Personality

Anotherdad asked me at the end of the last post what was involved in the tentative probing our therapy team has done around the beginnings of our daughter’s anorexia, so I thought I’d explain what I can in a new post.

As I understand it, and to quote Mike Scott of The Waterboys, something is the cause of all of this. But what?

Our daughter is a high achiever. At the end of last school year, when they were giving out prizes, one for the student who had most impressed most teachers came her way. As the description suggests, the different teachers of various subjects have a vote on the pupil who should win the award.

The person leading the awards event, a deputy-headteacher who was retiring and who had been at the school since the mid-1970s, said on announcing this particular award that he could not recall another instance of one pupil standing out so strongly in the teachers’ voting. I’m not keen on posting stuff like this because I don’t want anyone to think I’m being vainglorious. But the truth is the truth: the girl is exceptionally bright (must get it from her mother).

A personality that drives someone to excel can be a driver in succumbing to anorexia nervosa, the lead therapist told us. You drive yourself on the whole time and you cannot relax. You need constantly to be achieving something. For some young people, the biggest sense of achievement can be losing weight and being slimmer. The sense of achievement doesn’t last, so you decide that the best thing you can do is lose a bit more weight, and so it escalates.

You try to control food intake and weight and before you know where you are, anorexia is controlling you. Families do not cause this. Teachers do not cause this. Something inside the young person is at the root of the problem: an insecurity, a basic lack of confidence or lack of awareness of your own God-given talent, of how wonderful you are in the eyes of God (for whom I dare not speak, but it’s in the Bible) and in the eyes of your parents (for whom I do dare to speak).

We love this child, so much that even to type the words brings tears to my eyes. I love her. I would give up my life for her, without even thinking about it. I remember the night she was born as though it were yesterday. I remember holding her and talking to her. I remember having sole responsibility for looking after her the following summer and loving every second. I fondly remember her acceptance of her sisters into her life and her routine and the role she had in their youngest years, leading them in play and packing fun and laughter into every waking minute.

How anorexia could befall her is still beyond me, but my wife and I have talked about this quite a lot and we think the signs were always there. She has always been serious about serious things. She hasn’t always found friendship groups easy, treating other children less kindly than we would have liked, but also being envied and victimised by others.

She seems to tire of things easily. All-or-nothing thinking drives her towards shunning anyone who isn’t perfect, which is anyone you care to mention. You are either wonderful or awful, scintillating or stultifying. Sometimes the time-lapse between one and the other is hours.

It seems sometimes that she wants a perfect life: perfect home, perfect family, perfect school performance, perfect social life. Anything that falls short of perfect is useless.

Of course, life isn’t like that and I think that what the therapist was driving at was this: you have to learn to accept the less-than-perfect. It’s hard to do that, but it’s also hard to find perfection. If being thinner is a source of feeling that you’re on the way to perfection, it’s not too hard to see how anorexia can ensue. Anorexia will help you achieve that perfect life you’re looking for … except, of course, it won’t; it will come close to destroying you.

Anorexia is very devious. Good luck to anotherdad and everyone else involved in the battle against it.

Peace to all.

P.

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4 Responses to Personality

  1. Blaketherapy says:

    I just want to say that your daughter is incredibly lucky to have you – a father who wants to help her by not just being there for her but also by educating himself (and anyone else who is interested) about this disease and the recovery process. This is never an easy process to work through, but it sounds like you have a strong team and a strong faith – both are pretty essential to make it through this. It is a bumpy road with lots of ups and downs but the best prognosis is when help is sought early in the illness, so you have that on your side. You have prayers coming your way from the U.S. As well. I love your blog. I think it is great your voice is out there.
    Warm regards,
    Sarah Blake, LCSW
    Sarah Blake Psychotherapy

  2. anotherdad says:

    Dear anorexiadad,
    The best advice our family ever received was from the book Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder, by James Lock and Daniel leGrange. Chapter 3 is entitled “Don’t Waste Time on ‘Why’?” As Drs. Lock and leGrange explain, we actually know very little about the causes of eating disorders, and assuming we know the cause can lead us down paths of treatment that may not be helpful.
    All the best to you and your family

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