Sunday 29 April 2012

Clearing out stuff and getting to the root of the problem

It started yesterday when I did a much-needed clear-out of the back bedroom. I went through a suitcase full of stuff I'd collected over the years: Ben's primary school reports, certificates and other stuff, and a mountain of stuff I'd collected over the last 7 years to form a lasting memory of his years at the senior school - the school we'd all dreamed of him getting a place at and which, before ED the anorexia 'demon' arrived, was rapidly becoming the making of Ben.

Faced with all this stuff I became painfully aware that Ben's memories of school weren't going to be good memories - for either of us. Most of this stuff I'd collected over the years was, as a result, pointless and there was no reason to keep it: school calendars, concert programmes and tickets, timetables, letters home from the Headmaster, Prize Day leaflets, school summer ball menus and so on and so forth.

So I kept his school reports, photographs, certificates, prospectuses, the letter offering him a scholarship place and the Prize Day leaflet when he won a prize and sent the rest for recycling. Then I sat down and sighed, and mourned the 7 years that could so easily have been the Best Days of His Life if it wasn't for the anorexia that blitzed it all to smithereens, starting over the summer of 2009.

I explored the idea with Ben of further therapy to work on his confidence and social skills - to act as a kind of transition between where he is now and university, to give university and the rest of his life the best possible chance of making up for those lost days at school.

But Ben doesn't want therapy, and our conversation moved onto the reasons why he's not sleeping or going to school: the isolation he feels at school, the way he's so solitary, the way friends talk over him as if he isn't there, the way they arrange social activities right in front of him but don't invite him. "You know I dreamed of going out for walks in the Yorkshire Dales with my friends when the weather got nicer? Well they only did that over Easter. They went on numerous walks, they went to parties, they went to the cinema, they went shopping... and I wasn't invited to any of these."

It was as if Ben was invisible.

"You know when I stay in school for a full day on a Friday? I just sit there, waiting for someone to talk to me, but no-one does. They're all over there and I'm on my own. It's horrible and I hate it."

"Would it make it easier if I arranged a way for you to finish your A Level studies at home?"

"No, I need to be in school. I need to attend the lessons. Crazily I get on brilliantly well with the staff. They treat me as completely normal."

So I explained that, together, we need to find a way of addressing the issues that are causing the anxiety which is, in turn, causing nightmares and insomnia - and which could, ultimately, affect his exams and his dreams of university this September. I also explained that it's no big deal if it does mess up his A levels, they can always be resat and he can aim for 2013 uni entry. But I know he's so mega keen to go to uni this September.

I explained that having some extra help in the way of therapy might just be a Good Thing. But he insists it won't and it would be a total waste of time. And, like the woman at the health centre said to me yesterday, he has to want to have therapy otherwise it won't work - and now, as a legal adult, he has to make the decisions and commission that therapy. Legally, it can't come from me.

So I said we need to find a way of dealing with all of this in manageable chunks. First the period between now and the end of the A Level exams. Then the period between then and results. And finally the period between results and whatever happens in September.

And we need to do this together. "Together we've done brilliant and amazing things over the past two-and-a-half years," I reminded him. "I've become a whiz at finding solutions to problems, no matter how 'hopeless', mainly because I had no choice. If I hadn't found a solution, you could have died. So I became a dab hand at Plans A, B, C... even through to Z and back through the alphabet again if necessary... making the 'impossible' possible.

"You, too, have been brilliant, Ben. After all you couldn't have recovered if it wasn't for YOU working so mega hard at it. I couldn't have done it for you. We did it together. You were brilliant. You've overcome things that few other people of your own age will ever have to face, and you've done it successfully. You are awesome and strong. And I, as your mother who wants the very best for you, who wants you to make the best out of your life and be happy and go on to achieve your full potential in every way, and whose job it is to be here to help you at times when you're finding the going tough... well, I want to work with you to achieve this.

"So have a think this morning and come back at lunchtime and we'll talk it through again. Never forget that we got where we are today by talking and talking, by bouncing ideas off each other and working together. Like with the Contract; it wasn't me imposing my will on you, it had to be a two-way process. We worked on all of this together and we can still work on it. And I want to find a way of solving the problems you are facing now. It is my natural instinct as a mother."


  1. Your son sounds so much like my daughter during high school and most of college. She was socially isolated because she was still in a malnourished state. It was too hard for her to make friends and those who knew her when she was the most ill, had all abandoned her. They were afraid of her ED. I still wonder if your S needs to just focus on getting fully weight restored so his brain can heal. Otherwise all these plans, tests, and future will be wasted.
    If there is a way to use your Team approach to get him in a healthy physiological state, perhaps the emotional state will improve. And he will have an opportunity for a fresh start with new peers. My daughter finally made some very good and caring friends once she was no longer a pawn of ED

  2. Oh Batty, this must be such a hard time for Ben. I remember similar things happening to me at school when I was in recovery, people just treated me as if I wasn't there - you really do learn who your real friends are. I think you are absolutely right to focus on things in manageable chunks. There isn't a long time now until A Levels start, so he hasn't really got much longer at school. Have you got any plans for the summer? I would recommend that he keeps busy - it is a very long break inbetween finishing A Levels and getting results, and the anorexia could relish the opportunity to invite itself back in with all the free time and lack of distractions that Ben will have. Perhaps he could get a summer job and make some new (real) friends?

  3. Batty ive been reading your Blog now for a while, Your last sentence in this post caught my eye. My partners son has ED and at present is now somewhere in his first large relapse since Diag. I see him more as a friend, but not having the parental link allows me to observe from a somewhat detached perspective. As a parent there are responses that you are hard wired for. As he has been through this thing full circle so to speak he has at least a latent awareness of what is happening if not the drive to fight it yet. He is registered for but not yet recieving treatment a a local centre so we are trying to do what we can beforehand. One of the things he has and will do is talk to us about feelings and what seems to trigger his responses. Neither of us is a Psychiatrist :). We are focusing quite heavily on his awareness and deal with situations as they arise. We try to phrase questions that make him at least think whether he wants to take a course of action. I say questions because when we catch a situation the aim is to make him think whether there is an alternative and what else he could do. In short to sow the element of Doubt for ED which is why we steer away from saying no or giving direct answers simply because that would stimulate a resistant response and reinforce ED. Way too early to say whether its working or not but he does seem to at least take it in.