Friday 29 March 2013

The conversation I did - and didn't - have with Mrs X

A little while ago I re-joined the gym after a four year break although, these days, it's more of a relaxation thing; I spend most of the time in the pool and sauna. Anyway, today, who should I come across but Mrs X, one of Ben's old primary school teachers. Back in the pre-ED days she and I would chat regularly in the gym changing rooms - she on her way back from school and me on my way to pick up Ben from after-school rugby. We also bumped into each other on the ferry back from France following our disastrous holiday in Cognac in summer 2010 and had a long chat up on deck. So today we had a curious conversation (curious from my perspective because of what I didn't say). It went something like this:

Me: Hi, I haven't seen you for AGES, not since the ferry back from France! [Where, if you wondered why I was keeping my eyes on Ben like a hawk and behaving a bit strangely at the time, it was because I was worried he might jump ship.]

Mrs X: How is Ben? My two are back home after university. Who would have thought it? Eating me out of house and home, treating the house like a hotel and leaving the place like a tip. You don't realise how much you value your independence until they come back!

Me: Ben is fine. He's in the middle of his gap year which he decided to take at the 11th hour [in other words, after attempting two days at university and finding he couldn't handle it because of the devastating remnants of the anorexia which he'd already been suffering from for over a year when we met you on that ferry. We'd just returned from the holiday-from-hell but I made out that we'd had a fantastic time, lol!] He's busy doing lots of voluntary work. Oh, and he's back at W---------- School, teaching lower sixth formers would you believe!

Mrs X: Is he! I must tell them all in the staff room, they'll be really impressed!

Me: Yes, he's doing just fine. [Did any of them ever know about Stephen Z who used to bully Ben in year 6? Did you know about it?]

Mrs X: I haven't seen you round here for a while?

Me: Well, no, you know what it's like... I decided to take a bit of a break... [because Ben developed anorexia and we spent the next few years battling with an illness that threatened to kill him. Our lives were hell. It's only recently that he's come through it although he's still not the Ben you used to know. Not Ben who was Captain of his House at your school, who was a Prefect, who won a prize on Prize Day and whose name is etched in gold lettering on the oak board outside the staff room which lists all the pupils that have won scholarships to independent senior schools. Ben is listed as having won two academic scholarships, if you remember, one for W-------- School and one for A-------- College. Good God, we were so proud of  him and so were all of you!]

Mrs X: So he's off to university in September?

Me: Yes, it's all systems go [hopefully...]

Mrs X: Well, take my advice and make sure he calls you once a week just to let you know he's still around. You know what students are like... they forget about calling home; there's far too much other stuff going on!

Me: I will! [Too right, I'll be getting him to call me. In fact he'll be living at home for half the week anyway because he is still unable to cope with going away to university full time. And when he is at uni, I'll be keeping a watchful eye to make sure his recovery continues to move in the right direction and he never has a relapse.]

Ah, I thought to myself, how much water has gone under the bridge since I last met Mrs X in the gym changing rooms... And she would never in a million years imagine that Ben, one of their star pupils and someone she's always had a soft spot for, would develop anorexia nervosa - an illness that would destroy the final three years of W----------- School. Oh how I used to keep her up to date in those changing rooms with news of Ben's victories on the sports field and in the classroom...


  1. watching The History Boys in honour of Richard Griffiths and thought of your history boy.

    I must admit to having let one mother believe that my daughter was spending a couple of terms STUDYING at Oxford University rather than as an Inpatient in Oxford psychiatric hospital. It just seemed too difficult to do all the explaining.

    1. Reminds me a little of that play "Cold enough for snow" with Maureen Lipman. xxx

  2. Recently, I bumped into a school friend I'd not seen since I was 18. We are now both 47 years old. She is Director of a successful company and married with a teenage son. (In fact all my friends from school are married with kids and they all work...). She asked about me... I felt a Big Failure informing her that I had to stop working due to mental health problems, had never married and never had children. (To be honest, I would never have coped with having children and had no urge to procreate). She replied "but you were always the brainy one at school" (which I was.. I always came top of the class in maths and science subjects). She then added "but I remember you were very thin in High School; did you have anorexia?". I responded "not just anorexia; that was just one of my diagnoses". I came home and cried. It would have been easier to bullshit.

    1. Ah but getting married and having children isn't always a bed of roses... Never forget, Cathy, about the vast knowledge you have and how useful and helpful you have been to so many people in the world of EDs and MH - you are one of our biggest "fonts of knowledge". That, in itself (as well as being a lovely person!), is an achievement that deserves praise!! xxxxx

    2. You're so sweet, Batty... Thank you... I do my best xxx

  3. Batty's right Cathy, you are indeed such a lovely and helpful person - and much braver than I was in my conversation. Unlike my fellow mother your friend will have had cause to reflect on the subject of mental illness and may even be in a position to do something about it whether through her company or in supporting her son and/or his friends.