The Shadows Among Us
She is sick and I know the mortality rate for her illness is higher than any other mental illness. Schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, associative disorders, all of the labels that make ‘normal’ people shudder- they have a higher rate of survival than anorexia.
I go to counseling to deal with it. I learn all about how “it is her journey” and how I have to “balance her disease with my own life and needs”- I am probably capable of leading group therapy sessions with all of the things we are supposed to do and not to do as parents of an anorexic teenager. That is all well and good. And it is all utter and complete bullshit at the moment.
“Don’t take it personally.”
Of course I am going to take it personally. She is my child. She. Is. My. Child. I carried her inside me for thirty-eight weeks. I nursed her. I rocked her to sleep for years. I kissed her boo-boos and I chased the monsters away. I held her hand through everything. I read to her. For Christ’s sake, I still wake up and go into her room to make sure she is breathing. I am so terrified for her- of course I am taking it personally. My child, my baby, is in the middle of a fight for her life that she does not even grasp, so someone needs to take it personally.
I watch her wasting away and I take it personally. I see this child, this beautiful child, literally disappearing, and I take it personally. I see all of her softness hardening into angular edges. I see the light and excitement in her eyes being overtaken by blankness. I see her quick wit being replaced by exhaustion. I see her vertebrae lined up like little soldiers on her back, flanked by sharp scapula that jut painfully out like angel wings. I see her hip bones through her jeans and her baggy sweats. Her chest is sunken in and rises and falls unevenly with each breath. I clean her clumps of hair out of the sink- more than any teenager should lose unless they are starving themselves. I smell her- she has that sweetly chemical ketosis breath that warns me her body is starting to digest itself.
I watch her count every bite that she chews. I watch her eye food with a mixture of want and disgust. I watch how she cuts all two ounces of meat on her plate into a hundred slivers. She thinks no one notices but I carefully watch her move each piece around her plate, making it look like she actually ate something. I know where she hides the log of what she has eaten. Five hundred calories one day, six hundred calories the next.
“It is her disease. Her journey.”
I hate this disease. It is not hers. Calling it ‘her’ disease,’ her’ journey implies she has some sort of power over it, or that she owns it in some way. I wish that was the case, that she could lasso it and control it, but the disease is in charge at this point. I picture the disease as a third person who walks with us. Nutty as it sounds, I picture it walking with us, a disgusting dark and shadowy creature that is always right behind us. I picture it whispering in her ear, pulling her away from us, and I hate it with a palpable hate. This disease has stolen her childhood, and if it succeeds, it will rewrite her story so that she is a minor character, a foil to the disease’s starring role.
We have tried counseling, love, nutritionists, and anything else I can grasp at, hoping it will be the magic. Nothing works. And so, here we are. I am going to beg, borrow, and steal, so that I can get her into a recovery center. We have sunk so low that I feel like the only way we can save my girl is to put her into a treatment center.
I have only told a very few people. This is both protective and selfish. I feel people, even the ones who love us, judge when they find out. They judge her, assume they know what it is about and label her when they find out. None of them think they judge her, but they do. Instantly. And they judge me. A little pop psychology. Must be an over-controlling mom who has instilled self-hatred of herself into her daughter. I want to protect both of us from all of this- I feel like we are so naked and vulnerable at this point. But I also want to reach out because this disease is so incredibly isolating. Other parents are talking about soccer team tryouts and book reports and things that seem so frivolous. I want to talk about school choices and sleepovers, but these things escape me. There is no one to talk to about what happens when your daughter stops menstruating or what lanugo looks like.
We have been battling this for months and today is the first time I have been able to write about it. It is the first time that I ‘say out loud’ that I cannot fight the monsters for my baby girl. As badly as I want to do it for her, the counselors are right in this moment. This is indeed her journey- she has to slay her own monsters. Most importantly, the shadowy one that walks beside us.