With anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, there is a light at the end of the (often very long and grueling) tunnel for many teenagers. However the heartbreaking fact is that not everyone makes it. Statistics show that over the last ten years, the number of children hospitalised in UK NHS hospitals with eating disorders has risen by one third. A recent press release reported that there had been 800 emergency admissions for eating disorders in 2009. Statistics also show that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – and only 35 per cent of sufferers ever fully recover while 18.5 per cent die and the remainder semi-recover.
I'm not saying this to scaremonger, but to be realistic.
As a mother of a teenager with anorexia, the worry that this condition could steal my child from me has been foremost in my mind from the very first day we realised there was a problem. That terrible, cold, clanging feeling inside when you start to research the illness and discover the statistics. There's no point in burying your head in the sand.
Saving my child's life is the primary driver in everything I do and have done for the past year or so. Sure, I am fortunate that Ben's weight has never been low enough to warrant admission to a specialist eating disorder inpatient unit; he has always been treated on an outpatient basis at CAMHS. But I do know what it's like to sit in abject terror in the hospital while my son is wired up to umpteen machines, his heart doing dangerous things...
And then to go through the same procedure again, several months later.
I also know what it's like to have an anorexic child that is so clinically depressed they feel that suicide is the only way out. I know what it's like to grasp my child in my arms, trying to get across to an eating-disorder-numbed mind that he is the most important thing in our lives so please, please, please don't think like this.
And to feel that you're getting nowhere as his depression hits rock bottom.
At a particularly low point last summer I caught him trying to climb out of the attic window onto the roof, not caring what happened to him...
Following this, my fantastic friends and family told me I could call them, day or night, if I needed back-up because, often, my son was too physically strong for me. Once he packed his bags and climbed out of the conservatory window - physically I wasn't strong enough to stop him (I went through a phase of hiding all the house door keys, but had stupidly left the window unlocked). I thought he had left home for good. Thankfully he came back later.
We also prepared ourselves to ring 999 (901) if I ever found myself in a situation where I believed my son's life could be in danger.
Thankfully, this was last summer and we have come a massive, massive way since then, especially since he started on a course of Prozac. His mood lifted enormously and his numbed mind started to feel love, happiness and pleasure for the first time in months. Rather than thinking of suicide, he developed a passion for life and a future without anorexia.
With this came the huge change in attitude I've talked about so much in this blog. OK, we still have many 'blips' but the general direction, I am thankful to say, is forward.
But there is always one child that doesn't make it. And this week I learned of another teenager whose body gave up the fight against anorexia nervosa. Her internal organs simply shut down, her body had been so ravaged by this devastating condition.
My heart goes out to her mother. Although I've been to hell and back over the past 18 months, I am so eternally thankful that I never went where this caring, loving, hurting mother is now. To lose your child to an illness like anorexia is hell in its truest sense. It is something that no parent should ever have to go through. But the awful fact is that, with the number of diagnosed eating disorders increasing year on, year out, the chances are that more of our beautiful children will lose the fight against anorexia.
This is one of the reasons why I have started this blog: to do my very small bit to hopefully help another parent in their fight against teenage anorexia. And Ben is right behind me in doing this. These days he recognises anorexia for what it is: an evil fiend that is no friend to our children, even though it pretends to be.
The fight goes on...