Doris’s daughter Ashleigh developed an eating disorder around her 13th birthday. Here is her story…
It was on Ashleigh’s 13th birthday party that I realised something was up. There was pizza and party food, but she wouldn’t touch it. A short time later it was Easter and she refused to eat any chocolate eggs, which was really unusual, because, like me and all the women in our family we love chocolate. At the time though I didn’t actually think she had an eating disorder, but that she was just eating sensibly, because she really loves her food. But then I began to notice that she was becoming really strict with herself in what she ate – she was denying herself food she loved and said she was unhappy about the way she looked.
About a month later she still wasn’t eating chocolate or anything and I began to think she was being far too rigid so I took her to the doctor, who is a friend. She said at that stage it wasn’t too bad that she wasn’t eating rubbish but it was certainly not a good idea to be starving herself.
Soon after though, her periods stopped and her hair started to fall out. I could see her becoming withdrawn – she’d lost her sparkle. She would watch videos online of a new chocolate bar and I’d say I’d go get her one but she would refuse to eat them. Food became an obsession and she was always looking up recipes and interested in what we were eating but still she was hardly eating anything.
I recall it was about June, when I could really notice the downy hair on her jaw, because of her weight loss, that the doctor said we needed to get her to Beechcroft (Eating Disorder Services-part of Forster Green Hospital).
She told me then she just couldn’t eat and that it was like something that wanted to kill you. It was all about control over food and one thing about it was, that while she was obsessed with food, she also became obsessed with school work and became a straight A student. She started to keep her bedroom immaculate and even stopped chewing her nails and grew them long. But at the same time she had lost the zest for life and she was really unhappy. It was heart-breaking.
When we went on holiday a month later her spine was jutting out she was so thin. The hotel we were staying at had a buffet and I thought this might be better for her but she became so distressed at meal times I found her one day curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor. Can you imagine what it’s like to see your daughter like that? It was a nightmare summer for us and I still get very choked up thinking about it.
She was drinking a lot of water on holiday, to fill her up, but she nearly fainted and I just couldn’t wait to get home because she was due at Beechcroft a few days after we were due home. We had a three hour appointment with a counsellor who talked to her about what was going on in her head. Meanwhile, the nutritionist basically put the fear of God into her and told her she had to eat three meals a day and told her ‘this is where we take back control’. She cried for a full hour after because she knew the battle she was going to be facing.
She started eating then, but only very plain food and couldn’t stand any sauce or anything like that. By Christmas, all those months later, she only had turkey and vegetables and I was still worried about her.
We kept up with the appointments, and I was, all the while, encouraging her to try new food, but then in February she was due to go away on a school trip and I was a bit worried because she was still not quite over it.
The school was very good though and said that sadly there were a number of girls in the same boat. She went ahead and stayed in a room with a group of girls and had a ball. When I heard that Ashleigh had joined in with them eating rubbish in their room at night I was so overjoyed! Ever since, she’s been on the mend, and that was about a year ago.
One thing that helped her was getting a dog, which we did before Christmas that year, and that really helped her – I had told her I would agree to it if she started eating properly. She was never diagnosed with anorexia but it was very, very scary there for a while, and our doctor said we’d caught it in time before it got the chance to get worse. And I couldn’t have done it without Beechcroft.
She said that at the time, she just couldn’t help herself, and as a mother I just didn’t know what to do. I remember worrying about whether she’d ever get better, when it was at its worst, and Karen Carpenter, the singer, would come to mind.
She’s still a bit careful now with what she eats but she never wants to go back to that because it was a very dark place. I couldn’t have borne it if it had been any worse than it was.