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.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
.
.
.
#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
.
.
#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This