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.

Background

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

Mona

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.

The Call

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.

Hormones

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.

Admiration

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.

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Read about Bee’s experience with the implant…

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31 thoughts on “Eating Disorder ~ Mona’s Story

  1. Hi May –
    What a powerful post, still educating your readers even as you describe traumatic events where you strive to parent and support your daughter as best you can. You have done so well to assist and dig into the problem. Impressed that you managed to get her help in NY and that she complied, because it’s a secretive condition. The ‘voice’ in her head could have talked louder than you, and the sensible things you were advising – I am so glad you kept the communication channels open and listened without prejudice.

    I know only too well how hard it was to hold yourself back from throwing recriminations at her father and step-mother, who’ve had such a bad influence in this body image tragedy. I admire you and think very lowly of them.

    My colleague was recently negatively affected – both mood and hormone wise – by the implants and it was reading someone on here’s posts which alerted me to what was happening with her. Happily she identified the implant was having a negative impact and has since had it removed. I hope Mona has a similar upward trend of recovery to her mental status quo now that the synthetic hormones are no longer flooding her body.

    Go Mona, she has coped with so much so I am sure she won’t let this crush her spirit and talent. And Go you May – the kind of Mother any child would want in their corner.

    1. She has improved but still gets a bit shaky now and then. I do hear it takes along time to get all the hormones out of your system x

  2. Oh gosh May, this must have been so difficult for you, as her mother. Yes, this is Mona’s story, but I feel it’s also yours, because once a mom, always a mom. And, you are a wonderful mom. Your support and help must mean so much to your daughter. Thank you for sharing this!

    Rebel xox

    1. Thanks Marie. It has been a rocky road and all we want as a Mum is for our kids to be happy and healthy – so fingers crossed xx

  3. You are a wonderful mother May. This was heart breaking to read. What terrible times you and your daughter have had. And being so far away just adds to the anguish. I am so glad that glad life is steadily improving for your daughter. xx

    1. Thank you CP – I was going to talk to you about it at the time. I think I mentioned I was having some difficulties then- but it was all a bit raw and then time moved us on. xx

  4. As someone whose mental health was deeply impacted by birth control, especially the implant, she has my sympathy.

    I hope now she’s come off them and is more aware of her need to control, she will break those ingrained habits and her health will improve.

    1. I read your series Bee – it was brilliant and evwn though I have linked to it in an soss before I think I will update this post with another link to it. Thanks for reading x

  5. Thank you for sharing this story May. I remember us talking last year and you said you were having issues with a kid. I didn’t want to pry or be nosey, so I had no idea. You and your daughter are so strong. I am glad you two were able to put the pieces together. I too had a “Eureka!” moment when I realized my birth control was causing mental health issues. (That post will be live in the morning, coincidentally).

    1. Hi Sweet – so lovely to see you are blogging again – I will pop over to your blog as soon as I have a moment. TY for reading and I will be really interested to hear your experiences with birth control too x

  6. There is a lot to be said about hormonal contraceptives – jesus I remember how the mini pill messed me up Ayer I had my youngest. My symptoms mimicked post natal depression.

    I really hope that is what caused Mona’s issues and she is on the road to recovery now x

    1. Thanks LSB. I don’t think the contraceptives were the sole cause of the ED – they seemed to have aggravated her mental health issues and then of cause ED is a mental health problem x

  7. I remember you talking about a difficult thing that was happening, was this it? I was so lost in my own sauce, I didn’t go well at reaching out. I’m very glad she was able to reach out to you thoigh! In spite of everything, that she could bring this to you is probably what helped her overcome. You’re an amazing mother and I hope you get the support you need to heal from this also.

    1. Yes this rocked my world last year – and resulted in a few posts skirting around the subject. I was certainly not strong enough to put it out there at that time. Now, I think it may help others so that’s why i wrote it and started LifeMatters with the topic of food. Thanks for reading Cara xx

  8. Wow. It must have been so difficult to hear about her struggles when you were on the other side of the world, as I imagine parents would like to at the very least hold their children to let them know they’re there and that it will be ok, somehow.

    It sounds like you both, and she individually have traveled a very rocky road but unlike the other parent (cannot believe he fought this war against you using his 12-year old daughter???) you’ve been so supportive. It wasn’t about you, it was about Mona and I think that’s the most powerful, incredibly thing a person can do for another when in need.

    I’m a little shocked also that you two had to find out that the contraceptive pill and then the implant escalated things, rather than a doctor considering this. They should know about the side effects of these things.

    My best friend from secondary school was diagnosed with quite a severe eating disorder when we were 14 and up until this summer, she never truly recovered and kept on being severely underweight. I’ve stayed close to her all this time and my heart always aches for her every time it goes poorly, and also lights up when things become more hopeful again. I have very strong feelings of imminent worry when it comes to eating disorders and so my heart also ached for Mona and you, reading this.

    I’m glad you found out about the implant and that things are going better now. I truly hope it stays that way ♥

    1. Thank you so much MLSlave. It has been a difficult few years and I personally feel a child under 16 should not be separated from their Mum if at all possible – more so if they are a girl – But maybe I am old fashioned ;-0 x

      1. No, I agree with you. I feel quite angry for you (idk if that’s appropriate, sorry) that the situation, which sounds like it was majorly created by your ex-husband, separated you and Mona from each other. Divorces are bad enough on its own for children and I believe if one parent is absent/separated from in some way especially if the other parent isn’t paying a whole lot of attention or concern about their partner saying uncalled things about weight to your teenage daughter, their development can be significantly impacted in a negative way. But thankfully Mona has a loving mother and things turned out alright in the end. Your strenght is admirable, xx

  9. This was heartbreaking to read all the details of Mona’s suffering. It pained me to read what was happening to you both in the throes of it all and I’m so glad to hear she’s recovering slowly but surely ❤️ Echoing what missy said, the need to control stems from many things and as we see it’s not uncommon to control (or lack of control) around food. She sounds like such a lovely young woman and I wish her all the best in her recovery and her studies. She’ll have her ups and downs, but she’ll be OK, as she’s got her Mum, ❤️
    Xx

  10. I am glad that you felt able to share this story. I know how much this shook you at the time and even now. I know there is often guilt as a parent but this is not your fault. The need for control comes about for many reasons and from reading this you have been the strength and the healing influence to the road of recovery, rather than any part of the cause. ❤️

  11. I hope you’ve solved her problem with the elimination of the contraceptives. It must have been a hellish time learning this and then having to try and deal with it—particularly from across the pond.

    1. I think we may have a way to go yet but I think it kick started her road to understanding more what happened. Thanks for reading Michael

  12. Oh, May. My heart broke reading this. I hope she is moving past all that now. So, a soap in the UK then, I was hoping to see her on General Hospital. My best wishes for sis too.

  13. That’s a difficult story to tell, now I know why you were so knocked back at the time. So much background adding to the problems and the guilt. Uplifting to read that between you, you seem to have found a path to a solution and that it’s brought you together. Also uplifting to read of the support from friends.

    My very best wishes to you all in conquering and recovering. And I hope her career goes from strength to strength ??

    1. Thanks Melody. I think that what happened has also made her realise her health is more important than a career. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for her x

  14. What a post. This must have been so hard on all of you. I hope she can start recovering now. Anti conception are such nasty hormones. Best of luck to you all ☺️

    1. I think coming off the implant has helped her feel more mentally stable and stronger so she can understand more what happened and put things in place so it does not get quite so bad again. I do expect it will be along haul though – Thanks for reading Liz x

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