If recovering from anorexia was easy, L would be at home now eating a hearty breakfast before school. Instead she is in an inpatient unit and has been there for three weeks now. Yesterday she should have gone back to school. L loves school, especially the first day of term, the excitement of a new year, the new stationery and the chatter with her friends on the bus. She will have felt a real sense of loss. Yesterday I texted her two best friends wishing them a good first day back. I know it will be hard for them too. Her teacher announced L’s absence and the reason to the tutor group. Everyone was concerned and considerate.
Her weight loss has plateaued and so she faces an increase in portion size. On Tuesday she was stoic about this. But now she has to actually eat the larger meal, and it is difficult. She feels it is going too far, too fast. This is Ed speaking, we know, and he has been quiet of late. But all of us know he won’t give up easily.
I see her in the evening. If I’m honest, I’d like to see her on my own. But J always wants to come, K hasn’t seen her for a few days and C wants to go too. So we troop off together. I can see right away that things aren’t great. She is quiet and withdrawn. She still chats, but her eyes are downcast and she chews her lip and stares in the distance when someone else speaks. She shows me her knitting and I help her with sewing it up. We play cards and that lifts her a little. When she gets her snack, she asks are we sure we want to stay? I sense she would rather we went so she can be alone.
After her snack, I pull her next to me and wrap my arms around her. She leans into me and holds me really tightly. She doesn’t let go. The others are talking and I tell her quietly that this is hard, that she will have tough days and she needs to be brave to see them through. Actually, she doesnt even need to be brave. She nods into my shoulder. Neither of us let go of each other. I can tell she feels like crying and so do I. J is showing C a funny cat video on my iPad, L has been so brave, but she is just 15 and has spent three weeks away from home, away from her friends and her journey back from anorexia is only just beginning. I want her back too, I miss her so, so much. The moment ends when J and K pile in for a comedy family hug, captured by C on my phone camera. It shows L’s seemingly disembodied head surrounded by arms, her grinning brother, her sad sister and her tired mother.
Today I can’t see her. I am many miles away and not back until tomorrow night. The glib phrase that this is a marathon not a sprint is true, but marathons are gruelling and exhausting and sometimes we just want to give up and go home. I don’t feel that trying to cheer L, or myself up is the right thing to do. Negative emotions such as depression and grief sometimes have to be borne and acknowledged for what they are – a sign that life is complex and challenging and only the truly deluded would expect to feel cheerful and happy every day. This will pass and the days which are hard are as important to recovery as the good days and L and I must learn to embrace them as well, because without them we will not move on. I have increasingly thought that for an anorexic, the change from illness to recovery is similar to bereavement and there will be mourning for the loss of Ed. And as mourning is part of saying goodbye, we must let it happen.