What Recovery Means to Me (Part One)

Every post I have written on Nourish about what it was like helping Julia survive anorexia has been both difficult and liberating. Some of these last ones before our one-year project ends are the hardest. Julia is in this place called recovery, which can be kind of nebulous since it’s not clear what defines recovery. All I know is that it was the goal when she was diagnosed in November of 2013. “This disease can be extinguished,” I remember her very first program therapist telling us, and I believed him. The statistics for achieving recovery from anorexia are grim—and the ones for staying in recovery aren’t great either. Despite this, we are here, and I couldn’t be happier for Julia. She gets a second lease on life; a chance to be the person she wants to be free of mental illness.

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Supporting a Sibling in Recovery

The impact mental illness has on a family is extraordinary. As parents, we were challenged every day for years as we struggled to understand anorexia, depression, and anxiety and find a way to stop it from destroying our daughter’s life. We had her to protect and, equally as important, her younger brother. He was caught up in the chaos and confusion like the rest of us, and he was only eleven. How could we help him understand what was happening to his big sister when we didn’t fully get it ourselves? Our love for both of them dictated our path moving forward. We decided not to shut him out or protect him from the truth; instead, we chose to do our best to meet his needs, openly communicate what was going on with Julia and include him in her treatment, get him personal counseling so he could ask questions and share his feelings, and always make sure he knew he had our unconditional love and support.

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Parenting a Child with Anorexia

Julia was only thirteen when she was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, and anxiety: the trifecta of mental illness, as I called it. I spent far too much time trying to figure out how and why it happened; after all, I was the stay-at-home mother by choice and with all that daily love and experience I was giving my children, I should have seen the signs and intervened. But more often than not, parents aren’t to blame for mental illness, as was the case for my wife Susan and me.

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The Role of a Dietitian in Recovery

Today marks the five-year anniversary since I began seeing my dietitian Betsy. It feels a bit surreal that it’s already been that long—and even more surreal when I reflect on how much I’ve grown in my recovery and my life since our first session. When I met Betsy, I was two days out of an Intensive Outpatient Program and two months out of residential care. My anorexia was still at large, dictating many of my decisions and driving many of my thoughts. I genuinely wanted to get better but when that voice was so loud and present, better sometimes didn’t seem worth the bother.

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Refeeding My Anorexic Child

Helping a loved one get well when they’re ill usually involves doing what you can to help them relieve their discomfort and fight to overcome their illness. You’re working together. This isn’t the case with mental illness. For a teenager with an eating disorder like Julia, wellness and relief from pain were not her endgame when she was in crisis, nor we were in it together. It was so complicated and counterintuitive as a parent and caregiver. I couldn’t understand why anyone would feel compelled to harm themselves. But mental illness sends a different message to the afflicted. It makes everyday living full of conflict. Anorexia, experts say, is the worst of all of them with its high mortality rate and long-term physical damage.

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Drinking Calories

Drinking calories to restore weight is very common in eating disorder treatment. ED patients are often required to eat a high number of calories, and that can be a challenging feat—for both the body and the mind. But liquids go down easier. They take up less room in the stomach. Not to mention that they’re a lot less intimidating than a slice of cake or a piece of pizza, even if the caloric value is similar.

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Surviving Eating Disorder Treatment

This past Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of my admission to Center for Discovery, my last inpatient treatment facility. It still gives me pause sometimes when I realize how long ago that was. It’s a good reminder of how far I’ve come and that although I still struggle and have challenging days, it used to be so much worse.

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