I am sure that I speak for many when I say that the desire for a loved one to recover from a mental health condition is so overwhelming it borders on the delusional. You want so much to believe that it’s true that you pretend it is.
I have stopped pretending that L is better. Throughout her illness she has excelled in her capacity to deceive – not through any malicious intent but to try and keep everybody happy. Even at the worst of her illness I have been astonished at a young woman who can lie sobbing on the floor one minute and chat cheerfully on the phone the next, or beam at her father who has unexpectedly dropped in and ask him how he is and tell him that she’s fine. It’s partly the stigma that does this – her desire to be well, to be ‘normal’ and free from this illness overwhelms her too, so much that asking for help is more difficult than coping alone. She pushes everyone away, including me, and I weep for how lonely her life must be as well as feeling helpless.
Her illness has morphed into new cycles of binge/purging. I am sceptical of her use of the term bingeing but her description of eating everything in sight, of even foraging in the food bin seems typical of the starved body being so fixated by food it will eat and eat only to be swamped by self hatred and disgust leading to purging through vomiting. This is a dangerous cycle – a person at a healthy weight can suffer a heart attack due to the chemical imbalance triggered by the forced vomiting. She is also profoundly depressed. Before leaving for university she attempted suicide and it was only her psych team that persuaded me it might be ok for her to travel far from home to start a new life. I believed with good reason that the services at university might be better than the woeful adult services at home and that she would access them. But L wants so much to be ‘normal’ that she delays making appointments. My threats to withhold any finances fall on deaf ears and she eventually sees a doctor only to wait even longer for the ED service. Her depression becomes worse and she is scarcely able to sleep at night and instead spends nights either in the library or out drinking – a seesaw of excess that only creates more turbulence in her life.
It is five years since she became ill and I feel no closer to her getting better and with each year that passes I lose more hope. And so does she. For her, it is over a quarter of her life. Every second of her journey from puberty to adulthood has been spent dealing with an eating disorder and I know she no longer believes she will get better and sees little point in living. I have tried strict, controlling mum; calm, caring mum; trusting, hands-off mum; begging, pleading mum – and the truth is that nothing has worked. I feel I have failed her and worst of all I feel a constant bereavement for the life this clever, funny, beautiful young woman should be living. So I’m back here, to write about life and to ask for help. Because I really don’t know what to do any more and that scares me more than I can say.