I am guest writing on my sisters blog to offer my perspective on what it is like to watch anorexia nervosa take over the minds of the two most important women in my life; my sister and my mum. The destruction that is anorexia nervosa creeps up and appears slowly, like a poison spreading through the body. I have watched it quite literally eat the person away until they are a shadow of their former self both physically and mentally.
How was I to know that only four months after dropping off my vibrant, social, confident little sister for her first day at Uni that she’d soon be coming home to us. I think I blocked out the worst case, told myself that it was just Olivia struggling to ‘settle in’ and that it would ‘sort itself out’. It couldn’t be anorexia- it just couldn’t. Olivia was soon brought home. It wasn’t just the unrecognisable physical changes that were most startling and hard to deal with, but the emotional ones that rocked us all. She was angry, unpredictable, I didn’t know what to say or when to say it.The disorder made her shout over things I couldn’t understand, cry at meal times and become withdrawn. There were talks that she wouldn’t be well enough to not only be my Maid of Honour at my wedding last year, but wouldn’t even be around to even see my wedding. I would watch my Mum look after my sister and feel helpless because anorexia is so difficult to understand. The care has to be kept in the family because the NHS couldn’t offer her anything- ironic that they would be able to offer her something if she got worse?!
My Mum recognised the symptoms before Olivia’s condition took her to a place that she might not have been able to have been brought back from. This sentence fills me with mixed emotions though, because the reason that my Mum was able to recognise these signs is because she too has battled anorexia for 25 years. We are lucky because Olivia’s deterioration was recognised and she was taken home to be her family to begin the long journey of unpicking her tangled relationship with food. However, are we lucky that my mum had an eating disorder and could then spot these traits that she identified from her own history? Is it right that the best possible carer for my anorexic sister is my anorexic mum? My Mum’s eating disorder was not made aware to me until I was around 14. As a child up until this point I don’t remember my relationship with Mum being different to anyone else’s- a few random faddy diets stick out in my head but I was sheltered from it. Now that I am older I am exposed, trying to learn and adapt to the differences and similarities in the way the disease has manifested in each of them.
The biggest thing for me when I am faced with either of them whilst they are at the worst is expecting to carry on as normal and hold a conversation when I am afraid that even looking at their frail forms will knock them over. Sometimes it feels like they have a special bond- a bond that I can’t ever understand or be a part of. Sometimes I worry that they will judge me, my food choices, my exercise routine, how I look in my clothes. This is why Eating Disorder Awareness Week is so incredibly important and why we are trying to spread this message and share our experience. The #whywait campaign is designed to help people recognise all the symptoms of eating disorders, how to raise the issue and how to support them through- all areas I have struggled with and will continue to learn.
Where are we all now? They say that anorexia nervosa doesn’t go away, that it can be triggered and will lie dormant. It is important to remember that there is no cure and that this will be a continuous journey for them and for the family and friends who support them through. My sister found the courage and strength to be the most amazing Maid of Honour. She was attentive, loving, and a meticulous planner leaving nothing unthought of. She surpassed every expectation I could ever have had! I owe so much to her and my Mum and admire them everyday. They are the bravest women for being able to share their stories and hopefully our experience will provide an insight into what it is like to live with an eating disorder and provide some context around the importance of the #whywait campaign.