Bridging the Gap- Two Perspectives on Eating Disorders

Writing Cloud Messenger was a labour of love that took me years.  Sometimes it was an exciting process, and at other times it felt like a gruelling slog.  Someone once said, “Writing is the process of turning blood into ink”. Yes, it felt like that at times! 

And now I am embarking on another writing project, which may be equally challenging.  My daughter Sonia and I plan to write about the lived experience of an eating disorder, an illness she struggled with for nearly eight years of her young adult life. 

We first noticed that something was amiss during Sonia’s first year of university.  Usually cheerful and confident, she had become strangely withdrawn.  Although the university was only an hour away, she rarely made a visit home. I assumed she was busy with new friends and the challenges of coursework.

But during the Christmas break she said she was exhausted and had decided to drop a couple of her courses to lighten her workload.  I noticed dark circles under her eyes and she was quiet and moody. When her high school friends phoned to invite her out, she usually refused. In March of the following year, she finally told us that she had been suffering from an eating disorder for many months. Both my husband and I were shocked, because she had never had disordered eating patterns as a child or adolescent. 

This revelation was only the beginning of a long and dark journey for her, and for our whole family. Over the next eight years, the eating disorder devastated her life. She dropped out of university six months after that first conversation, unable to find the energy or focus to study. She was hospitalized several times, and saw counsellor after counsellor.
 
Though Pradeep and I are both doctors, our medical knowledge was of little help when Sonia became ill.  We were just frightened parents who couldn’t understand what was happening to our daughter, or how to help her. Support and guidance were hard to find, and we often felt utterly lost. We constantly questioned ourselves, wondering what were the reasons behind her illness. Her cross-cultural background caused some struggles in her identity formation, and genetic factors certainly played a part – depression and other mental disorders have affected many of my family members. Like so many other sufferers from eating disorders, she was a high achiever who constantly set goals for herself that were not easy to attain. Whatever the root causes, the eating disorder gradually took over her life.
 
None of us can pinpoint when she began the journey to recovery. But we began to notice hopeful signs – a renewed interest in friendships, fresh ideas about her future, and finally a gradual return to a more normal weight.  A compassionate therapist gave her wonderful support. Gradually, we began to see our beloved daughter emerging from that dark place where she’d been trapped for so long. Now she is well established in her recovery, and she is moving ahead with her life in a joyful way.
 
When Sonia became well again, we frequently talked about our experiences in battling this illness.  Many of our difficulties arose from the profound communication problems that arise between a person who suffers from the eating disorder and her support network of family and friends.  Pradeep and I were acutely aware of how ineffective we’d become at communicating with our daughter. We longed for a place where we could express our worries and have some guidance about how to best support Sonia in her recovery.

At the same time, Sonia was longing to talk to someone who’d experienced an eating disorder and had recovered. She’d realized how the illness had devastated her life, but was unable to take the steps necessary to break free from the unhealthy eating patterns.
 
So that’s our motivation for this new writing project.  We want to document the lived experience of an eating disorder from two perspectives – that of the person suffering from the illness and that of the parents.  The contrast between the perspectives will be striking, illustrating the depth of the gap in communication between the sufferer and her loved ones. Perhaps our written work will help bridge that gap for people who’ve been devastated by these complex disorders.
 
It’s an exciting new challenge!