1983 – Karen Carpenter, dead at 33. What? Why? How? Anorexia Nervosa. What does that even mean? Heartbreaking.
2007 – 24 years later. My daughter, near death at 17. What? Why? How?
Anorexia Nervosa, this monstrosity of a disease would take hold of my daughter. I say monstrous because it felt as though a monster had come and replaced my sweet girl. A monster with many names, disguises and a will to survive like no other. My beautiful little girl, a kind, obedient and loving soul would become alien to me and enter a nightmare lasting more than 10 years. My daughter would be diagnosed, misdiagnosed, treated, mistreated and ignored. What madness a starving brain can produce and manifest!
The medical profession went through the whole alphabet, but I still had no answers. “Well, it could be…
- Bipolar I or II
- Suicidal Ideation
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Artistic Temperament
- Passing Phase
- Sexual Identity Crisis
- Chronic Sinus Infections
- Vasovagal Syndrome
- Addiction to Caffeine, Nicotine, Stimulants, Laxatives, Alcohol, Sex & Violence, Cutting
- OCD, ADHD, SLVA…”
Why was my daughter dying right before my eyes? Not until 10 years later, Kathy, a director at a California recovery center clearly and emphatically stated, “All of your daughter’s problems stem from her eating disorder.”
An early and correct diagnosis might have spared a decade of suffering for my daughter. I wish I met or was referred to a professional who specialized in eating disorders way back when.
The desperation, hopelessness and utter despair of this journey can only be truly felt by the sufferer and their loved one. I’m still riddled with guilt over the way my anger, denial and embarrassment took charge over the love, compassion and understanding I wish I showed my daughter. I was ignorant.
If you notice any of the following, please seek professional help from an eating disorder team consisting of a dietitian, doctor or nurse practitioner, therapist and psychiatrist
- Changes in your loved one’s eating habits (eating significantly less or more)
- Eliminating foods they used to enjoy (bread, meat, cheese, pasta, desserts)
- Exercising more and/or increased focus on fitness
- Avoiding meals or mealtime
- Cooking for others but not eating the food they prepare
- Hiding food (you find food missing the next day or large amounts of money being put on a debit/credit card at grocery, convenience stores or fast food)
- Increased depression, anxiety or obsessiveness
- Changes in skin, nails or hair (more acne, brittle nails or thinning hair)
- Decreased desire to participate in activities with friends or family
Keep in mind that most doctors have little to no education on eating disorders and may not understand how to diagnose or treat them. I’m not suggesting that you avoid seeing a doctor but that you insist that your loved one also be assessed by someone who is an eating disorder expert.
A great resource for parents and loved ones is the National Eating Disorder Association at nationaleatingdisorders.org. Download the parent handbook to get valuable information including how to talk to your loved one when you think they have an eating disorder.
Please get help now. Start the road to recovery. Don’t wait. My daughter is doing well now, but I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to suffer like she/we did. Recovery is not easy, but with the right help, it is possible.