I've been trying to pin-point exactly when it was that we realised something wasn't quite right with Ben. It was during the summer of 2009. We'd been in France and he'd been swimming up and down the pool every day (usually 100 short lengths) and also jogging past the vines and back. Swimming wasn't new, nor was jogging, but doing them both in the searing heat was...
Ben had always been a sporty, athletic boy so an increased interest in keeping fit didn't seem abnormal. Back in England, he joined the local gym and went almost every day. Even that didn't seem abnormal because, given half the chance, I'd go to the gym, too.
Ben started to by glossy men's magazines with impossibly toned looking models on every page, exercise regimes and 'healthy eating plans' which promised to deliver similarly sculpted bodies. And he started to take even more care over his appearance, but not in a relaxed way but in a self-critical way. He would spend ages in front of the mirror, examining himself from every angle and pinching the 'rolls of fat' on his belly.
He'd always been interested in cookery and the fact that his cooking got more and more 'healthy' didn't really bother us. By 'healthy' I mean cutting down on fats and slimming down popular recipes.
One thing that did niggle was that he was seeing less and less of his friends. Suddenly the gym or cooking seemed more important - or a jog round the block.
Then the jogging became more rigorous and he'd be doing lengthy, strenuous runs as well as his daily trip to the gym. Something somewhere at the back of my mind clicked in with "This isn't normal..."
And he started to lose weight.
Had he been a girl, then the warning bells might have gone off sooner. But I'd never, ever associated anorexia with boys, so no alarms went off.
Gradually his mood got more depressed and it became obvious that, far from enjoying all this exercise, he was actually hating it. Something was pushing him to do it, almost like a compulsion. As the school summer holidays went by I realised uncomfortably that he was unable to stop this exercising...
School started as normal in September, but within days Ben was coming home in a 'down' mood with tales of how so-and-so had annoyed him or everyone was ignoring him. I said the obvious: "Well what do you expect if you ignored them all over the summer?"
My mother in law came to stay and was shocked at the change in Ben. Being with him every day we hadn't really noticed how thin he'd become or how unwell he was looking. But she did. And it prompted me to take Ben to the GP for our first appointment. The GP weighed Ben, told him to eat more and to come back in a week...
Then the chopping started.
Ben had always liked fruit - fresh and dried fruit. Now his puddings seemed to comprise solely of fruit which he started to spend AGES carefully chopping up into tiny pieces before eating. I found I was buying tonnes of fresh fruit at the supermarket for him. But, back then, I had no idea I was 'feeding' the growing anorexia by buying what it wanted me to buy.
He'd spend literally ages getting ready for school and if one hair was out of place his mood would plummet and he'd be a nightmare on the drive to and from school.
Very quickly over the next week or so in late September 2009, his mood worsened, he lost more weight and began exercising more. By now, the penny had dropped and we realised with horror that Ben was developing an eating disorder.
There's no point in me continuing the story, as this entry is simply about the changes that gradually alerted us to the fact something was wrong.
And the rest, as they say, is history...