Saturday, 28 October 2017

It's vital that the parents get support when their child has an eating disorder

The other day I was having a discussion with a friend about how both of us had little or no support during the months and years that our children were suffering from anorexia. It was almost as if, as parents, it was our job to 'just get on with it'.

The fact that, outside the treatment room, we were having to deal with the hellish nightmare of an eating disorder in the family, hour in hour out, day in day out, month in month out, year in year out was pretty much ignored.

In my city there was a group of parents of eating disordered children who met together every so often at a local eating disorders unit, but it met at 6pm which is useless when you're faced with the Big Meal of the Day at 6pm. It's OK if there are two adults in the house, but with my husband working away it was just me, my son and the eating disorder. So I never got to go along to any of those meetings.

Some weeks, while my son had a private session with the CAMHS psychiatrist, I was given what were referred to as 'parenting sessions' with the CAMHS nurse. It was as if I was partly or even wholly to blame for my son's eating disorder and these sessions were mainly about instructing me to be less anxious (because, apparently, I was passing my anxieties onto my son and that was a Bad Thing). Or just instructing me on how to be a Good Parent.

As opposed, I assume, to a Bad Parent.

As far as I was concerned, I was a Good Parent. I'd always been a Good Parent. But this kind of session had me questioning myself, my emotions, my behaviour and my attitude towards my son.

Rather than being empowered and supported, I felt as if I was being 'told off' and criticised.

Or that's what it seemed like to me.

And I'll never forget the occasion when faced with the age-old comment "he has to want to recover" (before anything can happen), I responded with "What if he never wants to recover?" only to be met with a shrug of the nurse's shoulders.

I was absolutely and completely terrified. And, yes, true fear is ice-cold.

Living with a son or daughter with a serious eating disorder is the equivalent of hell on earth. And, as parents, we're faced with that hell on earth round the clock. The toll it takes on our own mental health and stress levels is exponential. It almost makes me want to laugh out loud when I remember those instructions that my being 'over-anxious' wasn't 'helpful' to Ben and that I was a 'naturally anxious person' who 'went on about food too much'.

Thankfully in more enlightened eating disorders treatment services, parents are supported. Brilliantly. But in other cases I imagine there are still parents like me who are given zero support and just expected to get on with the job.

When coupled with finger pointing and implied blame that job is made a million times harder than it is already. Especially when our child sides with the treatment team and joins in the blame game.

May all parents everywhere get the support they need and deserve.

Parents can also find excellent support on the Around The Dinner Table Forum which is run by parents for parents of young people with eating disorders.

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