Keeping your child's illness a secret

Collins is not my real last name. It is a family name I use as a pseudonym to keep my family's privacy. The funny thing is, Laura Collins has her own email and even her own wardrobe, since she is the one invited to conferences - as a small town freelance writer I pretty much live in flannel and khaki.

My daughter says LC even has her own "radio voice."

I don't regret using a pseudonym in my public life. I'm not hiding anything; I'm just letting my young daughter make her own decisions about celebrity.
But I do regret the amount of secrecy our family operated under when my daughter was ill. My husband and I agree that was the greatest mistake we made during our daughter's recovery. The first reason is practical: it hindered my ability to use resources around me. The second was emotional: secrecy falsified my relations with others at a time when I needed others the most. And it kept us separate from those to whom we might have offered support or aid.

But the worst part of secrecy was the message it sent my daughter: that at some level we were embarrassed or ashamed of her illness.

Most people with eating disorders want to keep it a secret. This is partly to protect the illness from challenges. But there is, still, a lot of stigma and ignorance about out there. As parents, we want to spare our children all that - and we are moved by their intense desire for secrecy.

But each one of us who does come forward helps others. We lessen the stigma and ignorance for the next family. And it says to our kids: we are not ashamed of you, or your illness. And we'll stand next to you with pride in private, and in public.


  1. As someone who has also struggled with the practical and emotional problems of balancing the natural desire for healthy privacy with the risk of secrecy and shame I sympathise with you - mind you it's fun making up all the names!

  2. We discussed our d's illness with relatives and close friends, and left it to our d to decide who among her friends and acquaintences to tell. She attended a small high school and soon everyone was aware. The outpouring of support was overwhelming. Friends visited almost every day when she was not able to go to school. Her buddies never abandoned her.
    It turns out that nearly every class of about 70 girls at her school has had at least one or two develop AN. In response to the greater awareness of EDs, the school modified its physical education program to emphasize health and fitness for life, rather than competitive athletics. So good things came from bringing it out into the open. At the same time, I would not disclose it to others without our d's OK.

  3. Thank you so much for saying this. The shame surrounding EDs, and indeed, ALL "mental" illnesses, is so thick in this society, and so toxic to recovery. I would love to live in a world where admitting to my ED and my stuggle with depression did not brand me as OTHER; so many people suffer from these illnesses--your work bringing them out of the closet and working against their stigma will, I believe, save lives.

    So again, thank you.

  4. Until society grows up I felt I gave my daughter the best chance at recovery by keeping her "secret". For me it was easy to give her this as I knew it would also give her strength in the next few years to learn new ways that would keep her strong. I had already seen how to use of labels limited young children in school. I sometimes think the label became another hurdle to overcome. Whom are we lying to if we know the truth? We are people trying to live in a discriminating and judging world. Maybe someday compassion will be the only response and we can heal.
    It wasn't easy for her to share with me, let alone her sister and brothers.(who can have big mouths) Having one huge inner enemy to fight was enough! Privacy to do so without an overwhelming amount of advice or explaining was essential for us. Her swiftest chance at recovery came from taking the space she needed, with the privacy she needed, and working on it as if her life depended on it.
    No,there's no shame at all in anorexia or bulimia. It's just that at a time when one needs there energy the most for a fight why give it away unless it's to those who will give you strength and feed our tired souls.
    Marcella, I am full aware that "some" of our kids reveal themselves and would shout it from the roof tops! You have to work with the individual you have and you did the best you could.
    If my daughter is ever ready to share her story in a public way I'll be her biggest fan. Meanwhile if a friend asks for guidance for another friend she always knows which forum to direct mom and dad and not to blame anyone. I admire this young woman so much. I admire all of us for fighting this whether they've been outed or they're chiseling away in private and reclaiming the life they're worthy of.
    I don't need to take my cover off and reveal myself.
    Laura, you know who you are and that's what's important. Laura Collin's is probably the best friend you have and ED's enemy. Ever thought of making "her" a cape? : )

  5. We're taking a mixed sort of approach. I was raised by a shrink, so I was brought up understanding that the mind/brain gets sick and is sometimes missused, strained, or challenged in exactly the same way any other organ does. My H and D both come from families for whom mental illnesses are still viewed as weaknesses or moral failings. I think H has changed a lot since we first met.
    We tell our friends and family, and any adult who, for D's (or our) safety, support, or well being should reasonably know. D is extremely uncomfortable with this, but we point out that it would be irresponsible of us not to tell, if it could potentially risk her safety or recovery.
    When it comes to what she says to others, we've said that it's perfectly ok to say as much or little as she chooses. "I've/She's been ill, but I'd rather not discuss that" and a turn of the conversation to some other topic is perfectly acceptable for someone who any of us does not feel needs to know.
    IrishUp is obviously more of a state of mind than a name ;-)



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