Why Didn’t I See it Coming? Part I

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Why didn’t I see it coming? Am I not that mom who “knows everything”? I thought I had that sixth sense about my kids! Well, I guess not everything… A day not so long before the full impact of what had happened was upon us, I remember thinking so many people I know have had some form of upheaval to deal with or something traumatic happen in their lives, but not me! How I wish we knew how to act on those moments of futuristic insights and not brush them away as “bad thoughts”, trying to silence them in case they come true!

My family is the best! It’s “normal and complete”. We have been together through both fun times and challenges, all the while looking out for each other. It’s that normalcy that is probably why we didn’t see it coming.

The “it” is the anorexia that took hold of my 16-year-old daughter. We’re a year down through this – the hardest times in our lives – and it’s far from over.

In this series of short articles, I hope I can share some real experiences to help parents “see it coming”, to help your child and your family deal with it, to understand where to seek help, and to learn from it. But the important thing is to read about this NOW and not when you have a situation on your hands, because then you will be just like me….gasping and wishing you had made sense of the signs.

My daughter is the most amazing person – compassionate, sensitive, loving, and a fun-filled child. She requires simple things to keep her happy and smiling. We enjoy and laud her for her ability to be “bindaas” or carefree, that she never bothered too much about what others said about her. She is the one we all want to be like. Over and above that, she is tall, leggy, slim, and beautiful and what everyone called “model material”. We never encouraged her to get swayed by these comments. She absolutely loved her chocolates, pastries, cheese, pasta, pizzas and cookies, and could eat this for all meals if given a choice!

Then around the time she turned 15, I noticed that she was getting upset more than normal about what people said to her. She got all worked up and was really bothered by good and bad comments alike. We kept telling her what most parents would, that “we cannot change what others say, but we can decide how much we want to be affected”. We thought that she was being her usual oversensitive self and a typical teenager fretting over the “small stuff”. Looking back I think this was the first sign of something amiss.

Several things followed until the point when we realized that the issue was an eating disorder. Firstly, our denial — that this could happen to our child! The distant knowledge of the problem that “exists rampantly in the West”, and that is common amongst teenagers there. But this could not be happening to our baby girl. Secondly, self-badgering – where have we gone wrong? Have we failed as parents? I will address this in more detail in subsequent articles.

One can almost never be prepared for the full onslaught of what is to come, but are there signs to be watchful of? I believe there are. Five main signs are given below based on our experience. Of course some of these don’t come with a clear tag as they tend to be teenage behaviour anyway, making it that much harder to distinguish.
1. Stop eating “junk” food – Our daughter stopped eating her cookies and cheese. We attributed this to “typical” teenage behaviour of wanting to stay slim. This is a sure sign of an eating disorder.
2. Excessive exercise – Our girl was active, but never super sporty or hyper enthusiastic to exercise. But then she began to exercise every day! This is also a very clear indication.
3. Weight loss – The loss of weight was visible and rapid. This of course is a direct side effect of the above – but it is so dramatic! My daughter went from 45 kgs to 32 kgs in a matter of four months! Of course as most rational parents we wanted to rule out physical health issues and got a series of health check-ups – losing more time to deal with the real issue (read denial).
4. Excessive surfing – We noticed that she spent a lot more time on the Internet which she had access to with boundaries. When she said it was to research on school projects or gather study references, we didn’t question her too much. Since she was in 10th grade, we didn’t see the harm until we found out much later (and probably too late) what that “research” really was about.
5. Over sensitive or moody — A once infectiously happy child suddenly becomes dull and snappy. This is again a side effect obviously of lack of nutrition for the mind and tiredness from the excessive exercise. This was a dramatic sign that something was so wrong. She also became rebellious (particularly about exercising and eating “healthy”) – and that was one thing she never was. We thought that she was under exam stress!

Books on the subject point you to many more possible tell-tale signs but clearly these were standout ones for us – unfortunately on hindsight.

In the next article in a series of four, I will share what we did to address this issue, our challenges, the emotional trauma, changes that it bought to our family and how we are dealing with it, and the logistic nightmare of treatment (lack of) in India.

Read Why Didn’t I See it Coming – Part II




I am Anonymous. I want to be heard, but not necessarily known.

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