When a child develops anorexia, their family is plunged into the eating disorder world

The illness that divides a family can also make it closer

When a child develops anorexia, their family is plunged into the eating disorder world

When a child develops anorexia, their family is plunged into the eating disorder world

It happened fast. Suddenly we were stuck in this black hole called anorexia nervosa. I had no idea how we’d gotten there so quickly, nor did I know how to get out.
My 10-year-old (soon to be 11-year-old) daughter developed anorexia over the past year. Although she had probably already realised something was different inside of her, I was so busy with life, that is, my two daughters, my work, our dogs, and hamster, as well as our friends, maybe I just didn’t notice.

It crept up on us; my daughter deteriorated rapidly

As happens for many people, the illness crept up on us, and now we find ourselves in a little boat in the middle of a lake without a rudder, trying desperately to return safely to shore.
Many things may have contributed to my daughter developing anorexia nervosa. I can make a long list, and maybe they all contributed, or maybe none did, and it would have happened in any case. I must admit that I had many misconceptions about the illness before we were plunged into it.
I am originally Dutch but have lived in Italy for over 20 years. My daughters are half Italian – and half Dutch. At the end of last summer, right when school was about to start, it became clear that my youngest daughter had an eating disorder. She only attended school for a few weeks before being hospitalized for a month, with a nasogastric tube. The hospital where she was admitted here in Italy requires a parent to be present 24/7. So, I too spent a month in the hospital, occasionally going home to shower and to see my other daughter.
We struggled to find adequate help in the beginning, which might also be why she deteriorated so rapidly. Who knows, we might have been able to keep her out of hospital otherwise. We’ll never know. Even though there are several specialised eating disorder clinics in the area, we had some bad luck with the help we were given during our first few weeks out of hospital.

Establishing trust is imperative

Weekly meetings were set up with a psychologist and a nutritionist, but they seemed to focus merely on the food part, which is important, but they did not focus much on what was going on in my daughter’s mind, at a time when she really needed to talk to somebody. Worse, her trust was  ‘violated’, when something she told the psychologist in private, was repeated in the presence of myself, her father and the nutritionist.  In my opinion, both psychologist and nutritionist didn’t have the right approach, at least not for my daughter. I am sure they are excellent professionals, but they weren’t the right fit.  I feel this set us back a month.
We have now resumed our search for a professional who can provide us with the help we need.
In the meantime, I came across the book, My Kid is Back, by June Alexander and Daniel Le Grange, which I bought based on the excellent reviews, and it has given me a lot of strength, I feel less alone, as I can relate to the stories the families share in her book. I have even started keeping a diary, something I have never done in my life, because I am always ashamed of it the next day.  Sometimes I prefer to forget certain things because it seems easier to keep my feelings all inside and pretend they are not there. Meanwhile, I have also ordered Using Writing as a Therapy for Eating Disorders: The Diary Healer, which should arrive soon, and I am thinking about ordering Anorexia Nervosa – A Recovery Guide for Sufferers, Families and Friends.

New friends share a common enemy, the eating disorder

I am a sociable person, with many friends, but recently I have become quite antisocial; I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me how we are doing. We don’t go to social events that involve eating, so no more dinner parties or meeting up for drinks. However, I have discovered some ‘new’ friends; they were already friends or acquaintances, we just didn’t know each other that well. We are now aware that we share a common enemy, the eating disorder. Some are experiencing the illness as parents, and others have gone through it themselves. Their help has been extremely valuable to us.
I am grateful for the time and attention June Alexander takes to respond to my emails (I am sure I am not the only one pestering her!). I also have an Italian friend/client, who is writing a book about her own experiences with an eating disorder, as an adult. She is always there for me with advice when I need it and to listen if I need to blow off steam. Other valuable help is coming from English friends/clients, whose daughters went through the same thing. It’s comforting to know that they are there for me if I need them.

My daughter is creating new friends, too

My daughter too has a few newfound friends, girls who have experienced this terrible illness personally, who are helping her on her road to recovery.  Two of them are ‘virtual’ friends, as they have never met in person, but I hope they one day will. One is in the UK while the other lives in Chile. She has been messaging with them a lot, they are older and have been through the same. One of them is my friend’s daughter, and the other girl she met on TikTok (social media has good and bad sides) whom she messages with. The girls listen to my daughter and give her advice. They give her strength when she has doubts or worries. My daughter reads me all their messages, so I know what they talk about.

A girl from her class wrote a letter to Santa asking him to perform a miracle so my daughter would get better and could go back to school. Her mum sent the letter to their teacher, who sent it to us. I thought it was the sweetest thing.

My daughter is very bright and sensitive; she often has difficulties relating to other children, as she is mature for her age. She knows she is ill, and realizes that she needs to fight the illness. This isn’t as easy as it sounds; we have some very bad days, and getting her to gain weight is a daily challenge. She is a determined little girl, which in this case is a double-edged sword.
Not only my social life has suffered, but I am also struggling to work, as the illness is time-consuming. I work freelance as a translator and estate agent. Luckily, I was already working from home a lot, but my normal workload has been reduced by about 80 per cent.
These times are tough on all of us, but I am positive that my daughter will get out of this experience feeling stronger and that we will get out of this stronger as a family as well.

The illness that I felt was dividing our family initially is making us closer, so I am not only angry and frustrated anymore, but also thankful.

I am also grateful for the wonderful people I have met in recent months. There is a world out there I did not know of until my daughter developed anorexia. I hope to find a way to use our experiences to help others once we make it out of our own dark tunnel. But I am getting ahead of myself, because we are not there yet, unfortunately. I do not wish this journey upon anyone.

Pauline Ninck Blok

About Pauline Ninck Blok

All articles by Pauline Ninck Blok

I moved to Italy in 2001, am originally Dutch, but was born in Africa and then lived in the Caribbean; as a child, my family moved around a lot. I have a degree in Italian language and literature. I freelance as an estate agent and as a translator. I am 46 years old and have two daughters. We love doing things together, like going to concerts, and travelling when possible. We have two dogs and a hamster. Even though I like living here, moving around is in my nature, so once my daughters are older, we might decide to move somewhere else. My youngest already says she can’t wait to move abroad, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

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