For a long time British newsreader Mark Austin admits he “failed to grasp” the reality of his daughter Maddy’s eating disorder.
At least once the father-of-three told his teenager her anorexia was “crass, insensitive, selfish and pathetic”, but only because he couldn’t understand she had no control over her condition.
“I even remember saying, ‘If you really want to starve yourself to death, just get on with it.’ And at least once, exasperated and at a loss, I think I actually meant it,” Austin wrote in a candid column for the Sunday Times Magazine.
“What I failed utterly to grasp was that she was seriously mentally ill and could not see a future for herself.”
Maddy, now 22, was just 18 years old at the peak of her illness, when she dropped to around 35kg.
“One moment she was a vibrant, strong, energetic and beautiful young girl; the next, she had begun a rapid, dangerous descent towards what seemed, at times, certain death,” Austin wrote.
He described how his beloved daughter was absorbed quickly by her disease, eventually to be replaced by an “emaciated, ghostlike figure”.
In 2012, she began skipping meals. After just a few months she had collapsed at school.
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Not long after that, Austin found himself sitting with his wife and child in front of an eating-disorder specialist, who confirmed Maddy’s anorexia.
While she insisted that nothing was wrong and promised to start eating, things only got worse.
“[She] seemed bent on self-destruction and it broke my heart. The daughter I thought I knew became remote and filled with cunning,” he wrote.
“She would lie about how much she had eaten and then explode with rage if we challenged her. She was abusive, seemingly possessed by demons she could not — or, worse, did not want to — control.”