What makes a beautiful, talented, intelligent teenage girl so hell bent on destroying herself?
We have spent the past three years trying to find the answers and it seems that there are many. Everyone has an opinion ranging from my divorce to attention seeking, from bullying to ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome; the fear of taking responsibility for one’s own life. I have spoken to Daisy for hours on the subject of her triggers and there is a definite lean towards her perfectionism. I read somewhere that anorexics are missing the ‘sod it’ gene. The one that allows most of us to flop down on the sofa and forget it until tomorrow, or the next day or the next! Daisy has had a tendency to be very controlling in her immediate daily life but thinks nothing of dumping all her stuff on the living room floor or in mine or her brother’s room. As long as her immediate surroundings are clean and tidy, she can relax. Her hair, clothes, personal hygiene and now her food must be neat, symmetrical and perfect before she can tackle the world.
She left primary school as a high achieving child who had great potential and the world seemingly at her feet once she started high school – but she wasn’t well enough to start. Was she afraid that she couldn’t keep up the high standards she’d set herself? That she’d be a little fish in a big pond? I believe these were big factors in her eating disorder. There was also some bullying involved. Early developers run in our family and Daisy was no exception. I can vividly remember helping her out of the shower one evening and thinking ‘Oh my goodness, this girl is going to be a stunner.’ Everyone thinks their child is beautiful – and they all are in their own way – but this one was at the front of the queue for hair, eyes, legs and teeth – the gene pool had been kind to my girl and it was one of those moments when you flash forward ten years and see what’s coming! So it was obvious that there would be pre-teens who were either unable to express their admiration or jealousy in any other way apart from name calling, taunting, teasing and in one case, repeated comparison of body weight. This particular child stayed over one night and the girls were on the WiiFit. This computer fitness game involves first analysing the player’s statistics and this child, some half a meter shorter and physically immature, repeatedly asked Daisy to remind her of the difference in their weight. This went on without my knowledge for days and weeks and at the same time, the boys had been teasing Daisy about her blossoming figure and added to her self-consciousness. They were taken to task by the school but of course, unbeknownst to me, the damage was done.
Daisy began restricting her calorie intake in April 2013. In hindsight, which is indeed a wonderful thing, alarm bells should have rung when she returned from a trip to her Dad’s at Easter with a suitcase full of chocolate that she hadn’t eaten because she was ‘on a fitness regime for Sport’s Day.’ It’s worth mentioning here that her arch rival in the 800m was the same child who bullied her about her weight. She told me that she wanted to cut down on sweets and fizzy drinks and could I start buying wholemeal bread and pasta? I thought this was a great idea. I have struggled with my weight since having three kids in five years and I was more than happy to go along with Daisy’s new regime in the hope of her getting fitter and all of us having a healthier lifestyle. She also joined a gymnastics and athletics club that year and was still ballet dancing once a week. As she had always been a physically active child, no alarm bells rang. I know now that during those first few months, she cleverly hid her restriction by eating less food at mealtimes but then having an ice cream or a slice of cake to reassure me that she was still eating ‘normally’. She shot up in height during these months and her slightly slimmer figure didn’t worry me at all; in fact, she had an amazing summer taking prizes in song writing, flag designing, athletics, music and dance and she looked stunning at her Primary Prom. It was just after this that things started to go horribly wrong.
Daisy spent eight months on a psychiatric ward where they re-fed her and got her weight up to a ‘normal’ level with the aid of an NG tube. When it came out, she found it very hard to eat normal food without the threat of the compulsory feed but she managed it… For a while.
As so many eating disordered people do, she relapsed and was finally admitted to a specialist unit, this time in North West London, a good two hours away from home. This ‘no messing’ approach was a properly researched regime and was very effective for the months she was there and for a a while afterwards. Since her discharge, old habits have crept back in and although she has been able to go to her own high school for the past couple of years and is working at a high level in all subjects, at the time of writing she is borderline readmission which means that she is at high risk of being sent to another specialist unit a lot farther from home than the last hospital. She lives in fear of that but is still not always enough to keep her moving forward with her recovery. Mealtimes are stressful, often traumatic for Daisy and for all of us. I have to do my very best to keep calm around the food but it isn’t easy. It is a mother’s instinct from the moment their child enters the world to feed them. Anorexia creates a very strong barrier between me and Daisy. I can’t force feed her. I have to watch as she chooses to waste away her beautiful body. Her hair and nails break, her skin is sallow, she has recurrent throat infections and her anxiety presents itself as a very low mood. She has had moments when she has declared that she wants to die rather than have to eat. They have been the hardest to take. When you are doing everything in your power to help your child to thrive and their own mind becomes the enemy, it is extremely difficult to maintain the separation between them and the eating disorder. Daisy was encouraged to name the illness and I was told it would be easier to see it a different entity. I have read reports that the earliest known cases of anorexia were probably recorded as demonic possessions and I can see why. My mild mannered, softly spoken daughter has certainly been taken over by something that isn’t welcome and is clinging fast to her. She is in danger of losing her health, her education, her friends, her ambition and ultimately her life. Dramatic? Not at all when one in four cases will end up dead. The thought makes me feel sick to my stomach.