My daughter weighs 117
That’s the message that she SMS’d me this week, and that she was happy and felt good about herself at that weight. As the father of someone who has suffered through several years of anorexia and bulimia, I was proud…and sad. Proud because though she continues to fight it, she’s getting through it and she’s actually beginning to lead a successful life, by most definitions but most importantly by hers. Sad because I think I should have done more, though I’m not sure what that more would have been. Anorexia and Bulimia are confusing to fight, especially for guys like me that rarely miss a meal.
About seven years ago, I checked her into a hospital weighing 80ish pounds, with Osteoporosis that would have made a grandmother cringe and a multitude of other ailments. She’s been through that hospital stay, a session at a “camp”, several counseling sessions. She now has two Bachelor’s degrees, a great job and a growing self-esteem.
Normally there would be little reason to put this info into the blogosphere, but my daughter and I have found a lot of material and books aimed at those fighting this, and at the mothers, but little for the fathers. So, in the interest of sharing info with other Dad’s like myself, here are some bullets (please feel free to comment):
- Physical health + Mental health: Anorexia and Bulimia are both mental and physical. The physical issues can run the gamut from damage to the esophagus and teeth from puking, to osteoporosis to heart damage. Both aspects need to be addressed, but, unfortunately, the M.D.’s that I ran into (my mistake) only understood the physical…they did a great job of getting her physical health back to an acceptable level, but as soon as she got out of the hospital she was right back into it. The mental part was the most difficult for me, as I tried to attack with logic (yes, I’m a geek) and there is nothing logical about this disease. My advice: you gotta get professional help for both aspects, but the mental aspect may lag until the person suffering wants to be helped.
- Guys try to fix things; when females, especially wives and daughters have problems, guys, especially fathers, are wired to try and fix them. With my daughter’s anorexia and bulimia, this made a large quantity of my hair fall out and almost drove me nuts (or actually did if you listen to my wife). There are a lot of mis-truths and mis-directions that get told by these diseases, and though I could normally tell when my daughter was telling me the truth about her physical and mental state, sometimes I went off on goose chases. My advice: Dads, as much as we want to, we cannot fix this; be sure and track the physical difficulties and make sure those don’t get out of hand, and continue to offer (and in some cases push) help and counseling.
- The strongest willpower; think about the mental toughness and strength it takes to not eat for an entire day. Granted, after a while it gets to be a habit, but it amazed me that my daughter was able to do this. Dads, this is the mentality we are dealing with when we “try and fix it”.
- Guilt and blame game: these are the unhealthiest and most long term aspects of both diseases, and (this is truly not meant as a sexist remark) it is almost always between the females. Is it my fault for not seeing this coming? Is it my fault for letting her read those crappy mags where women are portrayed as rail thin? Is it my fault for not being more supportive on how she looks, or building up her confidence? A person can spend a long time in this death spiral of self-blame, or blaming others. My advice: unless there is something obvious where someone in the family is abusively saying “you are fat”, you will never figure out why this disease affected your family…focus on getting through it, and on helping your family member get through it.
- They have to want to change: see all of the above. Unless this person, your daughter, whom you have loved, coached, pushed, cajoled and led all of your life wants to stop restricting, binging and purging, no amount of lecturing, ordering, pleading or manipulating on a father’s part is going to get them to change. My advice: just make sure their physical health doesn’t deteriorate to the point of long-term affects, and continue to offer to listen yourself and to offer counseling.
- Eating in front of me: this is a pet and personal one, and probably my biggest failing. My daughter would not eat in front of us, always making some excuse (she had eaten before, was somehow an instant vegetarian, etc.). Unfortunately, I made the major mistake of taking this personally, and generally getting upset about it. And I pay for that; to this day, my daughter will eat in front of my wife, but most times will not eat in front of me. I’ve learned, maybe too late, to keep my mouth shut.
Any comments or other shared experiences welcomed. Hope this list of random thoughts and bullets helps.