This is my first blog post and I must admit I am a little nervous. I thought it might be helpful to tell my readers why I started writing about this subject and a little bit about our journey.
I am the mother of a son who has an Eating Disorder. We first became aware of the eating disorder when he was in his first year of college, but hindsight being what it is, there were signs long before that. He was always athletic. Baseball and weight lifting were his preferred methods of exercise. He started increasing his weight lifting during that first year of college and also increasing the length of time that he was lifting. He started running each day. He became focused on increasing his muscle mass, but cutting fat and being lean. His was very concerned with his abs and the muscular look of his chest and arms. He didn’t feel he was doing enough to stay in shape for baseball and the other sports he enjoyed. He was also very concerned about the quality of the workout and would push himself much harder and run in weather no one else would consider “running weather”. He seemed to punish himself for “slacking off” and appeared to feel some sort of competition or superiority with how much he exercised.
As the exercise increased, his diet changed. He began requesting a salad with our entrée instead of the side dish that was being served. At first it was a quest to find the “healthiest” diet to go along with the exercise, but quickly spun out of control and nearly cost him his life. His diet became restricted to the point where there was almost nothing that he found “healthy” enough to consume. There was no amount of common sense or persuasive arguments that made a bit of difference or effected any change.
My hope with this blog is to provide a “mom’s eye view” of this disorder. I also hope to provide support to those who don’t fall into the “traditional” eating disorder categories and, of course, anyone and everyone dealing with ED. I hope that what we have learned through our successes and failures will help others with their struggle. ED affects everyone closely involved with the sufferer. It places tremendous stress on marriages, siblings, and even affects our relationships with extended family and friends. It completely alters our landscape.
There is a great deal of stereotyping with Eating Disorders. The “typical” eating disorder patient that comes to mind is generally a young female consumed with vanity, overly concerned with looking like a fashion model, or maybe overweight and not fitting in with peers, or perhaps someone who is bullied. This is followed by homosexual males who are viewed in much the same prism as the teenage girls. This attitude directly and indirectly places the blame on its victims. It projects them as weak and effeminate. Often it is presented as selfishness, attention seeking, flamboyance, and manipulation. Very few positive character traits come to mind when most of us think of this condition. It creates a very narrow box for those afflicted and often sends them and their families into denial and hiding. These stereotypes are very far from reality. Eating disorders look like everyone and most don’t fit the stereotype. It can strike at any age and among all socioeconomic classes. It is an epidemic in this country.
My son didn’t fit any of the stereotypes referenced above and I must admit that when I thought of eating disorders back in that day, I was just as guilty of stereotyping. Precisely because my son didn’t fit the “typical” profile, I didn’t recognize what it was until it had advanced much farther than it should have. It also made getting help for him much more difficult because the healthcare professionals didn’t take it seriously either. He was a “jock”, “a little too health conscious”, and on and on. Our road to getting proper treatment was anything but straight or smoothe. It was made very difficult for so many reasons. Some of those reasons were his refusal to accept treatment, the fact that he felt different and thought that he would be looked at as “a teenage girl”, differences of opinion between my husband and I, healthcare professionals not recognizing the eating disorder, denial, fear, etc. One of the biggest obstacles, once realities were faced, was that our son was 19 and considered an adult. HIPPA laws prevented us from receiving medical information or insisting on treatment. We were absolutely helpless to force an evaluation unless we requested an emergency petition and involved the police. He finally consented to an evaluation, but it was a very long and difficult journey. Perhaps someone will benefit from our story.
There is still controversy regarding the cause of eating disorders, but they are becoming more and more accepted as an illness. There are many treatment modalities and one size does not fit all. Many families have found creative ways to deal with recovery in their homes. It was a lot of trial and error in our house coupled with what I hoped was just common sense. In this blog I hope to share some of our successes and failures. My perspective is from the view of a mother as that is the only perspective I can convey with honesty and candidness to my readers. I hope that other caregivers can relate as many of the things I discuss from a “moms” perspective are felt universally among caregivers. I possess no special medical knowledge and so you will often see my writing urging you to consult your treatment team. While “lay” advice, common sense, and recommendations have their place, your treatment team knows your loved one and your family best. I don’t find it helpful or appropriate for someone who is not working in the field and who does not know your loved one to be criticizing your treatment providers, so you will not hear me do that. What I write on this blog is intended to share what I have learned along the way. These are the things that have helped my family and these are the lessons I have learned never to repeat. I do not believe that there is one approach to treating an eating disorder. Humans are complex and not one size fits all. What is best for one individual or one family may not work well at all with another. You are most welcome to take what is written here with a grain, or an Aetna of salt. I am happy you are reading, I welcome your comments and am always open to your suggestions. I hope that you will visit again.