When Plasters Don’t Work
Being a mum is both rewarding and terrifying. When your children are small you can scoop them up, cover them with kisses and put a plaster over the scuffed knee or an ouchy finger. Yet, as they grow and become independent; as they discover their own tastes, likes and dislikes it becomes more and more difficult to do this ... this at times is the hardest part of being a mum.
Phoebe is my oldest child and only daughter: sweet 16, beautifully spirited, clever, funny and a very independent young lady. She is a girl who definitely knows her own mind. A girl who can tell you exactly what career she would like to go into. A girl who is the polar opposite of a 16 year old me ... I am one very proud mum. Currently though, the urge to scoop her up and make everything better is very much what I want to do ... but unfortunately I am unable to make things better by doing that …
Phoebe is anorexic with severe orthoexia - a “relation” of anorexia, all about eating “clean foods” - basically reducing food groups and slowly but surely also reducing what you eat. She was admitted to hospital a couple of weeks ago, spending a week there on bed rest. Thankfully she is home now, but still resting.
How it came to this is beyond me .. I am still struggling to come to terms with it ... asking myself the same questions over and over:
How did I not notice?
How can I help her recover?
How can I make sure this never (and I mean never) happens to her again?
Why has this happened?
What occurred to make this horrible illness get into my daughters head and take control?
Ultimately though, I’m questioning am I even a good mum, have I let her down?!
You see, Phoebe is very much into her fitness, she studies GCSE PE and is a very well respected member of our local gym. She is also studying and interested in nutrition, so understands what she needs to eat to remain healthy and fit - this is one of the reasons why I can’t understand how this has happened. Everything was or seemed fine and normal over Christmas … Phoebe works as a waitress and worked hard over the festive period (that’s Phoebe though, 110% in everything she does). She went back to school to start her GCSE mock exams and we also had our trip to London over the following weekend, all seemed well. Then at the beginning of February she got a virus and was - for the first time in many years - off school ill. She was utterly exhausted that week and maybe that’s when the eating disorder took hold … maybe it had been there, slowly growing but I hadn’t seen ... I can say with certainty though, this was the week when the changes began.
Phoebe - always fit, strong and toned, started to look thinner ... her eyes sunk into her head, she had very little energy and a gaunt appearance but yet, she kept going. One evening in the February half-term she came to me and said she hated feeling so tired and so rubbish. I told her we’d book a doctors appointment and maybe get her bloods checked just in case. I was concerned about her losing weight ... I remember it so well ... the evening she took off her t-shirt in front of me to show me her new sports bra. I can recall feeling shock and utter panic as I saw the extent of her weight loss - her back, usually so toned and strong, instead showed every bone. She looked so tiny, so fragile ... she was disappearing before my very eyes ...
How had I not noticed how bad it had become, until now?
Due to her waitressing shifts Phoebe often ate her main meal at about 9pm, so I didnt see that she was cutting back on not only her evening meal, but also on what she ate during the day (she loves baking and cooking and would often cook her own meals in the evening). I feel a sense of failure as a mum, I let our meal times together slide, letting them eat on the sofa and sometimes in their bedrooms! This has now stopped and I’m purposeful about making sure we sit and eat together in the evenings.
After seeing the doctor Phoebe was referred to CAMHS for counselling. On that first Thursday seeing the counselor, both of us thinking it would just be a chat for an hour, it came as a massive shock that she was immediately admitted to hospital and put on complete bed rest. I was really naive thinking that I could just say to her to eat more, encourage her to do so and it would all be okay ... totally off the mark there! Even though it was literally only a few weeks ago that Phoebe was admitted to hospital, looking back I see that it was a kick up the bum I needed … she has been put on an eating plan which will slowly re-introduce her body to food and help her gain the weight she so desperately needs to gain. She will also continue to attend counselling.
I am well aware that our situation is not a quick fix of a plaster, that this will be a long and often difficult road for us to travel. I know that she will shout and probably (for a short while) resent me for trying to encourage her to maybe eat that extra mouthful of food or for getting her outside her comfort zone. I anticipate that some days will be good and others bad ... that we will both laugh and cry a lot … but ... and I believe this right from the pit of my stomach ... I believe that Phoebe will come out of this a stronger and more determined young lady ... that she will beat this horrible, vile illness and never look back ... that she will use it to her advantage, becoming a more knowledgeable and sympathetic individual … and me? Well, I will be proud ... she is my girl and I love her from the bottom of my heart.