On one hand, yes, writing this blog – and this book – has dug up memories that I might prefer to forget. I have flashbacks and sleepless nights as I recall just how horrific this period was. But here are just some of the reasons why I sat down and decided to write my blog: AnorexiaBoyRecovery. And, why - two years on - I am still writing.
When my only child, Ben, (then aged 15) first began to exhibit symptoms of anorexia over the summer of 2009, I had no ideas that boys got eating disorders. As the mother of a teenage boy I never thought about anorexia. After all, why should I? But this lack of awareness is one of the major reasons why it took so long before the penny finally dropped.
Once I realised that Ben was developing anorexia, I was terrified. I felt isolated. I didn’t know where to turn, what to do or what I should know. And yet the information I was finding suggested that anorexia could be a deadly condition - that people could and indeed do die from it.
Yet, unlike cancer or another life-threatening illness, it baffled me that Ben wasn’t being fast-tracked into treatment. Good grief, I didn’t even know what treatment was available because we were never told. And when, several weeks later, I did eventually get Ben referred we found ourselves on a waiting list that could last for many months.
Each time I asked for Ben’s assessment to be speeded up I was met with a brick wall and comments about “limited NHS resources”. Part of me even wondered if I was imagining everything because, if Ben’s condition was serious, then surely someone would have taken swift action.
But the other part – call it a mother’s gut instinct – told me that something was seriously wrong with my son. And if I didn’t fight, it would get worse. Ben was disappearing in front of my eyes and I had to do something. But I had no idea what I should, or could, do.
So – at the same time as battling with an escalating illness that was rapidly transforming my son physically, mentally and emotionally – I crammed up on everything I could find about eating disorders. I read, I researched and I called helplines. I also found some “stop-gap” private treatment. That is until events took an unexpected and frightening twist and Ben was suddenly fast-tracked into treatment in early 2010.
The point is: I know how terrifying it is to discover your child has a potentially life-threatening condition and be clueless about what to do or where to turn. Right from the start I was acutely aware that I wanted to do my bit to help other families - not only to direct them to useful resources, but to describe our own personal experience of anorexia. Hopefully, this way, other families could see there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and draw on some of the strategies we used to get there.
I’m not a medical or mental health professional. But what I am is a genuine parent who cares about my son and his journey back to health. I also care about other families facing a similar situation – parents of girls as well as boys. My son, Ben, has always been one hundred per cent behind this blog. Indeed it was he that suggested I write it in the first place. No, he doesn’t read my blog. He chooses not to. And Ben isn’t his real name. In fact I don’t use any real names apart from references to relevant professionals. (“Batty Matty”, in case you’re wondering, is my nickname from school days.)
But, as I said above, when you suddenly find yourself on this devastating journey, it can be so reassuring to know that others have been along this road too. To know what they went through, what signs to watch out for, what worked and what didn’t. And, importantly, during those many false summits and disappointments, how they found the strength to continue fighting. Basically, as a parent you have no choice but to fight. You can’t just sit there and do nothing.
My blog chronicles how Ben finally responded to treatment and family support - and how, ultimately, the main thing that helped him get through this illness was the fact his dad and I were always there for him, talking with him, encouraging him, developing our very successful Recovery Contract (see end of book) and so on. I’m not trying to project myself as some kind of awesome Super Mum. Many other people write blogs and books, or get into the media, bringing eating disorders out of the closet and into the public eye. By doing this, they help raise awareness of a taboo subject in a society where eating disorders are often shrouded in secrecy, shame and misunderstanding - and where there is still too little awareness of anorexia in males.
Even if we help just one family fast-track its way through the huge learning curve and get help, then we have succeeded with this blog. And every time a parent contacts me to say how much my blog has helped them, I know it is serving its purpose.
Batty Matty, January 2013