Sunday 7 May 2017

The animal instinct to 'protect our young' kicks in when we see our child suffering

I am not a scientist or a physician, but - as a mother of a boy who's been through and recovered from anorexia - I know what a punishingly difficult illness this is to treat successfully. I've read a ton of stuff over the last 8 years as well as attending eating disorder conferences, talking with eating disorder professionals and mixing with other parents who have been through an eating disorder in the family. What comes across clearly is that some treatment models work for some families whereas other models work for others. And some are more evidence-based than others, especially when it comes to treating adolescents with an eating disorder. So, to me, it's not rocket science that clinicians employ the evidence-based model first and if that isn't working, then try something else.

Here in my home city, there's been a massive shift in the approach to and treatment of eating disorders recently. If an adolescent were to present today they probably wouldn't get the same approach that we got all those years ago. These days, in our city, treating adolescents with eating disorders has become much more of a specialised discipline and families are much more involved in the process.

It is so difficult for a parent entering the horrific world of eating disorders for the first time.

We know nothing. We weren't expecting this to happen, especially if we have male children.

But, when we see our child in danger, the animal instinct kicks in - that instinct that, in my case, I first experienced the moment my son Ben was born 23 years ago. The instinct that we will fight for our child, even walk across hot coals to ensure their survival when faced with danger. And, with an eating disorder, it doesn't take too many trawls around the Net to discover that eating disorders can be fatal. So the "I'm going to get my child through this even if it kills me" instinct kicks in even stronger.

It's something you see in nature - the mother lion protecting her cubs from danger and so on.

So, when you're going through treatment for an eating disorder and this instinct says that your child is getting worse and not better, you feel a primeval need to fight, to question, to understand why this particular treatment method will save your child's life.

And when you see their weight heading south and the eating disorder behaviours and moods getting stronger, you start to panic, and with this panic comes the ice-cold fear that your child could die.

On top of this you are darn tired. Exhausted.

My point? As you'll have seen if you've been reading my recent posts which look back at the early months of CAMHS treatment for my son's eating disorder, I was very frightened. I also felt helpless. On top of this there was the need to understand why this particular treatment model was right for my son. Pinning down the CAMHS team to ask questions was extremely difficult and I never did discover which treatment model they were using.

Added to this were the messages that whatever I was doing wasn't "helpful" to my son and that I should take more of a relaxed attitude - a back seat, if you like.

Yet my gut instinct was screaming out to do the exact opposite. Especially as I was with my son 24/7 whereas the CAMHS team saw him for just 60 or 90 minutes a week, and not every week at that. Yesterday I found a note I'd made at the time which said that CAMHS were thinking of moving the sessions to monthly rather than weekly...

What I was seeing at home wasn't the same thing they were seeing at the treatment sessions.

I don't for one moment believe that if I had taken a back seat and stopped talking about food or insisting that Ben ate that it would have helped him to recover faster.

As Ben's mum, knew him better than anyone else. And, like mothers of many species, there is the primeval need to keep your young safe - and alive.

Unless you are a mother you could never understand this instinct.

So this is why I was panicking and questioning so much during this critical time in Ben's eating disorder treatment.

Not getting in the way. Not undermining the therapy. Not causing triangulation.

Just desperate to save my son's life.

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