Monday 9 January 2012

Like a bolt of lightening

I was completely unprepared for the way it hit me yesterday - the sheer force of heart-break emotions as, there in front of me, stood 'what might have been' or, rather, 'what SHOULD have been' if it wasn't for the way the eating disorder had stolen such a massive chunk from Ben's teenage life.

It was Founders Day at school; the bi-centenary service. And, because of my former role in the PTA, I'd been invited to attend.

Along the route from the car park, snaking through the school grounds, stood pairs of Prefects, all smartly dressed in their school 'colours', guiding alumni, governors - and me - all the way to the gothic school chapel.

Each one of these Prefects was from Ben's social group - the young people that had been his bosom pals throughout the first four years of high school and, if it hadn't been for the way the ED robs its victim of their social life and skills, who would still be his bosom pals.

But this wasn't what hit me like a violent bolt of lightening.

It was the fact that ALL of them were there. All of them, except Ben.

And they all looked healthy, happy, mature and confident - just like 18 year old senior school pupils should look.

Their school careers had gone from strength to strength, culminating in the role of Prefects in the school's most important year since its centenary in 1912.

They were the epitome of what I had dreamed for Ben when he won an academic scholarship to that wonderful school, all those years ago. A school that had produced, amongst its current alumni, CEOs of top corporations, law lords, heads of the armed forces and so on.

Mind you, I'd never dreamed of Ben becoming General Sir Thingumy Whatsit or The Lord X of Y.

All I'd wanted for him was a happy, supportive place in which to study - a school known for its ability to nurture pupils to achieve their full potential, not just academically but personally, too.

And that had happened. For the first four years, at least. Ben was happy, confident, sporty and academically bright, one of the most popular boys in his friendship group and a rising star on the Rugby field.

Physically, he was transforming from a boy who'd carried a bit of 'puppy fat' into a handsome, athletic young man. I was so proud of him that it hurt.

So here, lining the route from the car park to the school chapel, were all Ben's friends.One after the other, all the way into the chapel, culminating with the Head Boy - the boy who had been Ben's academic, sporting and social rival yet close friend through those first four fulfilling years at the school, a boy who could have been his school 'twin' in almost every way, even physically.

But not now.

Here was what Ben could have been, what he SHOULD have been, but wasn't, thanks to the ED.

Over six foot tall, athletic, confident and mature.

One by one I acknowledged Ben's friends in that long line up to the chapel, my heart breaking in a way I hadn't predicted.

Ben should have been there with his friends, looking like his friends, behaving like his friends. And I should have been making my way to the chapel as proud as proud can be about the way the school had nurtured my son into 'one of the class of 2012'.

Instead my heart was breaking at the way the eating disorder had stolen a promising school career from him. The way it had robbed him of his friends and social life. The way it had stunted his growth and physical development. The way it had completely transformed his life, and ours.

I wish I'd stayed at home.


  1. Batty
    this was me in December. D's friends all in their jackets and looking all shiny and important and healthy on stage looking forward to being captains/vice etc and my d has dropped out of school due to ed. I so understand your pain. But you have your boy and me my girl and they will be OK. it could be so much worse.sending hugs and love L

  2. *hug* for you Batty. ED sucks. But thanks to your actions Ben has every chance of a happy, healthy future. He can't get those years during which he was unwell back, and neither can you, or I, or any of our other lovely friends who have suffered or carer for someone through an ED. Grief is an entirely normal and healthy response to such a traumatic crappy situation. But I really hope that in a few short years you can go to Ben's graduation and see a happy, healthy young man who got his life back thanks to the perseverance of his mother, as well as a lot of his own hard work.

  3. I'm so sorry Batty :( I know my mother felt similar emotions when she saw me with my peers in the 6th form at school. They were all confident, grown-up looking... and I looked about 14 instead of 18. Things WILL get better. You have done so, so much to save your son's life. To say 'it could have been worse' is not very helpful, I know, but if it were not for your efforts as a mother to help your son with his ED then I'm sure he'd be in a far worse state.


  4. I can relate, for sure. My D's friends (well, they were actually just schoolmates, since my D couldn't be a true friend and share her authentic self with others) are all graduated from college, starting careers, getting married and moving on, seemingly so effortlessly. All the while, my D has to work so freaking hard to just make it through the day alive and maybe moving forward a tiny bit if all goes just perfectly.

    Serious psychiatric illness/mental disorders are life-altering and joy-sucking. We can only plod on, getting as much effective help for our loved-ones as we can, helping them as best as we can to heal and knowing that others who have had these disorders before them have gone on to recovery/remission. There is most likely a genetic predisposition for manifesting an ED, and our children got that in the genetic lottery. So hard, but so true. So I don't see any way forward but to continue to guide my child into being surrounded by the ingredients she needs for recovery and obtaining the tools to prevent or deal with relapse, and to celebrate all the wonderful things that she DID win in that genetic lottery!

  5. Oh heart breaks for you... I have lived this so many times over. It is just awful isn't it. This is a very powerful blog post and I hope it gets a lot of attention. People have no idea the immense level of pain that we as parents experience on so many levels when our child's life has been robbed by an ed.

    When I speak at treatment centers there is always one person in recovery who comes up to me and says that she/he had no idea how much his/her ed has hurt his/her parents until he/she heard me speak. The ed creates such an egocentricism that they are usually completely unaware. Typically learning this helps them in the next step in their recovery path to be able to at some point apologize to their parents for the pain caused by the ed.

    I got to hear Carrie Arnold publically apologize to her mom for all the ed has taken away. We were at the FEAST conference in Alexandria, Virginia this past November. There wasn't a dry eye in the place and I was sobbing. I look forward to the day that I am in her mom's role and get to receive that. Carrie was eloquent and gracious of course.

    I love all the kind supportive comments you've received here and ditto all of them. You are right to do your grieving - we all have to do it. And we'll all celebrate when they are all healthy. Until then - big hugs across the ocean till I can give you one in person. We'll have a really good cry then. :)
    Hugs, Becky Henry

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your lovey comments - definitely food for thought from all of you wise people...

    I'd never want my son to apologise for the hurt; I don't blame him; it's not his fault the ED did this to him. Neither is it our fault, of course as parents, that - perhaps - he has been the recipient of a particularly toxic set of genes from both sides of our family, all waiting to go **bang** when an equally toxic range of triggers came into his life...

    Here's a link to a blog entry I wrote last July on a similar theme when I got talking to the mum of one of the boys described above at school sports day:

    Thanks everyone xxx

  7. Oh batty, I know exactly how you feel. I hate Ed. It robs the our dear children of their dreams and ours. My daughter should be graduating from university this year like her friends instead she is fighting for her life. She too was a academic all-American, nationally recognized soccer player with dreams. As I watch her friends approaching graduation and beginning their pursuit of their liives I feel the same loss. We are broken soul mates, Matty but I will never believe that that day won't come. Its just going to have to wait longer to get there.

  8. Judy Avrin / Someday Melissa10 January 2012 at 12:31

    Dear Batty, I know so well that heartbreaking feeling of watching your child's friends follow the path you expected your child would be on. As Lisa above just wrote, my daughter Melissa should be graduating from college this year and my heart is broken because she never had the chance. She died in 2009 after a 5 year battle with bulimia.

    Ben's path was derailed by this demon ED but my wish for him and your family is a future filled with health and happiness. He is lucky to have you as a mother and advocate. Thank you for sharing your story and raising awareness of eating disorders in males.

    Many hugs, Judy

  9. Dear Judy, I am so sorry to hear about your story, so very sorry... At least I have the chance to move on with Ben through the fallout of the ED whereas you did not. It is time for me to bite the bullet and admit that things weren't exactly how I would have liked or dreamed, but at least I still have him with me and for that I am eternally thankful and grateful.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.

    Lots of love, BM xxx

  10. Thank you, too, Lisa and I hope and pray for recovery for your daughter.