Things have been pretty rough for me over the last couple of weeks. My boss has generously given me a few days off, which has helped enourmously to catch up on sleep etc, but it hasn't really helped with the "coping" which, at the moment, is getting harder.
It's difficult not having anyone to talk to. What's worse is the fact that Annie can see when things aren't right, and there is no point in lying to her. As soon as I discuss my fears, it seems her fears return even stronger and her renewed conviction that I'm going to leave comes to the fore. Before long, we're fighting, and I'm not even sure anymore why. We do now, seem to have reached an agreement whereby I can talk when I need to with Annie just listening. This is a tenuous agreement though, because when Annie's ED has a strong hold (or the effects of it), it becomes very difficult.
The girls were away last weekend, and with me devoting time purely to Annie, we had a lovely time. No worrying about cooking, no pressures on me from work, and just a nice peaceful time to relax and enjoy each others company. I dragged Annie out on both days, and we enjoyed a short walk down by the river on Sunday, blowing the cobwebs away, and generally just chilling out. The best news of all for me though, was that Annie managed a light lunch and an evening meal on both days, which must have been tough, but as we discussed later, was made easier by the fact that there were no pressures from the kids or any other extrnal sources.
Monday wasn't so good. I went into the office for the first time in a while, and Annie had a bit of a traumatic day to say the least. Having a conversation over the phone is not one of my strong points. Firstly because there is nowhere quiet in my office, and the only quiet places are within earshot of other people. This doesn't help much unfortunately when you're trying to talk to someone about how much pain they are in, and all the other worries. Dividing your time between someone with an ED, and other demands can be very difficult, and at times I am distracted by work "please do this asap" emails.
So when I got home on Monday night, Annie was not well. She was exhausted, and in a good deal of pain. She woke me up in the middle of the night with her somnambulism, and was not happy. This happened a couple of times during the night, and I found myself laying next to her, drifting in and out of sleep, constantly checking the bed next to me to see if she was still there. When I awoke in the morning and commented on what a rough night it had been, Annie had no knowledge of the events.
Now this has happened a couple of times before, and the arguments we've had while she's been asleep have hurt me, and left me feeling hollow the next day. There is no recollection of the argument, and thus there is no closure to the words we exchange. I'm a brooder too which doesn't help, and as we are all wont to do, I dwell on the negative words rather too much sometimes. I do treat Annie's ED as a seperate entity, but it is really very difficult at times not to take offense at the person who is using words borne of "the voice". I wish I didn't dwell on these things so much.
Talking to Annie about my feelings is a mixed blessing. As I sat at the table one night last week, and poured out random rubbish from inside my head, I couldn't help notcing the sadness in her eyes as she sat there, thinking. I didn't probe further, because, for a change, I needed to get things out. I'd been to see a counsellor earlier in the day - provided by my employer. I was later told that this counselling is often of a "quick fix" type. It was clear that this was the case, as there was little empathy from the lady who seemed to want to just get to the bottom of things. Indeed, after I had recounted the tales that you have read as part of this blog, we both just sat there in silence. Me, waiting for her to say something helpful, constructive or insightful, and her, just mulling things over quietly to finally reply with "hmm... that sounds like it must be quite difficult.". I'm not sure I'll go again. I stated from the outset what I wanted to achieve, which is a mechanism for coping with the effects of supporting someone with an ED. There was recognition that this was even possible from her point of view, and no feedback from my one hour monologue.
I do think that it takes a "skill" for wont of a better word to look after someone who has an ED (or any other type of disorder). Jumping in blind definately doesn't work. You need infinite patience, and the ability to listen and empathise. After my counselling session, I came away thinking that I had better skills at this than the person I'd just been talking to. And even I know that I need help honing these skills.
I've been thinking a good deal about intervention and control recently. How do I intervene without taking control from Annie? Can I do this? Is it possible, or is it not my job, and should intervention be best left to those with the skills?
Control is something that is difficult to understand, as it is based on the perception of the "controller" and the "controlee". As a very simple example, #1 was getting the pep talk last night about "going out". We said that if she went out, we would want to know where she was going, how she was getting there, how she was getting back, and what time she was going and coming back. These things are asked purely to make sure she is safe. Is she going to be walking alone in the dark? Is she going to be with friends? What time do we need to start to worry if we haven't heard from her? However, her perception is entirely different I'm sure. She's a teenager after all. She wants independence. She wants freedom to do as she pleases, and she doesn't want nosey parents sticking their oars into her business. Does she see it as control? Probably. Our words that say we only want her to be safe, could be construed as excuses for the real reason (in her eyes): They're watching me! This is a simple example of control, and how it can be perceived differently. it is control, because, as parents, we state that if those conditions are not met, she's not going out. Is it reasonable? I'm sure parents of teenage girls would say yes, but what about a teenage lad?
Looking at an ED is far more complex. It is borne of a feeling of a lack of control, so intervention is even more difficult, as almost anything that can be perceived by the sufferer as "control" will be. When I speak, I have to be careful that words expressing care and concern are not taken as words of control.
So I did some reading on Intervention, and discovered that, like all concepts, it's a bit more complicated than you might think, so before I start, I think I need to define what I mean by intervention.
For the purposes of this blog, I define intervention as "doing something that would interfere with the natural order of things". From turning off a tap to prevent it overflowing, to taking an axe to a set of scales. Some of the people who have read this blog have intervened by posting comments. Some have chosen not to, by just reading, then moving on to something else. Maybe they come back, maybe they don't, but they choose not to intervene for whatever reason.
And these reasons for intervention are complex. Often, intervention takes place without thinking about it. The tap gets turned off, because that stops the sink flooding, and expensive repair bills. Very straightforward. But perhaps the sink was being filled by someone else for a purpose unbeknownst to the tap-turner-offer (I really must get used to typing in some form of "person"... I don't want to use "you" because that implies I am telling you something. I hate using "one" because it's clumsy. Suggestions, as always, appreciated). That intervention then becomes less useful, because the sink still has to be filled. Am I rambling uselessly here?
OK. Get to the point Ian. Support is a form of intervention. Without support, Annie's Rexia would follow a course of action. Maybe she would get help on her own, maybe she wouldn't. Taking this a step back even further, I am actually intervening simply by being part of Annie's life. I knew that I would be doing that when I contacted her almost a year ago now. Love was the motivating force then, and it remains my guiding light of hope now.
I watch Annie and her ED, and it makes me scared. I don't want her to die. It's that simple. I want her to be happy, healthy, and making me chuckle with Hex My Ex. It is a natural urge (I think) to want to change things when you see them going wrong. Especially if you have made the same mistakes, and can offer advice and help to prevent the same mistakes being made. How many books and DVD's are there out there telling you how to do pretty much anything from lose 200lbs in 5 seconds, to building your own house.
Dragging this back to the point though, when I see Annie suffering, I want to make things better. As someone that has never suffered an ED, my mistake was to assume that simple intervention would save the day. Eating Disorder. Answer:Just eat. Fall flat at the first hurdle, do not pass go, do not collect £200.
And therein lies the problem with any intervention. If you don't know what it is your trying to help with, how can you possibly know how to help? On the face of it, eating disorders are a relatively common psychological illness. Yet there is no straightforward "cure", despite many many experts' efforts. How then, can you, as a supporter of someone with an ED, help?
Well, you can and you can't. Is that clear? Nope? Good. Now you're beginning to understand the complexities here. Understanding the issues behind Annie's ED is the key for me. I really need to be able to put myself into Annie's shoes, and that may sound easy, but an ED is a devious bastard, and all too often I am lured into thinking everything is OK, only to find out later that it's very much not. Complacency is probably my greatest enemy.
Take this blog as an example. Writing these events down has no doubt taken its toll on Annie. As I read each post, I go to see her and ask if she's OK. Mostly, we chat about what she's written, I put my arms around her, and we hold each other. Not much that has been written here is old news to me. I've heard all these stories several times, which invariably lessens the impact. The problem is that Annie is living with these things inside her head, every single day. To write them down like this is so tough for her, yet I forget sometimes how tough that can be. I need to be there to support her, and I think I am most of the time, but sometimes (when I'm at work for example, and in the middle of something) I fall down. Indeed, it was my idea that she blog this. I see myself as responsible for any ill effects of this, even though it is Annie's choice to post. Was this intervention good? Time will tell I guess, but the magic 8 ball currently says "possibly" (although it also said "yes" in response to "greqgfda gfda d dfsa?". I hope I found a good balance between intervention and control here. I planted an idea, and Annie (for the most part) has carried it through.
Getting help from Sue though had to be her choice. Again, I suggested it, but I couldn't arrange the appointment. When Annie finally did it, I cried with relief. I think Annie was a little surprised at my reaction, but these tenative first few steps are so important because they are actually steps in the right direction.
So today, I read a site that Annie has pointed out to me: Anorexia Carers. It is a great site for quick, easy to read information on how to help someone suffering with Anorexia. I will be adding it to our list of recommended links. One of the more interesting analogies on the site talks about the "gremlin" that is an ED. The sufferer is regarded as normal, but with this gremlin on their shoulder. What I partcularly liked about this description is that each step on the road to recovery is like a slap in the face to this gremlin, whose sole objective is to get rid of you (the support) so that it can work on the sufferer un-interrupted. Let me tell you, I relish every slap and kick I give (or help Annie to give) to this horrible little thing. I just wish I could steel myself against the pain it so often causes me, so I could better support Annie.