Tuesday 22 January 2019

The rumblings of a developing eating disorder, 10 years ago this spring

10 years is a milestone in a life and, in our family, the past 10 years brought with them a horror that we couldn't have imagined in our worst nightmares. 10 years ago this spring, in 2009, my son began to exhibit worrying symptoms, although back then we had no idea that these were a prelude to a full-blown eating disorder like anorexia. Of course we didn't. We had no idea that boys get eating disorders just like girls.

There was the instance when we drove down to Kent to celebrate Paul's sister's birthday. It was a last-minute decision. Ben had a friend staying with us, so the friend came too. I remember noticing that Ben didn't eat much, if any, of the 'unhealthy' buffet food: sausage rolls, quiche, vol-au-vents, crisps, that kind of thing. On the return journey we stopped off at a motorway service station. While the friend, Paul and I tucked into fried chicken, Ben went off in search of a 'healthier' sandwich.

Then there was the other instance when we headed down to Devon for Easter. Ben was getting increasingly obsessed with his appearance. He was getting snappy and his mood was low. We just put it down to teenage angst.

At the time I wrote a blog for the Weston Mercury newspaper (a local newspaper in Weston-Super-Mare). I described Ben's moodiness on the day we stopped off at Weston for lunch. Here's what I wrote which, looking back 10 years later, seems eerily prophetic...

Meltdown at the Marine Lake

In case you missed it, there was a serious emergency going on by the Marine Lake at Half Term. 15-year old Ben wasn't just having a Bad Hair Day; he was having a Total Image Meltdown...

So there was NO WAY he was getting out of the car when we arrived in Weston from Yorkshire.

His hair was all wrong. Just as tragic, he'd left his rock star sunglasses at home. His (positively concave) abs were "fat" and the face-wash he'd pinched off me had given him spots.

"You look wonderful", I sighed for the umpteenth time as he carefully positioned each expensive 'putty' covered hair into place.

"I beg to differ", he said in a condescending way, pouting his lips in the car mirror and scrutinising his face from each side.

Honestly, it's worse than having a daughter. He spends more time getting ready in the morning than I ever did. And in my day we didn't have hair straighteners, ionic hairdryers and half the goo, wax, putty, gunk and gel you can get these days.

It was so much easier when Ben was little. Back then he was content with a quick short back and sides at the barbers. A quick rub with the towel, a free lollipop and he was as happy as Larry. Or if funds were tight, a swift once-over with his dad's electric clippers.

Now he's taken a liking to the rather pricey hair salon I use. Even the 'graduate stylist' costs a sharp-intake-of-breath-inducing £26... Add on the tub of hair goo and you don'’t get much change from £35.

The only consolation is that hubby Paul's hair costs absolutely nothing to maintain. He’s as bald as a coot.

Anyway, walking towards the Marine Lake Ben was taking a critical sideways glance into every window.

He was pinching bits of "fat" on his stomach and checking if his (skinny) bum looked "too big"... "Do you think I'm good looking?" he asked doubtfully.

"I think you look wonderful!" I replied brightly, worrying he may be bordering on the anorexic. But then remembering how he enthusiastically cleared his plate the evening before and feeling reassured it was "just a phase".

"I'm going to dye my hair black", he said. "Oh, and I'm planning to become a Buddhist."

"You're WHAT?!"

But he wasn't listening; he was busy texting his mates. "They've gone into Leeds shopping", he said, hating being stuck with us in Weston on a Bad Image Day and scowling as Paul takes a photo of him and me on the beach as we walk towards the Pier.

The one that he later decided looked cool enough to put on Facebook, despite the Image Crisis. Without me, of course. I was airbrushed out.

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