Drop Dead ED!: A Mother’s Perspective

I asked my mom to write about her experience dealing with a daughter with ED. My mom was a HUGE presence in my recovery from day one. I know I caused both my parents a lot of stress and frustration being that there is not really a ‘right’ way to deal with ED. I am so very thankful for both my parents and their endless support.
My mom’s name is Vicki and these are her own words:
The day that Robin was born was one of the best days of my life. The day that I was told that I needed to take her to the hospital immediately or they would call an ambulance was definitely one of the worst. I had been given the gift of this beautiful, perfect baby girl who I had somehow failed as a mother and who was now lying in a hospitable bed at 15 with ED. How could this have happened? What did I do wrong? How could I fix this? How could I make us all whole again? For the next ten years, these questions were front and center in my mind as Robin worked hard to dismiss ED and embrace NED. It was consuming, overwhelming, frightening and frustrating all at the same time!

If only I had known what I do now! Robin had always had stomach aches. As a child, we took her to her pediatrician who said it was nothing to worry about—just growing pains. We were later referred to a neurologist who diagnosed it as abdominal migraines and gave her muscle relaxants that didn’t work. When we visited a psychologist with her, we were told she just needed a project she could call her own—like redecorating her bedroom!  There was nothing traumatic in Robin’s past or strange about her family life that would have sent up a red flag to anyone—AND she was great at making people believe she was always just “fine.” But it is my belief that Robin suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder from an early age that involved chemical/hormonal imbalances, OCD thoughts and distorted self-perception that became profoundly overwhelming in her teenage years. I should have recognized this and dealt with it early, but it just never crossed my mind at that time. She was loved; she was smart and pretty; she had a good family; she did well in school; she had friends; she was fun—what was there to be anxious about?

But then at 15 she started to lose weight while being overly fixated on what she ate and we knew something was definitely wrong. I had seen girls on Dr. Phil with anorexia and always wondered where their moms were and how they could let their daughters get to that point?!!  But here I was within a very short period of time being one of those moms. I now realize that I shouldn’t have been so judgmental. In retrospect, we were lucky that Robin’s body reacted so quickly to anorexia as we were able to get help quite early on. And we were also fortunate that after twelve days in the hospital Robin NEVER wanted to be readmitted!!  So we started the long, arduous process of rehabilitation including weekly weight checks, weekly psychologist appointments, required food monitoring  and lots of walking on eggshells! Having a child who suffers from an eating disorder is a constant battle between being supportive and being an enabler; being loving and being overbearing; being consistent and being controlling. It feels like you can never win and that you’re never doing enough…OR that you can never win and that you’re doing too much!

Recovery is a slow process with many ups and downs. ED has multiple personalities that can morph into new problems at any time. So you have to cherish the good times, embrace times of normalcy and wrap yourself in the hope that things will consistently improve.  But it is hard to trust someone who continues to abuse themselves—either by not eating, or overexercising or purging in some fashion.  And it is exhausting and frustrating to think things are going really well, only to find that looks can be deceiving—or that your child can be deceiving!  Separating out regular teen behavior from ED influenced behavior is hard but essential. Robin was a person, not a disorder!!!  Step by step, little by little, healing can take place and progress can be made. There IS light at the end of the tunnel…you just have to make it through the tunnel first!

I think the best advice I could give to a parent of a child courting ED is to take care of yourself and your other relationships (with your spouse, your other children, friends and family), as well as meeting the needs of your healing child. Eating disorders are destructive in many ways–and not only for the person suffering from them. Overcoming guilt and regret takes a lot of work, as does being kind to YOURSELF (and others) when you have nothing left to give. Addressing my own anxiety was a particular challenge for me when I felt so out of control all the time, so a good therapist can be very helpful. Supporting independence and being positive about your child’s decisions may require a leap of faith at times, but is important as they move away from your watchful eyes. So…just BREATHE and enjoy some well deserved time to focus on yourself and your own journey.  Finally, I think that silently patting yourself on the back EVERY time you pat your child on the back and acknowledge their perseverance and hard work is essential–sometimes you just have to appreciate yourself! No one wrote the book on how to do this–we can only love unconditionally and support wholeheartedly–in the end it is up to our children to make good choices about their future, be honest with themselves, and choose to live their best life.

After many years of ups and downs, Robin’s dad and I are so proud of what she has overcome and how hard she has worked to become the wonderful woman she is today.  We will always support her on her path to health and happiness—but it’s her path, not ours!  The day my therapist said,”Vicki…you have been a really good mom. You need to believe that, hold on to it and move on with your life. Now it’s up to Robin”  was an important day for me. It took a long time getting there—and I probably have a few more wrinkles to show for it–but Robin was definitely worth it!!!!

So Drop Dead, ED—We’re ALL done with you!!

 Me and my mom on my wedding day.