Thursday, 20 July 2017

Processing anger - and the cardboard BMI calculating wheel

During the 18 weeks I was with Steve, my EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapist, we processed a ton of stuff relating to my son's eating disorder. (We picked out the key issues that were haunting / bugging me still in 2017 in the hope that, by focusing on these, other issues may get processed at the same time.) One of the major issues was anger. I mean, ANGER. Even A. N. G. .E. R. Anger at those in the medical profession who made my life more difficult as the parent of a teenage boy with anorexia and, I believe, may actually have prolonged my son's eating disorder.

I wasn't too sure that I wanted to lose this anger, though. The anger made me more motivated to blog and write about eating disorder awareness. It made me more confident e.g. to speak about eating disorders at conferences. And I felt justified at feeling this anger. I couldn't see how 'processing' it through EMDR or any other post-trauma therapy model might remove it. In a way, I didn't want it to be removed.

But it was a kind of impotent anger. Anger at stuff that was now history. Anger at attitudes that may no longer exist as medical professionals become increasingly aware of and educated about eating disorders (especially in boys and young men) and newer, more evidence-based treatment models are introduced for dealing with eating disorders in adolescents (e.g. FBT - Family Based Therapy).

So, as regards my anger, there was a dilemma. On one hand I felt empowered by the anger and felt that it was very much part of who I've become following my son's eating disorder. On the other hand I felt trapped by it as my brain re-visited various key situations over and over again, like nightmarish revolving doors, solving nothing and re-living everything.

Steve asked me to bring to mind a memory that epitomised this anger - simply what kept coming into my mind when I felt angry. What did I see? ("I see the CAMHS nurse twiddling with a cardboard wheel to work out my son's BMI following the weekly weighing session," I said. Ben has been told his weight and how much he has gained or lost since the previous week. The nurse is calculating his BMI and it's smiles all round because his BMI has just slipped back "into the healthy range". I say smiles all round, but my son isn't smiling and neither am I. I know for a fact that he will 'punish' me all the way back to our house afterwards and go crazy once we're indoors [which brings other memories to mind]. Then he will spend the rest of the week trying to lose the "massive weight gain" of a few points of a kilogram.)

Steve asked me to hold that picture in my mind as he did the EMDR stuff (moving two fingers in front of my face at varying speeds - sounds weird and mumbo jumbo-ish, but that's how EMDR is carried out - read more about it here). At this stage he didn't want me to describe the event verbally, just to see where my mind took me.

Other events kept pinging into my mind, primarily at CAMHS, but I kept going back to this confounded BMI wheel and the smiles on everyone's faces. ("Ben's done so well!" they were saying...)

Steve asked me to score how strong my emotion was in the hope that it would reduce from a '10' (out of 10) to zero. And if not zero, then what did I think was holding me back from a zero?

Although we successfully processed a lot of stuff that was still very much present and still raw in my head, I'm not certain that we processed all the anger. And that may be because I am purposefully hanging onto it. In a post-eating disorder world, this anger feels kind of part of me. It also makes sense to me that I will always be angry at all the obstacles that were thrown in our way - from the GP visits onwards. It wouldn't be realistic for the anger to disappear, I explained to Steve. And this is why I don't believe we would ever get it to a zero.

But hopefully what I feel now, following EMDR, is a more productive and healthy anger in that things have moved on since 2009/10. In our city (and also thankfully in some other areas of the UK), treatment for eating disorders has improved. Parents are seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Children are weighed blind and - I hope! - there is not so much emphasis on BMI as an indicator of the severity of an eating disorder. Put simply, the treatment model that would be used today is very different from the treatment my son received all those years ago.

So, although I still have my anger, it feels as if it's in proportion to everything rather than being out of control, very 'now' and raw. A healthy 'past-tense' anger rather than an obsessive, impotent anger. It's an anger that can be stored away in a box and put on a shelf rather than an anger that permeates every cell in my body and brain.

And the cardboard BMI calculating wheel has long been pulped and recycled as toilet paper.

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