Tuesday 11 January 2011

Anorexia and school - a typical school day 12 months ago

Anorexia and school... 12 months ago when the anorexia was at its height a typical school day might have looked like this...

Lots of shouting to get him ready for the school bus with (year 11 anorexia sufferer) Ben in a rock bottom 'black mood' due to the way the anorexia was making changes in his brain. We'd drive to the school bus stop in silence, then he might slam the car door as he got out, then stand apart from the other kids at the bus stop.

Often I'd be in tears by the time I got home.

Dreading texts fueled by the anorexia

I'd be on tenterhooks all morning wondering when the first distressing text would come in, fueled by the anorexia. Or maybe it'd be a voice text on the landline which would be even more sinister and frightening with the robotic woman's voice relaying Ben's latest anorexia-fueled message.

Anorexia separates Ben from his peers and forces him to exercise

Meanwhile, at school, Ben might be locked in the toilets (bathroom), keeping away from people - or hiding away somewhere in the school. He might not turn up for a lesson - or walk out. With anorexia comes the need for compulsive exercise and he'd ask to be excused to visit the toilet (bathroom) only to snatch the opportunity to run round the grounds a couple of times.

School lunches - an anorexia nightmare

A typical school dinner with his anorexia would comprise a bit of salad and some fruit, maybe a small bowl of soup, but not always.

I'd be in regular contact with the school nurse who was well aware of Ben's anorexia and hugely supportive. Often she'd have to rescue Ben from the toilets (bathroom) or act as 'agony aunt' when Ben used the school medical center as a bolt hole. And she or Ben would call me, asking me to pick him up on days when the anorexia meant that school got too much for him.

Anorexia changes behavior

Once Ben bolted out of the school dining room, the anorexia making him unable to cope with the pressure. A member of staff ran after him as Ben headed across the school field towards the river, thankfully catching up with him and bringing him back to school.

Another time Ben stormed noisily out of class and had to be restrained by staff. He ended up in the Deputy Head's office and I had to come to school to collect him.

This was totally uncharacteristic of Ben who, before the anorexia, had been a well-respected, conscientious and immaculately behaved boy - a star pupil, academically and on the sporting front.

Anorexia at the end of the school day

On days when he managed to stay until 4pm, my anxiety levels would be sky high as I drove to school or to the school bus to pick up him. I never knew what kind of mood he would be in, but I'd have a pretty good idea...

Separate from all the normal looking, chatting and joking school kids would come Ben - getting thinner and paler by the day with black rings round his eyes. His mood would be rock bottom and he'd either remain in total silence or have frightening outbursts on the way home - a known side-effect of anorexia.

Evening meals with anorexia

Teatime would be a nightmare as the anorexia meant that Ben ate next to nothing. Dessert would always comprise dried fruit which he would ritualistically chop up into tiny pieces, taking ages over the process.

My anxiety levels would be primed for the regular disturbance at mealtimes. Something, perhaps the fact the food wasn't piping hot - or there was a food that freaked him out on the plate - or, more often than not, the portion size was too large or too small (because the anorexia made it impossible for Ben to gauge what a normal human portion size of food was), would result in him slamming down his knife and fork and storming out of the room.

Outside the room the anorexia would make him stamp and crash around, thumping things and bashing his head against the wall while screaming in agony like a primeval animal in pain. Or he might break crockery.

It was absolutely terrifying for me to watch this or know how to cope. All the anorexia advice says that you should remain calm and supportive, but it's virtually impossible to do that when your child is behaving like this.

As things gradually improved over time (a small bit) he might come back into the dining room and resume eating, always acting as if nothing had happened, but in an ultra-stressed and silent way that made me terrified to say anything in case the anorexia behavior kicked off again.

Anorexia ruins the evenings

The rest of the evening would be a mix of violent tears and hysterics; the transformation which anorexia had on my son was astonishing. He was a completely different boy - deeply depressed and howling like an animal in pain. I'd try to talk things through with him, sometimes reasonably successfully and other times not, but always knowing that whatever was said or agreed would be forgotten by the next day. It wasn't that he didn't want to keep his promises and resolutions; the anorexia had made it so he couldn't. The anorexia was in total control.

So I'd go to bed dreading what anorexia would bring me the next day - and we went from day to day, week to week, month to month like this until March when the stress got too much for me and I started smashing crockery and breaking things myself (in private). And I decided to take Ben out of school for the time being.

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