JD Ouellette, Peer Coach
Panicked to Proactive
With my daughter at the beginning of her return to health in 2012
This post was originally written for the University of California San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research; they have graciously allowed me to repost here. While my dream is that all families globally have access to the cutting edge treatment available at UC San Diego, that’s not possible, and there are other places to get excellent care (though nowhere near as many as one would think, sadly)*. There are parents who are successful with limited to no resources as well when they have comprehensive information**. The overall messages in this post transfer, especially in terms of the common reaction that none of this can possibly be as serious as you are (hopefully) being told they are, and the message that eating disorders cannot afford to wait.
Parenting a Child (of any age): From Panicked to Proactive
Somehow, you’ve found yourself and your child meeting with the Intake Coordinator at UC San Diego.
You may not believe your child truly has a problem, and you may be humoring a pediatrician or your spouse with this meeting. If you’re anything like me, you’re expecting to hear that there is a three-night-a-week support group that will both get your child back on track and not interfere too much with the full and busy life you both are leading.
In all likelihood, your child is pissed. They are 100% certain that they are not ill. It’s crazy, but true, that your child can’t see how sick they are. It is common for people with eating disorders to lack self-awareness and not recognize that they are suffering from a life-threatening condition. In any event, your child is likely still killing it on the volleyball court and rocking a 4.0. The fact that the Intake Coordinator is talking about a program that is ten hours a day seems slightly ludicrous.
How Have Other Parents Reacted to a Treatment Recommendation?
For me, an action-oriented pragmatist with a daughter with anorexia, it took me about 30 minutes to conclude that pulling my daughter out of her senior year of high school and tackling this beast head-on was what we were going to do.
To another mother, who had been living on no sleep, and whose daughter struggled with bulimia, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, it was a shock to learn her daughter met the criteria for the program. She says, “I don’t believe I realized how seriously ill she was. Yet at the same time, it was I felt such relief that there was help.”
One mother, whose daughter was hospitalized at UC San Diego’s inpatient program at Rady Children’s Hospital and then stepped down to their day treatment program, shared these thoughts, “We received a referral to the UC San Diego program. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a huge relief to finally have medical guidance and a structured plan in helping our daughter deal with the eating disorder.”
There are those who initially decide that an intensive program is not the place for their family. One father tells his story: “We had two intake meetings at UC San Diego. The first in 2012 was overwhelming. We were less than a month into learning that our daughter had been diagnosed with anorexia and the Intake Coordinator was recommending that we should take her out of school and put her in the day treatment program. It was too much to process and we decided to try to work with our own therapist and dietitian team. Needless to say, we saw things slide. Our second time around, we knew that UC San Diego was the right place. We updated the Intake Coordinator on what had happened with other treatment providers to allow our daughter to slide, and we felt UC San Diego was the best place for her. We had confidence that UC San Diego would help empower us to resume Family-Based Treatment (FBT).”
Maybe you are reading this because you’ve made the choice not to seek treatment at UC San Diego, but are still searching for answers and investigating treatment programs. Maybe you are reading this after you’ve signed on the dotted line and are reeling from everything that you have to learn.
The Bottom Line
Wherever your head is, and whatever you’re searching for, the important thing to know that is health comes first. Everything in your own and your child’s world - school, sports, work, you name it - can be put on hold. Getting treatment for their life-threatening eating disorder cannot be put off. Left untreated, eating disorders have a high mortality rate and physical complications can happen very quickly.
Best wishes for you and your child on the journey that is recovery—it will be the hardest and the most necessary trip you ever take. I hope your story, like that of the families quoted here, has a happy ending.