Wednesday 23 November 2011

Improved school social situation - an impossible ask?

No matter what Ben does, his school friends still treat  him differently and it's continuing to get him down. After much deliberation about it at CAMHS and at home, we are almost reaching the point where we wonder whether it's never going to happen and that this final year at school is, from a social perspective, a complete write-off.

Ben has done his level best to talk to his friends and be 'normal', but he's still left out of things and ignored. As a result he spends most of his school day alone which means he is still coming home at lunchtime, unable to handle a whole lunch hour on his own.

Why are they doing this? There could be several reasons. One is that they've seen the anorexia at its worst. They saw a popular, athletic, fun guy transform literally overnight - or at least over the summer vacation - into a physical and mental wreck. They've been on the receiving end of some terrifyingly unpredictable behaviours. To them, I guess, it's as if their close friend had gone insane.

They know he's been receiving psychiatric treatment and still is. They are still seeing him leave school at lunchtimes and not return until the next day, and sit in the corner of the common room alone. And his physique is still a shadow of the rugby prop forward he was for so many years.

So maybe, to them, Ben isn't recovered. Perhaps, to them, he is still 'the crazy guy' who is capable of doing virtually anything - and the only thing that is predictable about this 'anything' is that it will be abnormal, extreme and frightening.

Only he isn't like that any longer.

But they don't know that.

For our family, the eating disorder learning curve was MASSIVE. Like most people, behaviour like this had never featured on our radar. We didn't even know it existed. I guess it is the same for his friends and they can't be expected to understand it or know the dynamics behind it.

Our psychiatrist doesn't seem to be able to come up with a solution either.

Basically Ben wants to be seen as NORMAL and treated as NORMAL. As he said yesterday: "If I'd never known life as a popular social animal I probably wouldn't miss it. But I have and I want to be back there again. Back to where I was before this hit me in 2009."

He has started to blame himself for the eating disorder which hijacked his life for two-and-a-half years. Hopefully the psychiatrist managed to explain why it wasn't his fault. The ED would have happened no matter what.

But he's beating himself up about his theory that if he hadn't cut down on food and increased his exercise he would never have reached the low body weight and poor nutrition which may have been responsible for the anorexia kicking in.

There are so many, many reasons why it is NOT his fault and he shouldn't beat himself up about it, but that it's another blog entry altogether.

But, for now, he is missing out on his final year at a wonderful school and is so very, very lonely.

At least, as he says, when he goes to university he will be starting a clean sheet. No-one will know about his past and will accept him at face value. Hopefully real life can start again.

I hope so.


  1. So sorry to hear Ben is finding it so tough socially. It can be quite daunting for youngsters to break the ice and accept someone back into a group. Perhaps he'll be lucky and someone will forget themselves and talk to him. But I'm sure he's right - if it doesn't work out this year then university will give him a fresh start.

    My daughter is a bit younger than Ben and has a different (but similarly scary) problem - she was lucky in some respects that a lot of her worst moments took place in hospital so her friends didn't witness them. Even so some friendships didn't survive her illness. Her shape has changed too (in her case she has put on weight because of the medication she takes) and it is a shock sometimes to see how differently people react to her as a result.

  2. I haven't read your blog for a while, Matty, because I thought you weren't writing posts. They usually turn up in my Newsfeed on Facebook and they hadn't...

    I absolutely understand the loneliness of your son... I felt exactly the same way when I was in the sixth form at school in 1983-1984. I felt alienated, and it was difficult to know whether this was attributable to my AN (and I was doing quite well by then) or something else. But I also know that I had no interest in the sorts of things my peers were doing, so I didn;t want to join in, as such. Yet, neither did I want to feel alienated.

    Things will probably get better for him at university, if he can just stick this last year out at school. There will be a new set of people and clubs to join that suit the person's personality. I had no interest in drinking, clubbing etc., but I did find more 'geeky' clubs to belong to where I found like-minded friends.


  3. My daughter, who like Ben is in her last year at school, found it exceptionally difficult to re-integrate back into school society with her original group of friends. She too found that irrepairable damage had been done to her friendships through her illness and subsequent breakdown and long periods of absence from school. Her therapists at the Maudsley suggested that as part of her recovery and desire to have a wider social circle and be one of the 'popular' kids she try to be more outgoing and foster new relationships. Because she was actually more well liked than she gave herself credit for, she spent a period of time running between differing groups of friends before she found a completely new group of kids who initially didn't go to her school. Her 'new' best friend has become a lifeline and now goes to sixth form with her, having transferred in after GCSE's. Her old friends are still friendly but distant but she feels that she has been given a chance of a new start with people who didn't know her when she was ill.
    Hopefully for Ben, this will happen for him as he says when he goes to Uni, but perhaps he could try what my D was told to try by her therapists and force herself to be friendly with different people who she might never have spoken to before. It was a hard thing to do but she managed it and is all the better for it. She still has lots of self doubt and days when the ed still looms over her but I am glad in a way that she had to have an ed illness in order to emerge as the more confident person she is now . xxxxx

  4. Brilliant comments, everyone. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. xx