A few things in life can literally shake a person’s foundations. Such a thing happened to me last summer. And in many ways I am still reeling from that particular phone conversation with my daughter, one day in July.
I have documented before how my heart was broken when my youngest daughter – Mona – decided to go and live with her Dad. She was nearly 13. In many ways I should have viewed it as fortuitous as it freed me up earlier to be with my man, but the circumstances of my life at that time were difficult to say the least. My kids’ Dad was a bitter and twisted individual that manipulated Mona to leave. I know this for a fact as he tried the same trick with my eldest, who refused to go. His reasons were twofold. Firstly, to break my heart. Second, his personal circumstances meant he would receive a considerable financial benefit from having custody of our twelve year-old.
My heart broke for many reasons. I felt betrayed; Mona and I had been very close and my life was wrapped up in her schooling, friends, clubs. I was a motivated mother. But what made it harder was the fact that her dad had constantly made things difficult between us so communication was strained and at every turn he tried to break me. In a way, once she had gone I was increasingly keen to retaliate. There was little more he could do to hurt me.
I expect at this time I was not a wonderfully supportive Mum to Mona. I had to adjust my life and my emotions. But time heals and we became close again. At 15 she asked her sister – Darling Near Miss – if she could come back into the fold and was told NO because she had caused too much upset to me already. I only learned about this a few years ago.
Content Warning ~ Eating Disorders
Well, she has always been an individual. Often a loner and motivated to be an actress from the age of four. I was never a ‘stage Mum’ but encouraged her because I could see she had a talent. A few years ago she won a complete scholarship to a very prestigious acting school in New York and was determined to go. I had already noticed her obsessive tendencies where food and fitness were concerned. When still at grammar school she never stayed the night with me. Her Dad would always come and pick her up. As a consequence, I did not witness enough of her behaviour to ring any alarm bells.
The year before going to the New York Academy, she did stay with me on and off. Mona had become a vegan, lost weight and was now obsessive about drinking water. Saying she was constantly thirsty, and insisting her gut was bloated. Mona was also running every day. She looked beautiful but I felt a niggle and chatted to her about the constant drinking and stomach problem. Because I have a background in nutrition I started her on Aloe Vera juice – the good stuff, though. Very quickly the bloating subsided to some degree. And off she went to America.
I knew it would be hard for her in NYC, but she had achieved so much and was determined to be there. Immediately she dropped the vegan diet and started eating standard American food. So it didn’t surprise me to hear her bloating had returned and that she often suffered from dreadful constipation. The water-drinking was as extreme as ever. Mona had been seeing the school counselor for a while and at this point made a doctor’s appointment too. The doctor tested her blood and came back with many different levels for the cells. I researched some of them and although none were in the “problem zone” some were very near. Her white cell count was low for a start.
Returning to the UK last May for a break I could see she had gained a little weight. But I was not overly concerned as she was never meant to be thin. Her frame needed a little extra flesh. I was more worried that she may actually have a physical health-related gut problem.
A few months later, she was back in NY, and I received the call from her. Very casually, she announced that she had a problem with food – an eating disorder – and had got into the habit – periodically – of bingeing and then vomiting. This had been going on for a few years. As I assimilated the information my heart began to race then sank. This was not the plan. My baby was suffering with mental health issues. I felt so many things, guilt, anger, disappointment, sadness – but this wasn’t about me – so I stayed in control of my voice and we shared a very long conversation.
She explained how the counsellor had helped her reflect back and finally see what she considered as merely a habit was actually a full blown disorder. I learned so much during that lengthy chat.
Mona’s food history
Right from the start I remember Mona would want to eat anything. As a toddler she would even eat her play dough. But apart from an instinctive need to put everything in her mouth I do not expect it was easy for her. There were photos of me as a young woman. Let’s just say I was known as “The Body.” Then her older sister was growing in front of her eyes into a size 8, leggy, 32E young woman. Recently, Mona confessed -to Darling Near Miss and me- that she used to look at us and think that will happen to me one day. I will be slim and busty – it is in my genes. But Mona has a different body shape to her sister and me. I wonder if the start of her eating disorder had anything to do with this?
When she was 15 her dad’s partner stupidly suggested that she and Mona have a competition to ‘see who could get fit and lose the most weight first’. This made Mona overtly conscious of her body and what she ate. It was at this point that her relationship with food became problematic. On occasions she would come to me for her tea, tell her dad she had not eaten, and go home to enjoy a second dinner. However, to be honest, she was still not particularity big. Her frame allowed her to pull it off. But still the dieting competition continued. Unbeknown to me.
I keep thinking if she had come back to my home at 15 then perhaps the eating disorder would not have taken a hold, or at least her sister and I would have noticed. Her dad never did.
Apparently the disorder went in cycles. Sometimes she was fine and then the inappropriate eating behaviour would escalate. As her bingeing and vomiting had not become daily occurrences, she assumed she was still controlling the situation. It was only after talking to the counselor that Mona realised she had a genuine, serious disorder.
Understanding and Supporting
After that telephone call the ground beneath my feet felt shaky. But this wasn’t about me.
Suddenly I understood the strange anomalies in her blood-tests.
I was the first person she had told. She then rang her sister and a close friend plus my man’s brother. We all offered her our support. She didn’t want to tell her Dad.
Shortly after this her condition deteriorated. A cycle of eating, puking and laxatives. All this was instigating the bloating. I was also concerned about the constant water drinking. I looked up the amount she should be drinking and noted her consumption was dangerously high which was obviously a reason for her thirst. She was vastly diluting all her bodily salts. I managed to get her to make up an electrolyte drink to take into the academy with her and found her a nutritionist in NYC.
The new drinking regime seemed to help. The nutritionist agreed with my thoughts on that and also worked out a diet plan to help the constipation and stop the laxatives.
A few things I’d like to mention at this point about the professionals. These new dietary changes did help a bit. It also gave Mona a sense of being in control and focusing on helping herself. But when she went for the consultation, the lady knew Mona had an eating disorder but still weighed her and told her she was 4 pounds over weight. That night Mona went home and binged. The doctor investigated her gut problem but never suspected it might be related to an eating disorder. That was not on his radar! Mona attended a support group – which only made her worse. The continued discussions of food and disorders did not help her mindset at all.
We got though the next few months one day at a time. Speaking at every oppertunity. It was not easy to hear about her past and current journey. She went into detail about how she heard voices telling her to binge. And that the obsessive running she used to do was all part of this.
I researched. Spoke to Missy as I remembered a post of hers from last year. A few other online friends supported me too. You know who you are. Then Mona was home after her graduation – even with all this going on she still came second in the year with her grades. Then, a minor breakthrough occurred when I read a few posts regarding birth contol on Violet Grey’s blog.
Violet discusses how the effects of the pill affected her own mental health and body image. An alarm bell went off in my head. Aged 15 Mona had started taking a hormonal pill due to period problems. Then stayed on it when she had a steady boyfriend aged 16/17. She stopped for about a year and had got the implant about 6 months before leaving for New York. I read up on it, then rang Mona immediately.
I learned that the implant is notorious for causing mental imbalance which may lead to eating disorders. When I spoke to Mona we both had a ‘eureka’ moment as that very day she had also been researching the implant and was about to ring me with the same thoughts. We talked back over the ups and downs of her disorder. There was a definite correlation with her use of the contraceptive pill and an escalation once she had moved to the implant.
She had the implant removed in October. After about two weeks she felt a slight change and her emotional well-being and relationship with food both improved. She still has her moments but seems to be stronger now and not so concerned about her body image. I know it is a long haul, and there will be relapses, but I am convinced removing the implant helped.
She still has not told her dad.
I admire her determination to pursue a difficult career in a strange place. Leaving your home country at such a young age is not easy. I couldn’t have done it. I do think she will return to work in the UK. She is just gaining much needed experience on her visa.
Where I am concerned, I feel battered and bruised. My foundation rocked. But this is really not about me, it is Mona’s story.
Image from Pixabay
Read about Bee’s experience with the implant…