My Close Encounter With “Anorexic Annie”
By Barry Roche
Throughout our lives we all have trials and tribulations. I’ve certainly had a few. However, the toughest fight I have ever been in was when my beautiful daughter Kate contracted Anorexia Nervosa. This psychological disease, with its deadly physical consequences, is a bit like fighting a shadow or a phantom – it’s very hard to beat what you can’t see or understand!
How did Kate get it? I don’t know and neither does she.
Kate was a happy, healthy kid who wanted to go to an all-girls boarding school for her senior education. Her mother and I agreed to her request and off she went. Within a few months we noticed that Kate had lost weight and had adopted a particular way of holding herself – she would sit very prim and proper in an upright fashion with her legs crossed. Her mother was mildly concerned about the possibility of Anorexia as this was a disease that seemed to target young teenage girls. I thought Kate was just trying to find her own identity and sense of self – how wrong I was!
As time went on Kate began to lose more weight and, as her parents, we were beginning to become worried – then we got the call. It came from the Principal of the school who had acted on concerns expressed to her by some of Kate’s fellow students!
To our horror, we learnt that Kate was now refusing to eat any food at all. You couldn’t talk sense to her. She would only listen to the voice in her head that she referred to as “Anorexic Annie”. This voice was a bit like a “conscience” that would warn her against eating even though she was starving herself to death. Annie would say things like, “Well don’t blame me if you get fat”. Kate wouldn’t accept that she had anorexia and would readily tell counsellors, therapists and even her parents to effectively (and sometimes literally) to “go and get f’d”.
Kate’s mother and I were beside ourselves. Our beautiful daughter was fading fast. Her weight was down to 46 Kilograms and her regular visits to the psychiatrist (a specialist in Anorexia) didn’t seem to be helping. We had to take her out of school as she wasn’t physically strong enough to even carry her school bag. Kate seemed to hate us for this as she really did want to complete her senior education and not fall behind.
We were taking Kate to the specialist three times a week. Across from his clinic the psychiatrist had a small hospital where his worst patients were. Almost all of these patients were teenage girls although there were a couple of teenage boys. They were like the walking dead and it scared the hell out of me because if Kate’s weight dropped anymore then she too would be admitted. Fed through tubes up their noses while they slept and struggling to eat even one pea, these poor young people were at death’s door.
What many people don’t realise about this disease is that when a person drops below a certain weight (through starvation) the person’s brain is also deprived of nutrients it needs to function rationally. This is one of the reasons why Anorexic patients don’t see themselves as thin. It is also one of the reasons why you can’t reach them with reason and rational thought. You would think that any person who decides to lose weight by refusing to eat, knows that they will die – no, not with this disease!
Kate’s mother and I were never allowed to actually attend or sit in on the “psych sessions” she had with the specialist so we never had any idea of what took place or what was said. All I knew was that nothing was working.
One day while we were at the clinic, Kate’s appointment with the specialist was abruptly interrupted by the discovery of a dead body in the nearby Brisbane River – it was one of his hospital patients! This distressed and frightened me as she could just as easily have been Kate.
At that time in my life I was an attorney and a partner in a large Personal Injury Litigation law firm. I knew how to fight in order to win a legal case but when it came to fighting Anorexia Nervosa, I was at a complete loss. I felt totally helpless and powerless against such an elusive, invisible foe. I didn’t know what to do to help Kate but I knew I had to do something.
In desperation, I spoke to Kate’s mother about an idea I had. I was due to go to Canberra for three and a half months to take over a law firm there. I knew that this disease was not something that could be fought using reason and common sense. I was convinced that it had to be fought using psychology. I also knew that Kate desperately wanted to go back to school to finish her senior education and would definitely not want to come with me to Canberra for 3-4 months. She also did not want to be admitted into the anorexic hospital.
My plan was to try to create a situation where Kate would come up with an alternative solution, on her own account, to what I proposed. My proposal was that, as Kate’s parents, we would tell Kate and the specialist that Kate had two choices – either she came to Canberra with me or we would admit her into the “anorexia hospital” that day. I told Kate’s mother that I thought it was time that we took back control as Kate’s parents otherwise I was sure that our daughter would die. I said that if she agreed with my plan then we would both have to stand together and be rock solid otherwise it wouldn’t work. I explained that if Kate tried to appeal to her then she needed to stay strong and united with me. We would give Kate only two choices.
The next day we went to the Clinic with Kate. I spoke with the specialist and told him that Kate’s mother and I wanted to talk with him alone. He led us into his office and we all sat down. I then told him that we did not believe that his treatment was working and I asked him whether he agreed. He did. I then told him that we had decided to re-take responsibility for our daughter and advised him of the two options we were going to give Kate.
Kate was then invited into the room with us. I told Kate that her mother and I had decided that we were not going to sit by and watch her die. Kate stated that it was her body and she could do what she liked with it. She then said that she was not affecting anyone. I explained that because she had lost so much weight, strength and energy through not eating that going back to school was not an option. I said that this was a perfect example of how she was affecting someone and that someone was her. By choosing not to eat she had removed the option of attending school. We paid the school fees and we weren’t willing to do so while she remained too sick to attend school.
I then went on to tell Kate that her mother and I intended admitting her into hospital that day unless she agreed to come with me to Canberra. Kate thought we were bluffing so we told the specialist we would pop downstairs and book her straight in and be right back. After booking Kate in we returned upstairs. Kate was gob-smacked and furious – all at the same time! I told her it was time for us to go across to the hospital.
Kate asked if she could have a few minutes with the specialist. Her mother and I agreed. We left the room and went outside for a smoke. About 5 minutes later Kate came out to talk first with her mother and then to a family friend who had been waiting at the car – at no time did she try to talk to me. She was trying to work on the others, as she knew I wouldn’t budge. Kate’s mother remained strong and united with me (as did the family friend). This left her with nowhere to go so she went back inside to see the specialist for a second time. About 10 minutes later we were asked to come back inside as “Kate had a proposition to put to us”. With my heart in my mouth I accompanied Kate’s mother into the room.
Kate’s proposition was that if we agreed to send her back to school she would agree to eat. I told her that wasn’t good enough. I said that her mother and I would only agree to her going back to school if she: -
(a) strictly adhered to the eating regime set by the dietician; (b) took responsibility for her own health and
(c) ate normally without either her mother and I having to chase her up; (d) did not deliberately regurgitate food back up;
(e) did whatever we told her and did it willingly; and (f) told Anorexic Annie to “take a hike”.
I also explained that if she breached any one of these rules, she would be admitted into hospital immediately.
Kate accepted these terms to the utter relief of her mother and myself. The last thing we wanted was to carry through with our threat to admit her into hospital that day – although we would have. Kate kept to her part of the deal and in exchange she returned to school, completed her senior education and went on to complete her university degree in Communication (Marketing).
I don’t think anyone ever really conquers Anorexia. It’s a bit like an addiction. You first have to admit that you have it (which Kate eventually did) and then manage the addiction. Of course, what works for one person may not work for another. Kate is alive and well. Yes, she still has to struggle against the influence of Anorexic Annie on a regular basis but - so far so good.
About the Author: Barry Roche
Barry Roche is the founder of The Self-Help Club (www.self-helpclub.com) and the author of the ebook, “How To “Win” When Facing Divorce”. He is a former Family Law Specialist who wrote this book specifically for women. The book is available for purchase at www.divorceandwomen.com. Barry is also the author of a 90 page Manual on “How To Beat Your Financial Worries When You Don’t Have A Job” (also available for purchase at www.divorceandwomen.com). Find out more from his website: Divorce and Women
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