Monday 23 April 2012

At a loss what to do next...

And so the social isolation continues, and I can't help but feel it's mainly self-imposed isolation. If I thought that Ben was isolating himself from his peers a few months or even a year ago, it is now far, far worse. And, to be honest, I haven't a clue what to do.

Nor had CAMHS. Our psychiatrist's advice was that it seemed to be a case of flogging a dead horse and there was no point in Ben trying to resurrect his iron-strong past friendships. Just wait for university where everything would, with any luck, magically fall into place and Ben could start afresh.

At least a few months ago Ben was still going to church and socialising a bit, even though he was right on the fringes of the youth group and, if you've read recent blog posts from me, you'll know that the church let him down disgracefully. Despite me spending a morning bashing out a social integration plan with the church pastor and him promising wonderful things, nothing happened. Ben stopped believing in God, stopped going to church and no-one from the church has bothered to follow it up. They have let him down Big Style.

Now there is just Ben, his dad and me.

And on Friday when my husband and I spent a night alone in a hotel for the first time for years, without Ben and without the eating disorder, I was acutely aware of the predicament.

Today I read an article all about cutting the apron strings. How, as your son grows up, they start to form their own lives, be independent and don't need you as much.

With Ben it's the other way round. He depends on us one hundred per cent for his social life and everything else.

He is completely dependent on us and it seems to be getting worse.

Last night I dreamed I was trying to explain it all to one of Ben's school friends. In my dream I was pleading for her help in getting Ben back into his social group.

Heck, I desperately want him to be out there, with his friends. Sleepovers, cinema trips, meals, parties, band practices, badminton, shopping in town or just having a laugh... all those things he used to do before the anorexia whisked him onto Planet Zorg and years of solitary confinement, maybe with even more years of it to come.

How the hell is everything suddenly going to drop into place when he goes away to University? He's missed out on a tonne of late adolescent social skills. He simply doesn't have them. Having been on his own for over two and a half years, in real terms, he has developed other skills. He tends to 'lecture', to talk 'at' people and he is always right. He bosses me around, tells me off, demands that I go for walks with him, etc. And the rest of the time he sits in his room either studying or painting his models. Or he's downstairs cooking, baking or playing on his X Box (these days he doesn't even use X Box 'Live' to play games with his peers).

His Facebook page used to have lots of 'likes' and comments. Now it's just him posting and me 'liking'.

This is not good - and I have no idea what to do.

We no longer have CAMHS, not that they were much help on this count. I've tried desperately to open doors for him socially and with suggestions for things like summer voluntary work, part-time jobs, etc where he could meet new people, but he doesn't take the bait. And, as the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't force it to drink.

And now the insomnia is back on school days. Which means it may still be here when it comes to the A Level exams, just as it messed up his AS Level exams last year.

Actually on Friday night it occurred to me that messing up his A Levels and not getting into university this September wouldn't be a bad thing.

It would give us another year to really push for full recovery on ALL fronts, the social interaction front being a priority.

The trouble is, it seems to be completely up to me to come up with a solution, because I can't see it coming from anywhere else - and I have no idea what to do.

No idea whatsoever.

Not a clue.


  1. Social isolation has been a major issue for me as well while recovering from anorexia. In fact, I can actually define a lot of my recent history in terms of social isolation: discovered the girls I thought were my friends actually didn't care at all about me, developed anorexia, started to recover, went to uni and was really lonely, relapsed, restarted to recover, had a lovely 2nd year with my beloved friends, went out on placement and struggled to make new friends, relapsed hard, and now I'm trying to recover and trying to hold onto my friends. It's going well enough. :)
    For me, what was really helpful in the early days, when I had poor social skills and had really been burned by some shoddy friendships, was volunteering, just as you've suggested. I spent that first recovery summer and many summers since volunteering in a museum, at a local arts and ideas festival, and so on. It helped me learn how to talk to people properly, but I have to say it didn't help much with how to maintain a friendship, which is really the hardest part.
    It's really hard work defeating the social isolation, and at the same time the anorexia is trying desparately to maintain the isolation. Vicious cycle, indeed. My suggestion would be to maybe keep pushing the idea of volunteering if you can. He'll hate it at first - goodness knows I did, having to talk to scary strangers! - but there's a huge amount of satisfaction in 'help desk' volunteering, because you can make a positive difference in people's lives. Don't worry if the people around are not at all in the 'right age group'. For me the important skill was how to initiate and maintain conversations. Learning how to hold up friendships comes later, and I admit is a major source of worry for me still (I'm not a good enough friend! they'll hate me if they know what I'm really like! and so on).
    Or perhaps a 'club' of some sort? From what you've said it seems your son likes to cook - if he feels it won't be too much of a trigger, a soup kitchen or cooking classes or something could help. Or gardening? Very soothing and a huge sense of accomplishment when your plant grows and flourishes. He won't like this at all, no doubt, but a knitting club or something of that ilk might be a good direction. It's perfectly acceptable to just sit and stitch quietly for the first few sessions until you find your feet.

    So, that's what's helped me. It'll probably be different for Ben, as it is for everyone. It will be hard, and the first year of uni may well be quite rough whatever you do. Best of luck to you and to Ben!

  2. Batty, I know what your dear S and you are going through as I had the same with my D during her adolescence and early college years, while she was struggling with anorexia. She was socially isolated, because she was actually still malnourished. I didn't realize this until her 20's when we got help to get her accurately and fully weight restored.

    What you are describing are ED behaviors and learning how to socialize with peers will only come when your S is fully weight restored and his brain is healing.

    If there is a way to just focus on helping your S get accurately and fully WR then he will be "free" to learn social skills and how to cope with life.

    My D's life in college was miserable because she was controlled by her ED.
    You are able to help your S to get through this
    and having an extra year would be a gift to him.

  3. So sorry that you have not quite been able to drag out everything that his eating disorder dragged in. Has his eating disorder completely resolved? If not, then I agree with wendy, perhaps you could focus on that, because if his thinking is permeated with the demands of an ED, he might not have much left for being able to socialize.

    Your son was effortlessly social before, so you know he has the capacity for it, and it must be so painful to watch this. You know what he is like with no eating disorder interfering. What does your son think about it? Does he want to be more social? Does he express sorrow over this? Is it he who is holding back or his former friends who don't want to be in contact? Could this be social anxiety?

    It is so hard to watch your child suffer. I know because I have a young adult daughter who has never fully recovered from her eating disorder and is unable to socialize. But she was not able to properly socialize even before her ED manifested at age 11, so she may not be capable no matter what.

    If his ED is gone, then perhaps you can find an expert in anxiety or whatever it is that is causing his problem. If your public health system won't pay, then maybe you can find a way to do it privately.

  4. I am sorry that your son is suffering like this. I too became severely isolated during my anorexia. I still suffer from social anxiety after having recovered for six years, but being healthy mean I have more energy to socialize. Best of luck to you both x