Obviously I hate anorexia. Hate, abhor, loathe, detest and rage against it. But there are specific by products of this hatred – secondary losses that have a bigger impact than the simple dislike of the illness itself.
1. Weight obsession – my obsession with L’s weight. Before she had anorexia I had no idea what my children weighed. I still have no idea what K or J weigh. When J was a baby, as a new mother I took him to a baby clinic and he was always above the 100th centile. Not fat, just a baby who grew more than his contemporaries. But after maternity leave ended, I never weighed him again. And who takes twin babies and a toddler to a baby clinic? Sure, we had height charts. Ish. Scratched names on a wall, but only in teenage years to see who was the tallest. I cling on to my status as not quite the shortest person in the house, but K (the shortest person) has other plans. But since anorexia happened, Weight Matters. Just like J’s centile chart, L also has a chart. At reviews we study it. But that’s not the worst. Much worse is that when my daughter comes home from the unit, my anorexic mum voice yells, Ask her how much she weighs! Sometimes it’s out of my mouth before she has got her coat off and I want to tape my mouth shut. Last night we eat dinner and I almost ask her then. Luckily I don’t. I can see how this would look – weird mother asks daughter how much she weighs as each mouthful goes in, surely social services should be called. It is the least interesting thing about L – compared to her Irish setter arms and legs, her long shiny hair, her impossibly beautiful face, her immaculately manicured nails, her nutmeg sprinkle freckles or her pale grey-blue eyes, fringed by endless eyelashes. But I, dumbass mum of anorexic, ask her how much she weighs today.
2. I have become Marie Antoinette. Clearly without the chateau in Versailles, the Petit Trianon farm and hopefully without the gruesome end. But I wonder why she can’t just make herself eat some cake. I don’t mean the insensitivity that thinks anorexics should just bloody eat. But a curiosity that assembles the facts as follows:
a) L wants to recover
b) L has to eat three meals and snacks and generally does so
c) L likes cake, not just any cake, but cake of quality. She has excellent cake taste, I would trust her to choose and make a cake for me any day
And I wonder, with those facts, why, for one snack on one day, perhaps in town, she can’t choose a really nice cake. And to enjoy it, to admit how much she likes it. Last night I persuaded her to taste a crumb of cheese on her hand which I knew she would love and pleaded with her to admit that it tastes nice. But she couldn’t.
Just as Marie Antoinette could not envisage what poverty was like, those who are not anorexic cannot imagine what the anorexic feel. I can guess, and often do. I am good at empathy. But I can’t feel it and I sometimes lament my own accidental insensitivity and any pain it causes L.
3. Frusli Bars. Really, I am sure you all think, who hates Frusli bars? There are probably countless people who have no idea what they even are. They are part of a snack that L eats at least once a day. Juice, apple and Frusli bars. We never ate Frusli bars except when walking up mountains in our pre-anorexia life. They sit in a jar in the cupboard and must be topped up regularly. Behind them is a jar of Not Frusli Bars. These are the cereal bars whose only crime is to be the Wrong Kind. L will not risk the 20 or 30 calories to replace them. So they sit there, waiting for someone to try one and chew on it joylessly, thinking that it might be quite nice if it was eaten while walking up a mountain. Next to that jar is the pack of Special K snacks, the untouchables of the snack cupboard.
4. Family Therapy. I know this may be really useful for L and indeed for all of us. Sometimes I welcome the chance to talk about anorexia, or anger or the tensions in our family. But mostly, I feel judged. I am told frequently how this isn’t about fault, or blame, by the therapists. But then they question how it is that my daughters feel the need to look after others when they are just children. In other words, why are they doing My Job? I am asked why I am doing so much of the caring for L and meal supervision when I should be hanging back and letting others do it. The suggestion that I am over controlling hangs in the air – but I mustn’t blame myself. I leave each session feeling a failure and a double failure for blaming myself for the failure.
5. Regimented eating. Apart from each evening meal and weekend breakfasts, food was always slightly chaotic at home. Everyone spends most of our time at home in the kitchen and people would eat as and when they felt like it, chatting to the others not eating, although they would eat later. But now, weekend days at home are punctuated by the need to eat. Evenings are dominated by snack 1 and snack 2. It is grim for L, but it is also like a ticking clock that rings anorexia alarm bells at regular intervals.
6. The sense of bereavement for L’s missing life. She is 15, in Year 11. She should be at school, rolling her eyes at teachers, laughing with friends about boys, worrying about nothing more than her impending GCSEs or a spot on her chin. I know teenage years are pretty tough, but they can also be hugely joyful and are the years before responsibilities and debts begin to weigh us down. But the need for L to ‘take responsibility’ is constantly discussed and inside I think, isn’t she supposed to be, well, irresponsible sometimes?