L and I had a good weekend. I collected her on Friday night and we headed off. I was well prepared and packed a cool bag of food, her evening meal, snacks, the glass which contains 200ml and her favourite cutlery. I considered packing her favourite crockery, but stopped myself. Being with her grandmothers was good for L. She ate virtually without complaint, we did undemanding things and she seemed almost happy some of the time. Seeming truly happy is just too much to ask for at the moment, and what saddens me most is the forced cheeriness or the quiet murmurs of “I’m fine”. She seemed sad and listless and I just wanted to hold her as close as possible, most of the time. On Saturday night, her two best friends were at a 16th birthday party. Photos all over Facebook showed them grinning, laughing, surrounded by pouting, mocking young women. I thought about the contrast between their lives and L’s, where a trip to the wool shop for a new knitting project constitutes a big day out. I know that L could in no way have handled the party, the decisions about what to wear, the anxiety about her peers and her own crippling self doubt. There are not words to describe how bereft I feel for her. She is a wonderful, clever, funny, beautiful and brave young woman and anorexia is stealing her own life from her. I find it almost unbearable when other parents talk about their troublesome teenagers, being rude, getting home late, wearing too much make up, drinking or smoking. I know these must be worrying, but they are signs of a normal rebellious teenager too. I long for such a life for L.
We drove back yesterday – L seemed even quieter. I ask her how she is and she always tells me she is ok. I felt really unwell, either the driving or an unwise glass of wine on Saturday night brought the vertigo and nausea back again, as well as the familiar exhaustion. We got home, L helped me tidy the kitchen and clean up, biting back angry words about the state of the house. We watched TV, even some of I’m a Celebrity, which I loathe, but L loves.
This morning, things went from bad to worse. I woke up feeling iller and dizzied and went into full panic attack mode about the work I needed to do that day. I wonder if L heard me crying first thing. She seemed to struggle with breakfast, and then she disappeared to her room. I found her there, crying and wrapped up in her duvet. On the floor lay some jeans – which she had tried on and didn’t fit. It didn’t matter that she was wearing an identical pair, which did fit easily. Nothing mattered and no attempts to make her feel better worked. She refused to eat and I had no choice but to take her back to hospital, despite the fact that we had agreed to go see a film that evening. She sobbed so hard and so did I. But back we went and I talked to her team about what we call “her mood” – a euphemistic term for the spirit crushing overwhelming despair and depression which envelops her and which she won’t disclose to others. I told them she needed to be assessed for medication, which will happen tomorrow.
I had forgotten about the roller coaster. I had seen L’s progress on a steady incline, gruelling and arduous at times, but slow improvement. I had forgotten that on the climb up the hill, there will sometimes be avalanches which force her back a long way and all I can do is try hold on to her hand so she doesn’t fall alone. I will never let her fall alone or give up on her. Not because I am a selfless mother, but because without her, or K or J, I would be lost too. But no one warned me it could be like this. In the endless warnings and doom mongering about parenthood, from sleepless nights and weaning, through toilet training and starting school, to the much heralded teenage rebellion years, no one told me it might be nothing like this. That instead of partying, smoking, drinking and drug taking or under-age sex, the life with teenage children affected by mental health problems or autistic spectrum disorders, will be a different country altogether. Sometimes a wonderful place, always a unique place, but sometimes a bewildering and foreboding place where we just don’t know what will happen next.