Why Didn’t I See it Coming? Part II

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My daughter started to complain of constipation and stomach aches. We got every possible medical opinion there was to get, got every possible medical test there was to get and found nothing medically wrong! But when she started insisting on her aggressive exercise regime and “healthy food diet”, I knew something was amiss. She also had lost weight (she was about 39 kgs down from 45 kgs) and started becoming moody, angry and irritable. She had not had her menstrual cycle then for about three months.

Then the worst started to happen — binging and purging. She would eat her food and find excuses to go to the restroom and force purge. She would come out looking dazed and disoriented. This continued for two months, during which time we tried many things to make her stop — stand outside the loo to ensure she doesn’t purge, shout at her, and cry about what she was doing to herself. It couldn’t get any more tense, or so we thought.

This took such a huge toll on all of us, especially our younger daughter who had no idea what was going on. She saw her sister go through a terrible period. With so much of our attention diverted from her, the baby of the house, I’m sure, went through her own turmoil and fears. She cried with us, scolded her sister and tried to get her to stop throwing up. Through all of this she matured many years.

We were advised to see a clinical psychologist which we did. Finding doctors who have any experience with this issue or any adolescent issue for that matter was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are just a handful in the country, and mostly those who have had experience in the West, who even knew what the issue was. One of the largest and most reputed hospitals in the country had only seen about six such cases since its inception (it’s been around for at least 30 years). As if waiting hours to see the doctor (who was one of the best), day after day was not enough, there was no facility to make the patient feel comfortable. We now know that this is a problem throughout the country.

After the first meeting with the Clinical Child Psychologist, my daughter stopped purging! This was a huge relief. But then she started hiding her food…in her cloths, in her cupboards, behind the curtains, and anywhere possible. She even found ways to give it to our dog — who was ever so grateful! Confused, lost and desperate for guidance, we spent a whole month dealing with this. At the end of this our daughter was barely able to move, think, smile or even do her normal activities without effort. With no nutrition whatsoever, her cognitive skills were near zero. She also had her board exams looming ahead of her in a month’s time. Where she found the energy to study for them, we will never know…it was almost like she was on auto-pilot.

The psychologist consulted with psychiatrists and nutritionists, but when my daughter’s weight reached 26 kgs, they decided to admit her in intensive care (ICU) and treat her as an in-patient. She had a rapidly fading pulse at 32, she was hypothermic with a body temperature of 96, and we knew then that we could lose her.

Given no options for suitable adolescent care facilities, she was admitted into the general psychiatry ward post ICU and shared the room with adult depressives, mentally traumatised and violent patients. After five nights we took the brave (and we believe now, the best) decision to get her out of that environment and move her to a general hospital with paediatric care until she was physically stable. After 10 days in the hospital, we returned home with a meal, medical, and counselling plan in place. The next day she appeared for her board exams!

With this home coming began a new set of challenges — emotional and physical — for her and the family. This I will cover in my next article, but the key takeaways from these traumatic months may be helpful to parents:
1. Don’t wait: The minute you see signs of binging, food hiding, excessive exercise, purging — please, please don’t wait to start psychological treatment. Push aside the denial, and move straight into physical and emotional treatment. It is a matter of life and death. It will also help the family deal better with everything earlier.
2. Don’t blame yourself: As parents we do everything possible for the health and confidence of our children so that they are equipped to face the world. In challenging situations like this, it’s natural to wonder, “where did we go wrong?” and blame ourselves, but it is not the fault of the parent or the child! Society today triggers stresses and pressures that most of us parents will never ever be able to fully comprehend, let alone help us prepare our children.
3. Be prepared for the long haul: Every sign of improvement feels wonderful, and in our heart we hope that the child will snap out of it the next minute. How wrong we are! Anorexia is so, so deeply ingrained in mind of the person suffering from it. It will take anywhere from a few months to years for the person to heal, and with the high emotions attached to the process, it feels a lot longer.
4. Make do: Given that adolescent treatment hospitals and facilities, as well as doctor experience dealing with this issue is so poor in India, we have to make do with what we have and weave our way around the medical fraternity to find the best mix. This huge disadvantage, coupled with copious amounts of advice from friends and family (always delivered with good intentions), can make one switch gears through the recovery process several times. Take this in your stride, because there is not much else you can do but make do and hope for the best.
5. Be compassionate: This is a must-do throughout the recovery process. It is definitely not as easy as it seems. Tempers will fly, you will fail to understand, there will be lots of tears; and with this a very tense situation at home for extended periods of time. Keep reminding yourself that your child’s experience is far more traumatic than what you’re going through.

The experience pushes you to your limits. It strains family relationships to their limits. There is no clear formula for how to deal with this, and our experience has been with more than its share of ups and downs. In the next article, I will share what we did and what options we were faced with at each turn.

See how the author handles the challenges in Part III




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

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