Saturday, April 05, 2008

Recovering from anorexia: a parent's journey


I've come to realize that this is the year I'm recovering from our family's struggle with anorexia. It's been just about three years since my daughter Kitty got sick. She's been physically healthy for nearly two years, and mentally healthy for almost that long. She's happy, engaged in the world, healthy in every measure. For her, anorexia is thankfully in the past.

For me, though, it still feels very present. It took me a while to realize this because things are so positive.

It's little things that trigger the feelings for me right now. Things like the image above, which appeared in our local paper recently as part of an article about a student art show at the university here. It's called "The Fruit Eaters," by student Aniela Sobienski, and looking at it puts me right back in the land of anorexia.

Another trigger: Last night we went to see the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day. Great movie, about a proper middle-aged woman who finds herself in unusual circumstances. (Go see it. It's worth it.) Every time the main character tries to eat something it escapes her--it falls on the ground, someone knocks the food out of her hand, etc. In one scene she's having a facial; the attendant puts two slices of cucumber on her eyes and walks out. Closeup to her face, which is covered in goo that makes it look bizarre and distorted. Miss Pettigrew looks around and then eats the two cucumber slices. The look on her face is positively blissful.

Me? I was right back in anorexia land.

Maybe some of this reaction is because I am writing the book about our family's experience that I've been wanting to write for a while. It's a useful catharsis for me and, I hope, useful for others.

I can't imagine what this process of recovery is like for parents who have been pushed out of their child's recovery. Who have been the victims of "parentectomy." I am so grateful that we went the route we did in helping our daughter through anorexia.

6 comments:

Bri said...

Can I ask what it is about The Fruit Eaters that triggers you? (If it is too painful or too personal to share, I understand!)

Mrs. B said...

Harriet,

I am so hapy that your family survived and is doing well.I hope one day mine can say the same thing. I imagine that you put so much energy into getting them well, you don't have time to think about anything else. right now it feels like a really thick fog, with a few glimpses of sunshine at the end of it. YOu know how you know the sun is shining but you can't see all of it yet. I can't wait until the fog is lifted and the sky is blue again.

Harriet said...

bri,
it's the extreme thinness of their bodies, their heads that look way too big, the fact that they're all girls, and their blank and haunted looking faces.

it's all way too reminiscent of aspects of my daughter when she had anorexia.

queendom said...

I know it is very different from a parent's perspective, but I think in a way I am still struggling with some of my memories from the time during which my older sister was anorexic - and that was 20 years ago. Part of this has to do with still being stuck in my own ED - I cycle between full-blown episodes of binge eating disorder and chronic dieting - and I am constantly asking myself the question why she found her way out of her (physically more serious) disorder while I am still stuck. Part of it has to do with the fact that she (who is eight years older than I am and who has been my hero as long as I can think) said some really hurtful things when she was anorexic, for example that my parents just wanted to make her fat like me and my other sister. (I know of course that she did not say this to hurt me and that she wouldn't have said it if she wouldn't have been anorexic - still, I find it difficult to put it not just intellectually but emotionally into perspective. The fact that she still has a problem that I am fat doesn't make it easier.) Finally, and this might be the most stupid thing of all, I have a hard time that she was anorexic while I got BED. People (or at least my family and friends) generally connect being anorexic with being ambitious, being perfectionist, and having strong will-power. BED on the other hand is often thought to indicate the opposite. I am a hell of a perfectionist and I think I am ambitious (at least I aim quite high). But looking at my “performance” in life I seem to lack willpower, and that sometimes makes me think that people are right, at least in my case. In those moments part of me wishes I could be anorexic. That is incredibly stupid at worst and quite silly at best, for even if anorexia is indeed somehow an "indicator" or willpower, it shows that willpower can be destructive - and yet I have a hard time with that.

marcella said...

Harriet - I share your problem with the picture. As for "The Incredibles" well don't even go there. However I do think that in some ways it's just that because we have the enormous hammer of fear and horror that goes with loving someone with these awful illnesses in our hands, everything begins to look like a nail.

Toby Wollin said...

I believe that strong emotions leave "markers" in your head - I cared for my mom when she developed multiple infarct dementia for 7 months at home and then the next 6 months while she was in the dementia unit of a nursing home. When all of your emotional and psychological focus is on what you can do for this one person - will they get better? will they get worse? living literally on the edge all the time...that leaves markers. three years later, I still wake with a jerk in the middle of the night, imagining I am still sleeping on her couch at her home, not knowing if she's trying to escape from the house, if she's wandering around, etc. So, I think this is going to take a while.