can have which will,replace the lunch. She chooses one and we eat together, at a cafe where we have eaten so many times before, without food being an issue. We laugh at silly things and L tells me how much she loves a certain jumper and I suggest she asks for vouchers for her forthcoming birthday. It is like things used to be, not entirely, but it is easy. L tells me how much she likes her food. She doesn’t look scared, she seems a little tired halfway through, but she finishes. She even drinks the little jug of milk that comes with her food. A handful of extra calories that aren’t in the plan, which she takes in without even a murmur.

We head home on the bus. We are quiet. The day doesn’t pass without difficulty. L struggles with a meal later and one of her snacks. She cries after dinner, in her room. But when she goes to bed, she has eaten three meals and three snacks and enough calories to maintain her weight, easily. Is this a girl who needs to be an inpatient? I am not sure. If I had time, perhaps I could cure her, without hospital. We will see.

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