We are an ordinary family, married couple with three children, living in a prosperous European city with first-class medical care. In June 2010, we began to worry that our eldest daughter, who will be 13 towards the end of 2010, was eating too little.
At the start it was just that she was refusing second helpings and avoiding sweets and pudding (dessert) at the end of meals. Within weeks, she had cut right down on what she was eating at every meal and exercising compulsively. We approached our family doctor. Two of the doctors in the practice saw her during these initial weeks. They measured her at 1.61 metres in height and 44 kilos in weight. They suggested that we just keep an eye on things.
Before going on holiday, we had become much more worried. My wife said she wanted to pull out of the trip (which was to visit a relative of hers in North America). Back at the doctor’s surgery, we managed at the third attempt to see one of the senior partners. He offered good practical advice and was compassionate and supportive. He called to set up an appointment with the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) in our town. We learned that it would take seven weeks for them to see us.
They were a long seven weeks. At the end of them, our child weighed 37 kilos. She was losing a kilo a week. Thank God she was extremely healthy when all this started.
I want to record what happened over the summer of 2010 and what has happened since our daughter returned to school at the beginning of September. Principally, I hope to find peace and release from putting thoughts and frustrations down in black and white. In the unlikely event that it helps other parents or other sufferers, that will be a huge bonus. I have no great expertise to offer and don’t think I ever will have, but I can tell you which things I have found to be of the greatest importance so far.
1. The child sufferes enormously, emotionally and physically.
2. Eating is difficult. Understood. But the way to become very ill very quickly is not to drink enough. For our daughter that is a minimum of one litre of fluids every day.
3. Seek help immediately. You have to go through the channels, but if you are in any doubt whatsoever, ask. Maybe this can be nipped in the bud. We weren’t able to do that and we feel we took action as fast as possible, but maybe others will be more lucky.
4. Hugs, mutual support, as much patience as you can sum up are essential.
5. Support between the married couple is of the greatest importance. The lowest days we’ve had have been the ones in which we have disagreed with each other. Great sadness is never far beneath the surface. How could it be when you’re watching your first-born child become dangerously underweight.
6. Tackling anorexia is not a job for amateurs. No, no, no.
7. Anorexia is an abysmal condition. I would not wish it on anyone.
If anyone looks in and is nearer the start of the journey than us, please feel free to ask anything. If I can answer, I will. If other parents with greater experience of anorexia than we have chip in with practical advice on how to manage the day to day, I will be deeply grateful. For professional medical help and advice on tackling the condition, I suggest you look elsewhere. I certainly shall.
To sum up, then, I want this to be about family life, not medicine. We are at the start of a long, difficult road. We have faith we will come through this and that our daughter will be well again. Please God.
Best wishes to all who work to help anorexia sufferers and their families put their lives back together. You are my new heroes.