Living in the Shadow of Anorexia Nervosa

Living in the Shadow of Anorexia Nervosa
A guest post by Rebecca Perkins

Eight years ago I finally faced up to the fact that all was not well with my beautiful 14-year-old daughter’s health. She had over many months and in all reality a number of years been gradually changing her eating and exercise habits. I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to name what I suspected was happening to my girl.

The numerous trips to the doctor, the hospital trips for any number of ‘presenting’ conditions hid from all of us — family, doctor, friends, consultants — the fact that my daughter was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. I was witnessing the gradual diminishing of my daughter. Her weight, her energy, her vitality, her general well-being and health were not what they were. The lack of concentration, her mood swings, and her withdrawal from life were all the evidence I knew I needed.

What unfolded next is a mother’s worst nightmare — the fear, the guilt, the anxiety, the sadness, the anger, the distress, the desperation. My daughter was sick. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her, the psychiatrist, the nutritionist, the psychotherapist, myself. I wanted to know why, I wanted to know how. This illness rocked our family to its foundation. My husband (at the time) was unable to come to terms with her illness. We have never spoken about it and are unlikely ever to do so. My sons were bewildered. The eldest (17 at the time) felt an enormous sense of guilt — “if I’d been a better brother”… “if I’d been around more” … “if I hadn’t done as much sport” … My youngest (8 at the time) withdrew completely, daydreamed his way through school and cried. His words still resonate, “I just want my sister back.”

I carried the weight of not only her illness but the emotional turmoil it was causing in our family. I supported my sons and my wider family in their anxieties. I found some support amongst my friends and my sister, but felt completely isolated and alone.

One of the hardest issues I had to deal with was recognizing and understanding that I couldn’t “fix” her. I couldn’t make her better, I couldn’t give her paracetamol or put a band-aid on a grazed knee. This illness was hers, not mine. She had to want to heal herself. In a way, I had to watch events unfold and be there with unconditional love for her at all times. When the rage came I stood and took the full force. When the tears came I sat and comforted. When the rejection of food came I suggested something else that might appeal. When the fear came I held her in my arms.

Friends and family asked me how I did it. How I coped day to day, week in week out, being constantly there for the family and my daughter. I’m not sure I had any other choice (yes of course we always have a choice, we can choose our attitude even when things seem impossible). I chose to get on with it. I chose to do all I could to be there for my family. I chose to allow my daughter to take control of her illness, her life.

I found a way to separate my daughter’s identity, the real person, from the behavior, which was the illness. I coped with whatever the “behavior” threw at me. My daughter wasn’t her behavior. Thinking back to how we parented when our children were young — we loved the child but didn’t like the tantrums. This is how I made sense of it in my head.

I now appreciate how resilient I am, how I bounce back after setbacks. I believe this is the case because I choose to live my life fully — ups and downs. Even today, 8 years on from her diagnosis, and I struggle to write without tears. Anorexia lived in our house for some time, casting a heavy shadow. It moved on, my daughter is well and living her life having learned like all of us from the experience.

This post originally featured in The Huffington Post and is reprinted here with full permission.


About the Author: Rebecca Perkins

Rebecca Perkins is the author of Best Knickers Always: 50 Lessons for Midlife and founder of RebPerkins.com. Her latest book 40 Words of Wisdom for my 24 Year Old: A Parenting Manifesto (originally a Huffington Post blog) was published in April.

 She began writing to make sense of her life after the ending of her 20 year marriage. Rebecca is a NLP Master Practitioner and Personal Performance Coach working with women to navigate the transition of midlife. She is passionate about midlife as a time for renewal and for living the second half of life with enthusiasm and vigour.

 As a coach she is challenging and fun, motivating and inspiring. Midlife has taught her to be open-minded, to take more risks, to enjoy the simple things and to live each and every day with the question, ‘If not now, when?’ She lives in London and enjoys supporting and being surrounded by her children, spending time with her guy and celebrating life after 50.

 You can contact Rebecca via her website and follow her on FacebookTwitterand Pinterest as well as YouTube.

Follow Rebecca on Instagram for her 365 days of self care #365selfcare 

(I recently read Rebecca’s book, Best Knickers Always: 50 Lessons for Midlife. It’s rich, warm and wonderful and full of practical, insightful ideas – a great read.)

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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #neuronurtured #anxiety #anxietyinchildren #childanxiety #motherhoodcommunity #parenti
When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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 #mindfulparenting #neuronurtured #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #braindevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #childdevelopment #parentingtip #adolescence #positiveparentingtips #anxietyawareness #anxietyinchildren #childanxiety #parentingadvice #anxiety #parentingtips #motherhoodcommunity #anxietysupport #mentalhealth #heyawesome #heysigmund #heywarrior
When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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