Wednesday 13 November 2013

Some home truths and a lot of 'effs'

When Ben pinged back yesterday evening... again... I played the strong, silent type. Indeed the only words I uttered between the station and home were "Could do," in response to his question "Do you want me to put your chicken dinner in the oven?"

I felt angry, exhausted, deflated, numb and helpless, but in a kind of strict-but-good schoolteacher / GP kind of way. And, probably for the first time for years, I really didn't care how I responded, as long as I responded in a calm but strong, forceful, neutral schoolteacher / GP kind of manner i.e. not yelling or getting upset.

No more words were said until the two of us sat down opposite each other for dinner. Eventually Ben said: "I did something thinking on the train home" and explained that he'd decided to stay at university for the time being. This week is 'Reading Week', so most students seem to have gone home and Sheffield is pretty quiet. It is also the final week in which he can leave without having to pay any tuition fees. But he has decided to stay "because I need some structure in my life" and "because I'm f****d if I'm going to let all the work I've done over the past few weeks go to waste". He said he might leave at Christmas, maybe, and pick up in a year's time.

But he wasn't saying it in a strong, determined, defiant kind of way; more of a 'poor me I'm so rock-bottom depressed I might do anything' kind of way. For example: "The reason I'm back home is because I was so f****d off to be back in my room today that I didn't trust what I might do to myself."

Anyway, to cut a long dialogue short (lasting around an hour), I reminded him that I'd put all the foundations in place for him to help himself get out of this hole: Emily's plan, etc. But he hadn't followed these up. And he'd missed his appointment with Rob on Monday, and hadn't arranged a GP's appointment as instructed by Rob last week.

"But Rob was only going to ask me how my week had been..."

"Er, Rob is a former psychiatrict nurse; he's hardly likely to spend an hour talking with you about what the weather was like last week or whether you got that essay in on time. He is there for you to talk to him like you're talking to me now so he can point you towards the right combo of therapists and support. But you failed to turn up."

And kind of from then onwards the dialogue deteriorated into a "I've f****d-up that, too. Just like I've f****d-up my life. I've f****d-up everything I've ever done" sort of thing... Plus: "I f****d-up by letting the eating disorder take me over and f**k-up the past four years of my life" and "I'm going to f**k-up the rest of my life, too. I'll always be depressed. I'll never make friends, never get married..." etc.

Followed by me explaining in no uncertain terms... again... why he can't blame himself for the eating disorder. How was he to know that's what was beginning to consume him back in 2009? By the time he did, it was too late, and he can't be blamed for that. Anorexia is a biologically-based illness not a lifestyle choice.

And, if he is depressed, then he should do something about it. "You refused medication which would have been a great help right now to raise your mood while you settle into uni. You refused to engage with any of the private therapists I paid for - and refused to engage following the NHS mental health assessment last year. And you missed the appointment with Rob. So you can't just sit here and go on about how you've f****d-up your life and will continue to f**k it up in the future. In Sheffield you have a mountain of support available - and all for free; the best support you'll ever have in your life: Rob, counsellors, the disability support team, Emily, Sam, the live online support service, etc etc, yet you've done nothing to help yourself. Now you come home and expect me to say 'Poor you' and pat you on the head while you sit there sayiing 'Woe is me' etc."

Sorry, but that's what I said. Still in a calm, kind of neutral way. And every time he retorted with yelling, I just told him not to swear at me as I'd done all this stuff for him, dropped everything to put everything humanly possible on a plate in front of him to help him help himself, but he hadn't taken it up.

And, yes, if he was going to eff, then I was going to eff, too.

"I lost all my friends because of the ED and f****d-up my sixth-form years at school," he lamented.

"And I f****d-up some of my sixth-form years, too, for a very similar reason."

"You only f****d-up fifty per cent of it."

"Well, I f****d-up fifty per cent too much. And I decided that I wasn't going to f**k-up the upper sixth year, too, so I made myself do something about it." (And if I remember correctly, it was a talk in a very similar tone to this one that made me stand up and take charge of myself back then, realising that the 'woe is me' attitude was no longer getting the right response.) "So, yes, the eating disorder f****d-up those years of your life, but what you should be doing is saying 'I refuse to let it f**k-up the next five years. I want to stand there in five years' time, look back and know I did something to help myself and I made a success of it'."

"I also f****d-up with every girl I ever went out with."

"Well, I f****d-up with every boy, until I met your Dad." (Resulting in me having nightmares last night about two particularly distressing years of my life which I'd blanked out of my brain, as if they never existed.)

Etc etc.

"You and I are the same genetic make-up," I continued. "Or at least I thought we were. But I must have been mistaken because I'm not seeing any of the 'I'm not going to let this eff up the rest of my life and so I'm going to do something about it' strength here; none of my strength which I thought you'd inherited."

"Well you never had years of your life f****d-up so you never had to be that strong."

"Oh yes I did. What about the years when you were sick? I had to be massively strong, because if I gave up, you could have died. I had to keep going for the both of us and fight for your recovery. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year."

Then I did the old finger-prodding-on-the table-to-make-a-point gesture.

"But where I did f**k up, if the truth be told, was by allowing CAMHS to settle for 'good enough' when it came to your weight restoration and full recovery. All of us - CAMHS and me - were so bl**dy scared of what you might do if we pushed you too hard that we let the ED get away with it. We settled for the 'easy' option because we were terrified you'd pull out of treatment, run away, harm or kill yourself. I let myself be held to ransom and I f****d it up by doing this."

And, my demeanor said, I am no longer scared. I am no longer treading on eggshells. I am no longer afraid to speak the truth. Which, afterwards, it struck me was a bit of a watershed moment for me - a kind of liberation.

Then it was all the old "all therapists are rubbish" stuff and he's "stuck with this depression for life" followed by me saying he never gave any of them a chance and, no, he isn't stuck with depression for life because people get treated for it. If a therapist is rubbish, then you fight to find one that isn't. You don't just walk away and think 'woe is me, I'm going to be like this forever, all therapists are rubbish'."

"But I am so depressed..."

"Then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Don't just sit here at home this week, book an appointment with Rob and another with the GP to talk about medication and therapy. 'Reading Week' is a quiet week so you should be able to get an appointment. Buy a day-return ticket to Sheffield on the train. Help yourself."

Blah blah.

"And now go and do something to cheer yourself up, Ben."

So he did.


  1. I'm so glad this happened. I've always thought you did way too much for him and that he needed to grow up a bit and learn to solve his own problems.
    I mean in my first year of university I was working my butt off so I could afford to see a private psychiatrist behind my parents' backs because they were strongly against me seeing one
    I'm sure you know that an enmeshed relationship with the mother is a key factor of anorexia in girls and it sounds like this might have been similar at times.

    This is the most helpful thing you could do for him right now! Plus I get he's depressed... But that shouldn't stop him trying to get treatment.
    The only time I considered it impossible to get treatment is when I took to the bed and didn't even get up for water... (Of course I got taken to hospital)
    And it sounds like he is far from being that depressed!

    Anyway that was long. Short story: congrats and I am so proud of you for
    Doing this!!

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Anon. Yes, I feel I've picked the right time to back off, but - no - I don't believe I could have done this sooner because, at the time, he was so entrenched in the ED, he simply couldn't move at all.

      Most importantly, though, in response to: "I'm sure you know that an enmeshed relationship with the mother is a key factor of anorexia in girls and it sounds like this might have been similar at times"... for some time now, following extensive research by the world's leading ED professionals, there is shown to be no evidence whatsoever that parents are the root cause of their child's eating disorder - the overprotective mother thing went out with Hilde Bruch and her Golden Cage, a bit like the assumption that anorexia is a 'girl thing'. (Yes, I accept that poor parenting can be a 'trigger' of an ED, just like over-exercise [as was the case with Ben], bullying or whatever it is that triggers excessive and sudden weight loss.) A superb explanation of this can be heard on the BBC radio interview with Bryan Lask, one of the world's #1 in this field, from earlier last month. Click this link to hear the MP3 and move the minute marker to 19.28:

  2. Yeah, I have to say I don't agree with that part of anon's comment! I think the calm detachment you're practising is a good idea given his age and that he's a uni student. Of course things will be a bit different because of his ED history and the same for anyone who's off to uni having gone through mental health difficulties or indeed any other difficulties - it must be a really anxiety-ridden time for you as a parent, and by that I mean compared to someone going away to uni who didn't experience any difficulties during the first 18 years of their life - and I'm sure their parents would worry there too, just it's not in the same way.

    I hope this all works out ok. From everything I know and everything I've read you've been a wonderful mother to him!

    Laura (laura 400)