Content warning: This post mentions themes of eating disorders and mental health issues some readers may find triggering.
I had been feeling for a while that something was going on. Over the last few months, Emily had become sullen, withdrawn, secretive – especially around food. At first, it didn’t make sense. How could a happy, beautiful, clever girl, change so quickly? But, when I met Anorexia, it all made sense.
Anorexia put her arm through Emily’s and kept a tight hold. She skipped along and tricked her into thinking that she was a safe and supportive friend. If Emily did everything that Anorexia told her to do, she would feel more in control, less anxious, less worried. Truth was that if Emily did everything Anorexia told her to do, she would die.
Over the next six months, I tried many different tactics to get rid of Anorexia. As Paul Kelly would say – as a mother – I did all the dumb things. I tried to drag Emily onto the scales so she could see how much weight she was losing. I forced all family members to stay at the table until Emily’s meal was eaten. I bribed. I bargained. I begged. I threw things. I stormed out. I cried. I sobbed. I watched, helpless. And the whole time I was doing all these dumb things, Emily was becoming thinner and thinner and Anorexia was sitting there at the dining table, rubbing her hands with glee. She knew she had me beaten, because I didn’t understand her.
In May last year, Anorexia almost got her ultimate wish. In a week where all Emily had to eat was a couple of almonds and where she exercised so hard, she passed out on a treadmill, she was rushed to hospital, gravely ill. I felt relief. At last now she would be in the hands of people who knew what to do. But, as I sat in the Emergency Department of one of the largest teaching hospitals in Australia watching Anorexia run amok, my relief turned to disbelief.
I watched Anorexia jump for joy when, on admission to the emergency department, Emily was made nil by mouth for twenty four hours. I followed Anorexia as she danced excitedly around the emergency doctors for hours on end, while they tried to decide which department Emily should be admitted to. And when they finally found her a bed in the Endocrinology ward, I heard Anorexia guffaw when the head of the department came to Emily’s bedside and told her that in order to recover all she needed to do was eat. If only it was that simple! I looked at Anorexia snuggled up on the bed next to Emily – that familiar smug look on her face – and I knew she had these people beaten as well. They didn’t understand her.
Anne Tonner talks to Mia Freedman about watching her daughter struggle from anorexia. Post continues after audio…
For the two weeks Emily was in hospital, she had her own nurse, sitting bedside around the clock. Some of them sat bored and disinterested. One of them had loads of advice – like how eliminating all foods starting with the letters B and P was the best way to lose weight. Some of them were my heroes. They understood Anorexia. Perhaps she had once been their best friend as well? They knew the right words to gently encourage Emily to have a mouthful or two of the hospital food that was served up at each meal – food that looked unappetising to a healthy person – I can’t imagine how they did it! When she was medically stable, Emily was discharged to a private clinic. I drove her there – almost praying aloud that this may be the answer. But Anorexia came too, and by the second day she was running the place.
During her stay, Emily hung out with twenty other females and males who had BFFs all with the surname Eating Disorder. Some of them were very young. Some of them had parents over 500 km away. For some of them, this was their fourth or fifth stint. All of them had tricks (and sometimes food) up their sleeve. While she was there, Emily learnt how to hide a whole meal in your mouth so you could spit it in the bin later and how to do twenty sit ups in the back of a chemist shop without anyone noticing. Five weeks later, she left there with Anorexia well and truly by her side.