WARNING: This post contains discussions of eating disorders.
For the last three years, Chloe has been slowly dying. Although she is sixteen, she weighs as much as an eight-year-old. We have tried everything the medical system has to offer – psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, dieticians, drugs … but nothing has worked.
Anorexia is a difficult thing to get people to understand. Sometimes they will come right out and say what I know they are thinking: ‘Why can’t you just get her to eat?’
The hospital had told us Chloe should be supervised closely for the first few weeks at home, so we devised another system. One of us would stay at home with her while the other went to work. For the first few days, it was Ray’s turn.
I called him many times that first day. ‘How are things going?’
Anne Tonner talks to Mia Freedman about watching her daughter struggle from anorexia. Post continues after audio…
‘Fine. She’s fine.’
‘How did lunch go?’ I persisted. ‘Did you follow the meal plan?’
I could hear the rising tide of exasperation in his voice. ‘If you don’t think I’m capable of looking after her, why don’t you stay home,’ he said.
Chastened, I put down the phone. How had I turned into that sort of mother? Never trusting, always controlling – that had never been me. That night, I arrived home from work to find Ray sitting on the couch watching television with Alice and Jack.
‘Where’s Chloe?’ I asked him. ‘She’s in her room. We’ve all had dinner.’
I walked up the stairs to Chloe’s room. Something wasn’t right. It was all too easy. I opened her door to find her doing sit-ups. ‘What are you doing?’ I said. ‘They said no exercise until you reach your goal weight!’
‘Everyone does it – another patient in hospital used to do a thousand a night! It doesn’t make any difference to my weight. It just makes me feel better.’
I could have kept arguing about this, but then I noticed the smell. A strong, savory smell of food, festering. It didn’t take me long to find it – the stack of crumpled up tissues under her bed. I unwrapped one to find chunks of beef stir fry. In another, there were slices of ham and cheese from lunch.
I looked at Chloe and she looked at me. Then I took all the tissue-wrapped food downstairs and showed it to her father. He was crestfallen.
‘She lied to me! She said she’d eaten it!’
‘Did you watch her while she was eating?’ I asked him.
‘Not all the time – I was busy with the other kids and the builders.’
‘What’s she been doing all day?’
‘She’s been mostly in her room, reading.’
‘And exercising, and hiding food! You can’t just leave her in her room!’
‘Well you stay home tomorrow then, seeing you’re so much better at this than I am!’ he snapped.
‘Fine!’ I snapped back.