Nothing matters beyond my kids‘ health, happiness, love, and safety. When they get sick, my world stops. And, I feel helpless when I can’t fix their problems.
So, when anorexia nervosa attacked my son, Jake, I lost all inner peace and well being. I watched my brilliant, sweet, level-headed son disappear before my eyes. I felt devastated, petrified, and without any resources.
Jake started losing weight in April of his senior year of high school.
With Jake’s verbal reassurances to stay healthy, I let him leave for college. Unfortunately, things got much worse at college. During fall break, I took him to a doctor who diagnosed an eating disorder. We sent him back with support from an eating disorder clinic by his campus and weekly counseling.
I knew that telling him to “Stop it” or “Snap out of it” wasn’t going to work. And, even though I knew it was wrong, I kept hearing myself asking him the same question over and over again: “For such a smart kid, how could you do something so stupid?” I didn’t know what to do, so I was forced to sit back and watch the horror show unfold.
Struggling to Accept that I Had an Anorexic Child
For the first few months, I struggled to accept that my child had an eating disorder.
Admitting this validated, in my mind, that I failed as a parent. Besides, he did not fit my impression of an anorexic: a girl striving to look like her favorite celebrity. Eating disorders in men just didn’t seem plausible.
I thought Jake was just taking his new vegetarian diet and exercise regime too far. I later realized that his eating disorder had nothing to do with his desire to be thin. Jake wanted control over his life when everything else seemed out of control.
The Wake Up I Needed
As I became more frantic, Jake pulled away from me, and I understood that I was in danger of losing my son. He stopped calling as often and sometimes took days to return my text messages. Jake also rejected counseling and stopped attending his appointments at the Eating Disorder Clinic.
This was the wake-up I needed; I was not going to let Jake slip away from me.
His 5’11” frame weighed 115 pounds. My 19-year-old son weighed less than me.
I brought Jake home from college. He was too sick and weak to write his final exams. We were both scared and knew he needed to be home and under his doctor’s supervision. I will never forget the moment when the doctor told us that Jake’s condition was very serious and that he needed to be tested for organ failure. This was the lowest point in the journey for me, and those words still haunt me today.
I Had to Change
At that moment, something clicked. I realized that I needed to control my fear and pain in order to help my son. He was dealing with enough and I was complicating his life by exposing my pain. I had to change. My pleading and nagging were not working.
As hard as it was, I had to let Jake be in control, not me.
With that revelation, I became a better listener. I accompanied him to all his appointments and let him know that I was right beside him every step of the way. He let me know that he was the only one in charge of his destiny, and I had to let him do things on his terms.
I was saved by the people who surrounded me—family, friends, and medical professionals who expertly and compassionately helped bring Jake back to life. Recovery wasn’t easy and it was, without a doubt, the worst year of my life, but we survived it.
I think Jake is one of the lucky ones—he went all-out to recover. He felt the love and support from so many people who cared very deeply about him. He knew that he had so much to live for. Ultimately, he drove the recovery process. In this cruel reality, the roles became reversed.
This article was one in a series about male eating disorders, including boys vs. girls.
Read more perspectives: Parent 1, Expert 1, and Expert 2.