Back in March 2010 I wrote my first post on the online forum that was to become a true life-saver for me and my family as we pushed to get our then 16-year old son through his eating disorder and out the other side: ATDT (Around The Dinner Table).
That first post began: My wonderful teenage son was handsome, confident and popular (especially with the girls!). He was also very sporty, a star player in the school rugby team and the fastest runner in the year. He was also admired throughout the school for his fabulous singing voice....
It went on: My son's extreme behaviour started around November - the manic outbursts, head banging, distorted arguments, free fall into some kind of mental breakdown kind of state, totally isolating himself from his friends, problems at school, obsessive exercise, refusing the eat, the works... no point in listing as I'm sure you'll know exactly what I mean...
It is now March and we have lived with this escalating nightmare for months now. Goodness only knows how long this road will be...
The stress and strain on us, as parents, is massive.
Several heartbreaking paragraphs later it ended: I am sure that every one of you reading this will know what I mean when you feel heartbroken seeing your once beautiful, confident, intelligent, friendly, popular child descend into this wreck of a human being who spots the calorie content on some ciabatta he's supposed to have for tea, becomes a quivering wreck of sobbing, banging head against the wall as if he's about to break his skull...
Over the following months and years ATDT and the wonderful, selfless parents and carers that run it and post on it were to become firm friends, always rushing in with advice and support during the darkest hours as I posted desperate thread after desperate thread. Even during the night - those lonely, solitary hours at 3am when I'd find myself unable to sleep and hugging a mug of cocoa in the living room with my laptop - there would always be someone there; that's the beauty of a truly global forum for parents of young people with eating disorders.
I got to know many of the UK-based mums very well - by their real names via Facebook. I also met up with many of them for coffee, up and down the country. I still do. Yesterday I spent what has now become an annual get-together with one of the mums as we do lunch, various coffees and Christmas shopping in a city that's half-way between our respective homes.
I've also met up with some of the international mums and others in the global eating disorder community when they've visited the UK. I've made so very many friends, each of whom is a very special person, selfless and caring, always willing to rush in and help during the various 'blips' we've experienced as my son worked towards recovery from his eating disorder.
And a special mention has to go to Charlotte Bevan - a UK mum who consistently went 'over and above the call of duty' when it came to supporting other parents until she was tragically taken from us after a long and brave battle with breast cancer. Charlotte was one of the mums who responded to my first cry for help on the ATDT forum with 'love and hugs'.
I still visit the ATDT forum, mainly on the look-out for parents of boys with eating disorders because we're still quite a rarity. Eating disorders seem to mainly affect girls, but more and more boys are falling victim to anorexia, bulimia and the many other variations of an eating disorder. I look out for parents of boys with eating disorders in the hope that I may be able to help in some way by showing that I've 'been there, done it' and come through the other end. As I've always said, the reason for writing this blog is because I don't want other families to go through what we went through. If my scribblings here can help in some way, then it's all been worth it.
But all credit must go to the wonderful and amazing Laura Collins, the American mum that founded ATDT in the first place along with its 'parent' website F.E.A.S.T. which has loads of excellent information for mums, dads, parents, carers, relatives and families of young people with eating disorders.
So if you're a parent of a boy with an eating disorder, please introduce yourself on the ATDT forum. I guarantee you'll be so very glad you did!
CLICK HERE to read 'The 12 days of (ED) Christmas' - a series of posts from Christmas 2011 which talk about the nightmare of living with a young person with an eating disorder (PDF)