The concentric waves of damage

Traumatic injury causes post-traumatic stress symptoms in loved ones; this should surprise no one : Relatives of ICU patients at risk of PTSD too

Parents of eating disorder patients see their children in pain, extreme distress, confusion, violence, self-harm. We are often separated from our children physically, not to mention emotionally.

Add to this the fact that good parents feel responsible for their kids, and responsible for failing to protect their children from distress, and sometimes are even still told we are complicit in creating the eating disorder... it is a perfect storm.

I have not yet met the parent who walked away unburdened and unmarked after a child's recovery. The falling apart on descent is PART of the process. Anger, depression, unrelenting anxiety, these are normal AFTERWARD, and for a while. Sometimes we need counseling, sometimes we need drugs, and everyone needs time.

My daughter initially fell ill in 2002, recovered that year, and except for a brief relapse of thoughts and behaviors a few years later has been quite healthy and well. She's an independent adult, thriving, we have a great relationship, But I still suffer from the PTSD of having her ill.

Negative symptoms: much easier to anger or anxiety, medical after-effects. Positive symptoms: dogged inability to let go of the issue, compulsion to aid families newer to the ED world.

I don't know that we can avoid this. Of COURSE parents are traumatized by this illness. I really wish we all would acknowledge it and care for each other with this in mind. "Move on" is not helpful. "She's fine now" is not welcome. No one says this about breast cancer survivors and parents of children who've had serious surgeries. "I hear you" is good. "Good for you." that's helpful. "Tell me about it again," now that's love!


  1. Here's my favorite bad comment from a friend. It was during refeeding, my d was still underweight and emotionally volitile. My friend asked about the last dr's appointment and I told her that my d had gained weight. My voice didn't match her enthusiasm and happiness. Her comment, "What will it take to make you happy? She gained."

    Oh, I don't know...having my d eat freely...having my d emotionally stable...not having to look at the next few weeks with the dread of refeeding...having my d recovered from a potentially fatal illness...a magic potion that'll prevent my d from ever relapsing...the list goes on.

    Recovery happens for the child and parent, but whereas my d wants to move forward quickly and forget the last year, it's going to take me a lot longer to recover.

  2. Here's to your recovery. Here's to your child's recovery and your family's recovery.

    Here's to society making the whole process less judgemental, easier, less confused, more compassionate.

  3. Excellent post, Laura. When I was at my sickest, I was too wrapped up in it to see what was happening to the rest of my family. As I progressed in my recovery, I realized that my mother and my younger sisters were deeply affected by my illness. My mother actually scheduled a few sessions with my psychiatrist. Now that I'm doing better, I can talk frankly to my sisters (17-year-old twins) about my experiences. It can be painful to hear how much it hurt them, but it's a process that's ultimately worthwhile.

  4. Laura,

    Yes, yes, yes to this posting. It's a posting that the mental health world working with our sons and daughters need to hear over and over. In their totally justifiable concern for the health of their ED patients, they must not forget that these suffers are part of a larger family system that is suffering in it's own way right along with them. Often it is in a more private way, with less support, both practically speaking as well as emotional (not to much financial in addition). Add to that the wall of privacy and mystery that often ensues and shrouds our loved ones, that too often tends to excludes the rest of us sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes very overtly. And, if you add into that the implication that you may somehow have been one of the 'environmental factors' contributing to your child's illness, it IS a perfect storm of anxiety, depression, inability to act and extreme stress. Relationships can be stressed in the extreme. Where is the Hippocratic oath? First do no harm...There just has to be a way that supports all and is less emotionally destructive. Actually, I believe separation of parent/child when ill should be OUTLAWED as cruel and unusual unless there is proof of an abusive relationship. It is just plain morally wrong and hospitals that support it should not be funded or reimbursed by insurance companies. I am ANGRY, ANGRY, ANGRY about it. In what other illness would a 14 year old be separated from her family for 5 weeks? Cancer? Schizoprenia? Bipolar disorder? What, prey tell, is the good of this?

  5. People most certainly do say similar things to breast cancer survivors and parents who've serious surgeries, along with many other problems!

  6. My bad, anonymous. I should have said 'decent and compassionate people' don't do that.

    The level of unhelpfulness can be high wherever you are, but with mental illnesses it seems quite a bit worse. And eating disorders 'don't get no respect' at all.

  7. My office-mate has a picture on her wall that has a big ol' catfish with his head out of the water, and a big red ball stuck in it's mouth. Backstory: poor fishy had gotten this thing stuck in it's mouth, and had actually come to the surface b/c it was suffocating (it's gills couldn't work right). A fisherman did remove the thing from the catfish's mouth, and let it go.
    The caption under this picture reads
    "Be kinder to everyone than they deserve. They may be fighting a battle that you know nothing about."

    I find that caption springing to mind more and more often these days.


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