Living with a child with an eating disorder is tiring, challenging and often very isolating. I know my own parent’s compromised their social contact and lost out on experiences with friends due the emotional fatigue and time restraints the illness caused them.
It is very important to remember the wellbeing of the wider family and carers is just as crucial as supporting the sufferer.
For optimal recovery the support system around them needs to be at it’s strongest – you are their fortress - but your needs should not be discounted, and for you to be a solid rock for them you need to have your needs met as well.
I first met Janet Richards approximately seven years ago; sadly it was under unfortunate circumstances since it was her daughter, Emma, now one of my dearest friends and fellow recovery troopers, who also received inpatient treatment at the same psychiatric hospital as me.
Since supporting her daughter through anorexia, Janet Richards, Emma's strong-minded and determined mother, now works alongside Winchester CAMHs (child and adult mental health services), setting up a parent ‘buddying’ system through the ACE programme they have already running there.
Below she shares her an insight to her story and 12 "top-tips" for parents, friends and carers, who are living with the commotion and confusion that having an eating disorder can cause.
Hello, this picture of my daughter and me was taken whilst away in Gran Canaria earlier this year. Six years ago, I couldn’t even dream of a holiday as Emma was receiving in-patient treatment psychiatric unit for anorexia nervosa. This was where we met the lovely Joss and that friendship between the girls has continued.
The two years were horrendous, but we got through it and now she is an amazing young woman studying for a degree in mental health nursing. During the desperate dark days early on, I attended a support group who had invited a mum and her daughter recovering from anorexia. It gave me so much hope that I hung onto their story - it was a light at the end of the very dark tunnel. Since then I have tried to give support as an ‘expert parent’ to other parents now in similar situations either through ED support groups or individually. But I am one person, and so through the ACE programme that Wnchester CAMHS is running I am developing a ‘buddying’ programme to encourage other parents and young people to become buddies to help support those in need.
So when I am asked about the advice I would give to parents with youngsters struggling with Eating Disorders, I try and make it as simple as possible. So I’ve come up with a list of things that I wish someone had told me when my daughter was going through her dreadful journey.
And don’t you just love the benefit of hindsight!!! Here goes:
Don’t waste energy on blaming yourself, anyone or anything else - you’ll need all your energy to preserve your sanity!
Maintain positive intent - in order words you have absolute conviction that they will recover.
Realise you can’t make them better - the only one that can is them!
Ensure that you have a core of resilience & strength, which means taking care of yourself by taking time out to do ‘nice’ stuff for you.
The medical professionals know the theory but are very unlikely to understand the suffering - they will probably lack any practical experience with a loved one suffering, so try and find someone who has lived the nightmare & can give you support.
You will be their absolute rock whatever they throw at you (& I do mean physically!) so don’t underestimate how important you are to them.
Try and keep an environment that optimises their chance of recovery -In terms of action, you can try and ensure that they have an environment in which they can recover themselves. Examples being:
Staying calm (as possible)
Having a life yourself, which means going out for dinner with friends/partner - yes if it is at a mealtime!
Don’t add stress by going on holiday together - if you need a break take one on your own or with just your partner
Establish boundaries & stick to them even though they are very ill individuals
Drink red wine - it can soften the pain & get you through the next meal!
Don't walk on egg shells: Walking on eggshells (or being afraid of saying the wrong things!) isn’t going to make them better so don’t get twisted up on thinking about how to say stuff - say it with love, compassion but positive intent!
Recognise the excruciating fight going on in their brains - its exhausting for them.
Recognise that your son/daughter is still there, but has been hijacked by an evil spirit. You will get odd glimpses of them & hang onto those sightings.
Everyone’s journey is different but you are not alone....
For more information about supporting your child and yourself please look at the following links: