• fullslide6
    Be seen.
    Be cared for.
    Be on your way.
    See how special you really are

OUTWITTING THE ILLNESS

As I stated in the introduction to this website, I was strongly tempted to view Helen’s illness as a sort of possession - not something that I mentioned to Helen’s psychiatrist, I might add! I viewed it as an entity which had taken possession of her and which had every intention of starving her in to an early grave before it moved on. I saw it as an intelligent and subtle force which, through Helen, was constantly trying to outwit us. However, it could only do this within the boundaries of Helen’s own abilities. Helen is a very intelligent girl (as her essay proves) but she was only 13 and, therefore, Fiona and I were able to win the battle for our daughter because we had much greater experience of life than she did. Having said that, Helen, ably assisted by her anorexic demons, was a formidable opponent who had us on the ropes on a number of occasions. Interestingly enough, Helen’s dietician also characterised the anorexia to Helen as a sort of demon which had taken possession of her. She described it to Helen as a goblin which sat on her shoulder and whispered lies to her. Furthermore, Helen described it as a voice inside her head which constantly undermined her self-esteem and will to live. She felt crushed between the constant dictates of this voice and the equally demanding dictates of Fiona and myself.

The anorexia, of course, had a number of months start on us and had been winning Helen’s mind over long before I even knew there was anything amiss. There was a well established relationship between them by this time. Helen’s psychiatrist was particularly interested in this aspect of her illness and wanted to know if her sleeping pattern had become disturbed. He was surprised at how well she was sleeping. I wasn’t - I knew how hard we were exercising! However we viewed the condition - illness or entity - the point was that we had to do battle with a very subtle and cunning thought process which would deliberately set out to delude and deceive us. And if we were not able to see through all of its charades and subterfuges, then we would have lost Helen.

We set out to outwit the anorexia by creating structures which appeared to offer concessions to it but which were really designed to break its iron grip on Helen. To outwit the anorexia, we had, of course, to outwit its host - Helen. One of the more subtle strategies that we used involved calorie bargaining. This took a variety of forms. Helen reasoned that the electronic scales - though accurate to the gram - were not accurate to fractions of a gram. Therefore, an item of food weighing 40 grams might really weigh 40.4 grams and thus would be heavier than we had counted it. Equally, it might be lighter at 39.6. To combat this concern, we simply allowed Helen to add on a gram to the weight of every item.

A second strategy was to allow her a deficit on her daily target. We would allow a shortfall of up to 60 calories - but we had to be careful with this because we didn’t want to create a new battlefield for ourselves here. However, the strategy worked for us. As long as the overall calorie count for the day was close to 400 calories higher than her body needed for fuel, then she would hopefully put on a pound over the week and thus the 60 calories leeway was insignificant - especially as the calorie limit was revised on a weekly basis with Helen’s dietician. Therefore, it could always be moved up 100 calories per day the following week to more than compensate for the 60 calories leeway we were conceding. Another way we tried to outwit the anorexia was to re-educate Helen about very obvious things that she had lost sight of. Part of that strategy has already been covered, i.e. explaining to her how calories work and that a certain number of calories are needed each day in order to fuel the body and that without this fuel, her body would fade and die. I cut out pictures from magazines of models and other renowned beautiful women. They may have been slim but what they had - which Helen certainly didn’t have - were breasts and rounded bottoms. They also had good sized muscles in their legs whereas Helen’s legs were like sticks. To emphasise the point, I took some photographs of Helen in her underclothes and put them alongside the pictures of the models.

Taking things one step at a time was also a necessary strategy - which Audrey corrected me on early on in our recovery process. I have a tendency to plan well into the future - which is fine - but it was unwise of me to talk to Helen about the future stages of her recovery when she was simply struggling with one meal at a time. It caused her great distress. All she really needed to know was her calorie targets for that week, her overall target weight and the projected number of weeks it would take to get there. Trying to keep calm was a crucial aspect in guiding Helen to recovery. We didn’t always achieve this goal as Helen’s illness was both worrying and extremely frustrating. However, on the occasions when I did lose my cool, I quickly regretted it as my negative energy always provided fuel for the anorexia and there would inevitably be an undesirable anorexic reaction. By inadvertently creating a distance between Helen and myself, the anorexic voice inside her head would gain in intensity. Patience was the key and I knew that if I could not keep my cool, then the anorexia was outwitting me and that my voice would cease to be heard. Finally, and I am sure it goes without saying, love is crucial. Both of us love Helen (and Jack, our son) very much indeed. We constantly made that love apparent to Helen and spent a lot of time (especially Fiona) hugging Helen and telling her how special and wonderful she was and how the anorexia had to be beaten in order for her to once more become our beautiful, healthy, happy daughter.

And on the subject of Jack, as well as devoting an inordinate amount of time to Helen we also had to guard against Jack feeling neglected. Therefore, while one of us was dealing with Helen, the other would ensure that Jack was receiving the love and attention that he needed to cope in what did temporarily become a very stressful household.


number of calories
recovery process
daily target
calorie bargaining