It’s hard for many of us to admit that summer is coming to an end. Getting ready to leave this idyllic island in the Pacific Northwest is a bit sad. As excited as I am to have several weeks in early fall back in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to visit with friends and family, I don’t want this summer camp-like experience to end. It has been lots of biking, kayaking, picnics, outdoor music, having friends visit, watching for whales, seeing flower gardens and enjoying sunsets with virtually no mosquitos. Being from Minnesota, we are used to dousing ourselves in DEET and slapping ourselves silly if we try and watch a sunset outdoors in the summer.
Parents and other family caregivers are telling me that there is so much to worry about with summer ending. BIG decisions are being made about the ‘next’ steps, whether it be off to college with LOADS of safety plans in place or another level of treatment that is the main focus of your loved one’s life. This can all be exhausting, hard, scary, sad and not what you want to be doing right now.
Here are some thoughts about protecting your loved one’s recovery while your family and team are trying to make decisions about what the best next steps are at this moment.
College or no college or some college? It’s tempting to simply say, “Keep them home and don’t let them go to work or college till they are well.” But that doesn’t work for everyone. It really will help to talk with the team about recommendations, talk with your loved one and check in with your values and your gut.
If your gut and the team are saying, not yet, you might consider a limit like this; “Your job right now is being in treatment, when you are well enough, we will pay for more college.”
Watch for some of these signs of an eating disorder to help inform your decisions:
- Child being more depressed/anxious
- Student is isolating
- Food disappearing
- Distorted thoughts/perceptions
- Obsession with size and appearance
- Loss of interest in school and friends
- Baggy and/or overly warm clothing
- Trips to the bathroom right after meals
Having the conversation with your child about these concerns might sound like this:
“We want to support you and your recovery. When can we have a discussion about what’s next?” Listening for tips that they might be open to discussing about their health and then using “I” statements to express your concerns. Before having this conversation, it’s recommended that you come prepared with researched resources and a plan of action. You will likely meet with some resistance as there is so much shame and secrecy with eating disorders.
Many students feel their behaviors are ‘normal’ due high occurrence on college campuses.
Creating a FIRM Plan
Once an eating disorder has been diagnosed and a treatment team is in place, it’s time to create your firm plan with firm boundaries for your student. Some parents feel that sports can ‘protect’ their child from an eating disorder but in reality many of the traits found in those with eating disorders such as: perfectionism, high self-expectations, competitiveness, repetitive exercise routines, compulsiveness, drive, tendency toward depression, body image distortion, pre-occupation with dieting and weight are also found in athletes.
Unfortunately there are no clear-cut answers. What we do know is that the decisions, just like treatment plans, must be individualized and include parents. These sick kids need strong, calm parents who are knowledgeable, supported and willing to set firm clear boundaries.
As parents we fear that if we don’t let them go to school or back to school they will become more depressed and possibly suicidal. They might run away never to be heard from again. They may be so difficult to have at home due to the eating disorder behaviors that the thought of keeping them there is overwhelming. We also fear judgment from our community/family if we keep our child out of school. These are real concerns with real consequences. What we must be brave enough to face is that these are life-threatening illnesses and we must take them seriously, health must be the first priority.
STRENGTH – we need to have it when we don’t think we can continue being strong…
It takes a lot of tenacity and strength to stand firm, not take the backlash personally, battle our fears and keep learning how we can best support a loved one. Family caregivers say to me, “I would do ANYTHING for my person.” And I believe them. Sometimes the thing family caregivers need is support to continue learning how to be calm, compassionate and confident in the face of ed’s efforts to hijack our family members.