I feel somewhat fraudulent putting my name on this post since in reality, the ideas and thoughts contained in it were given to me by my husband. I guess we can call it a collaboration, but it’s pretty much all his intellectual property. I’m kind of like the ghostwriter, except it’s my name on the blog.
When our daughter was first diagnosed with anorexia, there were so many things that we didn’t know or understand.
For example, we didn’t realize the enormously destructive potential of the illness, or how rapidly she could deteriorate. We should have attacked the anorexia full force by putting our daughter in an intensive treatment program. We were told about a place called Shahaf which worked wonders with anorexia patients, but it cost an exorbitant amount of money. At that point, at the beginning of our daughter’s illness, we weren’t convinced of the necessity to “throw money” at what could possibly turn out to be a small problem. Of course we would seek treatment, but we started with the program recommended to us through our health fund (kuppat cholim) which was by far a more cost effective choice.
When it became evident that this program was not cutting it, and our daughter was going to need hospitalization, we felt a certain amount of relief. Our daughter was going to get more intensive help, and it would cost us nothing. As I have already written here, this hospitalization was a fiasco; a tremendous mistake which caused lasting, catastrophic harm.
After our daughter’s hospitalization, her life was hanging in the balance. We had no choice at that point but to pay Shahaf’s expensive fees—everything became inconsequential except saving our daughter. Thankfully, Shahaf delivered on their reputation. We should have gone to them in the very beginning and bitten the financial bullet then; if we had, the path of our daughter’s illness would most likely have been very different.
The upshot is, choose the best treatment even if it’s expensive. You are not a “sucker” for passing over cheaper options. You may only have one shot at treating your child’s eating disorder, make it count.
Another pitfall we experienced was not understanding how anorexia steals a person’s cognitive ability to think logically. As a rational person, my husband thought at the beginning that he could have a rational conversation with our extremely intelligent daughter and convince her through logic that her anorexia was destructive. For example, he thought that he would ask her if she wanted to have kids, and she would answer “yes”. Then he would ask if she was getting her period and she would answer “no”. Then he would point out that if she never got to a weight where her period was restored, she could never have children, and she would see the light of reason and agree to gain weight. However, what neither of us fully comprehended was that anorexia is a mental disorder that wipes out logic and rational thought. So no matter how logical or rational our arguments were, we could never win. When you are used to using logic and reason in all realms of your life to prove your point, and it suddenly fails, you are left flustered and frustrated—you have no idea how to get through to your child.
As a parent, when you see that your child has a problem, you reach out to try and help. When anorexia is in play, instead of accepting the help, your child often resents you for what you are trying to do because even though YOU know with absolute certainty that your child is ill and needs help, the anorexia won’t allow her to see the situation for what it is. Anorexia causes a severe impairment called anosognosia that won’t allow a person to recognize her own illness. So the anorexia will convince your child that you just don’t understand, that you are trying to destroy her, that all you do is get in the way of her most precious goal (starvation), and that you are cruelly punishing her when you make her world stop until she eats. While you are reaching out to your child, her anorexia is viciously pushing you away, and it hurts.
Once we realized what anorexia really was, my husband told me that he would prefer if our daughter had a different illness, even one that is worse, because at least we would all be on the same page fighting the illness. We would all work together to beat the “common enemy”. We would pull together as a united front, with mutual love, as a family team, instead of working against our own child.
I have written about being a Mama Warrior, but my husband is also a Papa Warrior who feels responsibility to protect his clan and feels intense failure if things go wrong and his child is suffering. Initially, there is self-blame—I raised this child and something went very wrong, therefore, I must be to blame. As the head of the family, the weight of failure was heavy upon him. However, he believes as do I that you can get over the blame once you understand that nothing you did caused the illness. Anorexia is a brain based illness, and predisposition plays a huge role. We have triplet daughters, and only one of them developed an eating disorder–the one who fits the “anorexia personality profile” to a T.
However, even after ditching the self-blame, my husband still feels a sense of failure that stems from the paternal feeling of “the buck stops here”. He feels absolute responsibility for our children, and one of them is ill. No matter what he does, no matter what we do together, we can’t completely banish our daughter’s anorexia. Though Thank G-d it is much better than it was and her health is improved, the anorexia is still there, dominating the quality of her life. And while my husband hopes that our other children will learn a valuable lesson from how we have dealt with extreme adversity and how we have fought for their sister’s life, there is no doubt that they have been scarred by their sister’s anorexia, which exacerbates my husband’s sense of failure. The entire family got hurt on his watch. While he doesn’t blame himself, he does feel the weight of responsibility.
The lack of being able to reason with your child, the adversarial relationship caused by anorexia, the feelings of failure as a parent, and the frustrating inability to make your child better causes both fathers and mothers immense and devastating emotional pain. We were lucky to have an amazing family therapist who taught us that it’s okay for us to distance ourselves from our daughter’s anorexia. It’s okay, and even advisable at times, to take a few steps back. This went against our natural inclination as parents, but it was the absolute right thing to do in order for us to reclaim our lives and put our family back together again.
Personally, my perspective is somewhat different. I feel like we were dealt a crappy hand of cards, and we continue to play them to the best of our ability. Over the past seven years, sometimes the cards got better and sometimes they got worse. But despite it all, we haven’t folded; we are still in the game, and that’s got to count for something.