Written by Carol Pollard
When I first held Lizzie in my arms at the maternity unit I knew that I would love her with all my heart. Throughout the pregnancy, I had done everything I could to help her grow a strong healthy body. But, now that she was fourteen, and gripped by the ravages of anorexia, where had she gone? Was she still behind those sunken eyes that longed for peace which never came? Was she behind the flashes of hate when I gave her food that I had lovingly prepared? The beautiful body, I had grown in the warmth of my womb, was now cold and malnourished. How could I ever help her to find a way out of her own personal hell?
Somehow, I managed to hold on to my faith that inside this dreadfully broken Lizzie was still the real person, my beautiful loving and determined daughter. And it was Lizzie’s determination that was one of the keys that I kept offering to her as I tried to help her find release from this dreadful disease.
Lizzie knew that her determination could be used for good. Like the time she made hundreds of Red Nose cakes to raise money at school for those less fortunate than herself. And the way she pushed herself to run or cycle to raise money for charity. Tragically, this determination had now been hijacked by anorexia and was driving her relentless self-destruction. But I believed that she could turn it around. And I tried to help her believe that too.
Whether in hospital or community care, Lizzie and I spent many hours together talking, challenging, crying, hugging as I tried to encourage her to use her powerful determination for good again, rather than harm. We talked about what she could achieve in her life if she would fight back and defeat the anorexia. We talked about how she could make a difference in the world. Each conversation slowly turned the direction of her determination, until gradually she began to take small positive steps forward.
Tragically, there are many other mothers facing the same challenge with their children today. B-eat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, calculates that there are 1.6 million people in the UK living with a diagnosed or undiagnosed eating disorder. What is my advice to their mothers? Keep on believing that your real child is still there, deep inside. Keep on encouraging them to use their determination to do something positive with their life. Keep on praying, keep on giving, keep on loving.
Thankfully, Lizzie managed to fight back against this illness, qualified as a doctor, and has now written a book ‘Life Hurts: a doctor’s personal journey through anorexia’ (by Dr Elizabeth McNaught – her married name).
As people mark this year’s World Mental Health Day, I hope that many mothers will take comfort from the stories of Lizzie and others like her. Even though it may not feel like it now, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a hope and a future.
For more information see www.LifeHurts.net