As heartbreaking as it is to discover that your son or daughter has an eating disorder, depression, another type of mental illness or may have even attempted suicide, there is a positive side. You have found out in time. The younger your child is, the better his chances are of recovery.
I am not a professional. I am only a mother who has been on this journey for a few years now. Unfortunately, as my son is a polite and hard-working child, we did not recognize the signs earlier. We thought his dark moods and spending hours alone in his room were “typical” teenage phases. We took his moodiness and dark clothes as a sign of youthful rebellion.
Here a a few things that I would do if I were you:
- Get your child professional help immediately. He/she will need a good psychologist and psychiatrist.
- Your child may not empathize or like the professional at first, but should develop a relationship of trust with this person. If over time, your child doesn’t feel comfortable with the professional, consider changing.
- DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF. This is one of the hardest things to do. You will feel guilt and wonder why you hadn’t picked up on the signs before. Many children with these illnesses are clever and want to hide it from their parents. Even though they are living under your roof, they are so good at hiding their illness that the parents are often the last to know. (My son is a protector and wanted to protect us from the truth.)
- Reach out for help yourself. The professionals will give you lots of advice about how to behave around your child. You may feel like you have to be strong for him, but you will also feel like you are falling apart inside. It will take its toll. Seek professional help as well.
- Don’t expect your child’s eating disorder to disappear right away. There could be many setbacks.
- Expect to go through all the stages of grief. Your child is still alive and will get better, but your realization of what he/she has been going through is a real loss. You are allowed to feel it and grieve it.
- Get a good diagnosis. It may take time. We are one year into treating my son’s illness and have finally been given a diagnosis that we can understand. His eating disorder is only a symptom of his illness. I am grieving again over the new diagnosis. Nevertheless, I know that by accepting it, we can be part of his recovery.
- Listen to the signs. If your child has difficulties verbalizing how he’s feeling, he can use signals to tell you when he needs help. For example, thumbs down or throwing a prized possession on the floor can mean “help me”. In my house we’ve reached the stage where my son will actually come out of his bedroom and tell me he needs me to take him to the hospital now. Good communication takes time, trust, understanding and lots of love.
- Get. Some. Sleep. You will feel that you need to be vigilant 24/7. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can take turns with other family members. Your child may be given sleeping pills. When he is going through a critical stage, I wait until he is sound asleep before I go to bed.
- Reach out to me. Comments on this post are not automatically posted. I read them with a fine tooth comb and can contact you privately.
- Believe that you will come out stronger on the other side. You will all certainly be wiser. Good luck to you, my friend. I wish you and your children all the best.
*I am not a professional healthcare worker, just an experienced mom and teacher.
Thanks to a bosom high school friend for asking me to write this. I hope it helps make all parent’s personal journey with mental illness a little bit easier.