“Have you really struggled with. . .that?” A man asked me quietly after I had shared about my eating disorder. When I nodded my head, he looked at the ground, raw pain etched across his face.
“My daughter, she has that too. How do you get to a point where you can share that?” The tenderness in his eyes reminded me of my own mother and other parents I had seen caring for their child with mental illness. His tears and those of other families show the agony that support people deal with every day. However, this also brings me hope because it shows me that those children and young adults have others trying to help and love them.
Many caregivers have asked me how I can open up about my story. This question usually has two main intentions. First, seeing someone in recovery brings hope for their own child. Only someone who has been through the deep agony of an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts understands the struggle of living each day with that burden. Meeting others who have been in that dark place but are now using it to touch others is helpful for those suffering and their families.
Secondly, parents long to know when their own child will open up and find healing. Many feel ashamed and fear telling about their disorders. This silence entraps their family as well. Out of respect, parents keep their teenager’s crisis a secret while the pain eats away at everyone involved.
So, how would I respond to this frequently-asked question? First of all, everyone is on their own path to recovery. Speaking out takes time. Try helping your loved one to do this more often but do not force them to talk when they are not ready. I could not even say the word “anorexia” for a few years.
Also, fight against labeling your child as sick. Affirmation for healthy choices and encouragement for each step forward is needed in recovery. However, never let your loved one feel like guilty for being sick. The more that you reduce the stigma of mental illness, the more willing they will be to talk.
Everyone has a different path and ability to open up to others. Respecting that while nudging your child forward is important for parents to remember. This task is certainly not easy, I am sure. However, this support is more valuable and beautifully painful to the suffering individual than you can imagine. Please keep helping them fight even when hope seems gone.