In the fall of 1999, my 15-year-old daughter, Lynze, confessed that she had been binging and purging for the last three months. She’d dropped from a size 9 to a size 0 right before my eyes, and yet, as her parent, I never saw it. How could this be? Was she sure (and yes, I asked her that question)?
And so, our journey of dealing with an eating disorder began.
By nature, I am a fixer, so I was sure that I could fix this too. Initially, I blamed myself for not seeing such a dramatic weight loss. Was I still reeling from my divorce after 22 years? Why, oh why, was this happening?
First, we tried to find a psychologist who specialized in dealing with an eating disorder. Years ago, anorexia nervosa and bulimia were almost unheard of, or so we thought. We had never dealt with mental health issues, so I did not understand the importance of my daughter “clicking” with the psychologist. She danced circles around them. The first one was sure she had been abused by her father. Wrong. The second one was too young to realize that they were becoming friends and losing the doctor-patient relationship along the way.
Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, it did. On February 24, 2000, my daughter attempted suicide. If I thought I had failed her before, I was certain of it now. I experienced the loneliest night of my life, sitting by her side in the intensive care unit and praying that she would survive. The hospital released her to my care, but insisted that she see a psychiatrist.
I complied. The following day, 45 minutes after her initial visit, the psychiatrist announced that my daughter was bipolar. The psychiatrist recommended medication with a visit in three months, and she would be fine. Again, I did my research; we even attended a support group meeting for families with a loved one who is bipolar. The symptoms were similar, but they never addressed the weight loss. Two weeks later, the mood swings returned. The medication had also created a walking zombie, and I didn’t have a clue what to do. I had nowhere to turn; no support groups for parents. So, I prayed.
My answer came from a friend whose daughter had an eating disorder and almost died. The daughter, a college student, was willing to talk with me. She told me her story and gave me the name of her psychologist; Robin Bartolotta. I called Robin, told her what had happened, our present situation and asked whether she could help us. She became our savior.
First, she met with my daughter, then with me. She assured me that I hadn’t failed: not as a mom and not as a person. Lynze wanted to be thin just because she did. There was no abuse and no hidden agenda. She had a vision of how she wanted to look that directly resulted from peer pressure at her high school. And yes, Robin could help. We worked with a nutritionist, a medical doctor and Robin.
Baby steps: that was my mantra. The first milestone was Lynze agreeing not to purge for one whole day. She ate one piece of string cheese and one graham cracker square and didn’t purge. We celebrated with lots of hugs and tears.
It was a long, lonely journey, but we traveled it together, side-by-side. It was never easy. I purchased her clothes that ranged from size 0 to 17 again and again. On any given day, she could have a “moment” when she fell apart, hating what she saw in the mirror or getting ready to go out and screaming that nothing fit. We argued about her going to school against her desire to stay in bed, covered blankets to keep the sun out. We shed lots and lots of tears. But she survived. We both did.
I am proud to tell you that today, my daughter lives in Los Angeles, completed her degree at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and is pursuing a career in the film industry as a costume designer. She recently had a relapse, but we knew what to do, and she got the help she needed.
Me? I will never forget the war we fought with anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and I’ve made a solemn promise to myself that someday, somehow, I will open an eating disorder center where families and friends of loved ones can gather. No one should be dealing with an eating disorder without support. No one should ever have to travel this road alone.