Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Still talking about the same old thing...

I made a new friend this year. At the circus. No, she isn't a fire eater or clown, she does make me laugh though! Every Thursday and Sunday, I traipse across London and take Saskia to circus school where she is learning the flying trapeze. And whilst she flies, I am learning about politics and ethical shopping. My new friend used to own a children's bookshop, the kind of space where children fall in love with books and the faraway places that they can take you to. A bookshop we see in the movies, before Amazon and their drones.

Chatting with my circus friend the other day, I realised something profound. I am no longer in the depths of my grief for what we have lost when Lyska got anorexia. I am beginning to see another path, another way, another wonderful. Somebody said to me last year ‘why are you still talking about anorexia, Lyska looks great, leave the past in the past.’   Perhaps he had a point, he wanted us to talk about other things, ones that didn’t make him feel uncomfortable. But he isn’t right, we need to talk about the things that hurt because they make us who we are.

When we walk through the valleys, the desert places, it changes us. We get broken up into parts and then we get put back together again in a new way. This is life.

For our family it was mental illness this time and for you it will be something else.

That is life- standing on the mountain top, the sun on your face, joy seeping into your heart- your wedding day, your graduation, the first night in your new home. Life is the laughter of your child ringing through the garden as she skips through the sprinkler, the perfume you catch as you shop that takes you back into your mother’s arms, the warmth of somebody you love next to you on the sofa as you watch a movie.

And life is wandering around the desert like the Israelites, thirsty, lost and lonely. Darkness threatens to take you, grief sits on your chest and makes it difficult to breath. Your child gets ill, the doctor shakes his head, the phone rings at 3 am and you know….

That is life- a dance through the spring and summer and a trek through the wilderness of winter.

What matters is how you walk, how I walk. Do I allow myself to grow hard and bitter when I am surrounded by ice, do I close my heart up tight and shut myself away? Or do I remember the mountain top and chose to thank God for the moments the sun shone on my face?

This Christmas, I will not stop talking to people about anorexia and anxiety and self-harm because when I do, it allows people to be real with me about what their desert place is. And then we can help each other up, dust each other off and trek back up the mountain together to find the Son. The Son who came as a baby and made my life worth living, even in the desert places.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Your friend's child has an eating disorder? Tips on how to support her....

When your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder it feels like you have been thrown off your little family ship into an ocean… in the middle of a hurricane…with no life raft…and you do not know how to swim. The effects of the illness reach far outside of your own four walls, the waves crash over your extended family and your friends too. Knowing how to help a friend or family member when their child is diagnosed with an eating disorder is difficult- the illness is extremely isolating and frankly terrifying. Here are a few tips to help you find a way to support and love your friend especially in the first few months. Remember though that it can take years for somebody with anorexia to recover so if your friend has been caring for a loved on for a long time, she still needs your friendship and support.

1.    Don’t judge your friend and spend energy or gossip trying to work out what could have triggered the illness in her child. A very unhelpful doctor in the 70’s who is not worthy of being named, wrote a book which blamed parenting for anorexia, we all carry the legacy of this lie. Arm yourself with the latest, scientific facts. Anorexia is a brain based disorder that has a strong genetic element. Here is a quick-read list of facts: http://www.feast-ed.org/?page=NineTruths If you have more time then read: Brave Girl Eating by Harriet Brown (available on Amazon).

2.    This is a great book to buy for your friend- ‘Throwing Starfish Across the Sea: A pocket-sized care package for the parents of someone with an eating disorder’ from Amazon. And tell her about Around the Dinner Table - this is an online community of carers and they have collectively saved thousands of children by supporting their parents including my own. http://www.aroundthedinnertable.org

3.    Currently, the most effective form of treatment is called Family Based Therapy (FBT). This form of therapy will take up all of your friend’s time and energy. Understand that she is in a war, she is fighting every second of the day to save the life of her child- she is tired and she is afraid. Anorexia kills up to 20% of it’s victims through suicide or health complications, the fight is real. It is not that your friend doesn’t care about your problems anymore, she does, she cries at night about how little she can be there for you. Understand that it will take every little bit of her family’s time and strength to beat the eating disorder. She has not forgotten you.

4.    If the child is in hospital to be stabilised medically, do offer to visit but be prepared not to see the child, often seeing people can be too much for them. Do go and see your friend, even just for 15 minutes, perhaps armed with a Starbucks. Understand that 15 minutes may be all she has to give yet it can restore her for another 24 hours- be prepared to drive to the hospital, pay the extortionate parking fees and only stay for 10 minutes.

5.    Practice a neutral face- you might be shocked when you see the child for the first time. If their weight has dropped, they may look very ill. Eating disorders and self harm are a common combination. Their arms may be criss crossed with cuts or scratches. Prepare yourself for this and then it may be less of shock for you.

6.    Offer to look after your friends other children, take them to the movies or bowling, take them home with you where it is calmer and not a war zone. They need nurturing and support as much as the ill child does but when it is a life or death situation, the other children often suffer alone. My friends took my non-eating disorder daughter camping with them and let her stay for weekends. She still talks fondly of those times, a little break from the sadness at home.

7.    Feeding a child with anorexia back to health can be a messy, shouting, chair throwing, door slamming, suicide prevention business. Your friend may not be able to have you over for coffee or even meet up outside of the house for a long while. Make plans with her but don’t be offended if she has to cancel plans at the last minute.

8.    How practical do you want to get? Offer to collect her washing and drop it back without asking to come in for a cup of tea. Or offer to pay for a cleaner or offer to clean her bathrooms for her. Offer to drive her other children to school.

9.     Send texts, emails, FB messages- set an alarm on your phone and send one every evening/day. Find out when the toughest times of the day are and send a message then- in our house the tough times were at every meal and late at night. When I heard my phone ping and it was a simple ‘Love you’, it made me feel supported and thought of. This can make all the difference when you feel alone and afraid.

10.  Do offer to come and sit with the ill child so that your friend can go and have her hair cut or go the doctor herself. Don’t be offended if she says no, just having the option helps her feel less trapped in her own house.

11.  Buy small gifts that can distract the ill child for example, beautiful colouring books and pens, simple crafts, jigsaw puzzles, embroidery sets- think simple but beautiful. A friend gave us some simple embroidery sets and although we had never done it before, it was a great time filler and relaxing activity. I would not have had time to go and buy these and they were a wonderful, thoughtful gift.

12.  Sometimes it is very difficult to stand back and watch how difficult the child’s behaviour is and how it affects the parents, especially in the first stages of anorexia. Try to separate the child you know from the illness. Most of the behaviour is due to the anorexia. It can often make your friend feel more isolated if she has to sensor all she tells you in order to prevent you from judging her child.
One of life's biggest privileges is to be blessed with friendships that celebrate the joys and carry you in the tough times. If you feel that these tips might hep a friend then feel free to share this with them. And if you have something to add to the list, perhaps something somebody did for you or you for a friend, then let me know and I can add it.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train- please feel free to share this letter, perhaps we can find the stranger (published with permission from my daughter)

                                                                                             11 June 2016
Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train,

I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. You are careful not to catch my eye. I see your eyes fall on my daughter’s self-harm scars. It is a hot day, she is wearing a short sleeve t-shirt and her scars are out in the open. I see how uncomfortable they make you feel. I don't blame you, I totally understand that you find the scars confusing. I see your eyes flick up to my face and wonder what kind of mother I am. I see you considering if I might be cold and uncaring or perhaps she cut her arms because life at home was so difficult. That is ok, I don't mind your thoughts as long as you don't voice them to me. It makes sense that you would wonder if we are a dysfunctional family, that you would think we don't love her enough. Her scars are such an outward symbol of her inner pain and you are right- our job as parents is to protect our children and stop them from harming themselves. Perhaps you would prefer her to hide the pain away and not make it so visible?

I want you to know, dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train that we did our very best to try and help her get free from the monster that ran wild in her head. We really did. We quit our jobs, we tried to keep our eyes on her 24 hours a day, we took her to hospital for stitches and for appointments- sometimes we dragged her kicking and screaming because we knew what she needed when she didn’t. I want you to know that I often slept on the floor in her room so I could be close to her, that I cried silent tears there, on that floor. I want you to know how strong I pretended to be every time I had to bandage her arms after the monster in her head had helped her find a way around us so she could harm herself.

Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I see you look up from your paper and notice my daughter and I. I wish you could look past the scars and see her strength, see how she fights the monster in her head everyday just to stay alive. I want you to notice that she is on a train and not curled up in her bed wanting to die anymore. I want you to see her scars and try to understand how an illness that people perceive as is all in your head can also leave scars on your body.

And Dear Stranger on the Waterloo Train, I don’t mind if you judge me as a mother but I beg you, never judge my baby girl, she is braver than those scars look. I pray that you may never have to stand here where I stand.

Much love,

The Mother of the Bravest Girl on the Waterloo Train

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Fight Song Matilda style!

My 13 year old and I went to watch Matilda the musical this evening and it was amazing. I mean, it was amazing. Matilda sings the song ‘Naughty’ in the midst of a really awful scene, her father rejecting her, calling her names. Her mother no better. These are some of the words from that song:

‘Just because you find that life's not fair it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

Even if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like, 'little' stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top,
you might as well be saying
You think that it's okay
And that's not right!’

Can I just put it out there for you to hear, I tell you no lie when I say that in the last few years I have yelled many times: ‘That’s not fair!’ Life just isn’t fair sometimes. Your kids get sick, very sick like mine did. Or you lose your job, your marriage struggles, your boss is a bully, you get depression, chronic pain…I could go on but you know what life can throw at you sometimes.

When the tough comes and it does, we have a choice to make. Do I take it on the chin and bear it or do I sit up and say, ‘That’s not right!’ If I just sit and moan that it is unfair my life has been turned upside down by illness, then Matilda says I am just saying that it is ok. IT IS NEVER OK!! Yes I am shouting. I tell you why I am shouting. At some point, after a bit of thumb sucking and allowing other people to pat you on the back and say, ‘There, there..’, you have a choice to make. Stand up and fight for what is rightfully yours to have or sit and let it get on top of you. Health is yours to have, freedom, trust, love, a steady job….

They told me that her case was complex, that her prognosis for recovery was poor because her anorexia had comorbids that made her difficult to treat. So, I dusted myself off, sucked my thumb one last time and went to war. Because ‘That’s not right!’ And even if I am little, I can do a lot, I mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop me…. We will win this battle and you will win yours if you choose to go to war for what is rightfully yours! This, my friends, is my Fight Song….

Friday, 13 May 2016


I want to start writing down ‘our’ story. The ‘once upon a time’ but ‘not a fairy-tale at all’ story of how my little girl got taken hostage by anorexia, the battle scars we all acquired trying to set her free. But writing it down makes me relive moments I want to forget, so I procrastinate and hoover the floor instead. To make things more difficult for me, according to the personality tests we did in the women’s group at church, my personality type finds starting projects exciting but finishing them boring. This is slightly true of me…. Ok, don’t all shout at once, it is very true of me. I have many, many half sewn skirts and blouses in my sewing box, some half painted pillow cases I started in December for the new sofa. When I was pregnant with my eldest I started knitting her a beautiful, pastel jumper. It is in a box in the loft, one sleeve and half of a front panel, still on the knitting needles. She is turning 16 in September. … even finishing this small post is tough- I can see the hoover out of the corner of my eye…

I recently helped a friend move some of her late father’s belongings into storage, a painful process of realising an entire lifetime of living can amount to a few boxes of china cups and paintings. I don’t want my future grandchildren sifting through my life and finding half-finished projects that made no difference to the world, that didn’t change one thing for anybody in pain. Half-finished projects that couldn’t keep a baby warm, despite all my dreams and great intentions. A half written account of how God’s grace brought us through the battle and how the scars we have can help others….

So, when you see me, ask me if I have been hoovering or putting words to paper. Don’t be disappointed if I tell you how clean the floor is though.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Self confessed 'helicopter parent'

My teenage daughter is always late for school. No, that is not fair, she was on time today so ‘always’ would be an exaggeration. ‘Mostly’ late for school is a better word… And I am a proper, self-confessed ‘helicopter mother’. If you don’t know about helicopter parenting then let me explain, we hover and wait for things not to go as planned. It doesn’t take long, they are teenagers after all. Then we jump in and rescue the child from impending doom. We go home and make a cup of tea and pat ourselves on the back, saving our children from life is hard work.

Disasters come in all shapes: Late for school? don’t worry just jump into my car and I will break every road traffic law to get you to school on time. Lost your English literature book? Again? I am on Amazon ordering you a new copy before you even finished that smoothie I just made you. Forgot your PE kit? Don’t fret, I will drop it off at the school office. Last time I dropped the PE kit, I apologised to the lady at reception, ‘I know I should just let her suffer the consequences but…’ She cut me off, face stern, ‘I have given up telling you parents to stop saving your children.’

Now, don’t you judge me, I am not stupid… I am aware that they will not learn to take the stupid PE kit to school if they know I will run after them with it when they do. I know…  I share with you because I made myself laugh today whilst weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get to school before the pink slips get handed out. I nearly got hit by a number of cars and buses on the way, not due to my driving…I don’t think it was due to my driving… My thought with every near miss was not, ‘Gosh, I am glad no damage was caused to the cars or people.’ No, no my friend, my thought was, ‘Gosh, glad I didn’t need to stop and get out of the car.’ Why? Because I had jumped into the car in my PJ’s and flip flops, hair unbrushed and dirty. I had brushed my teeth, that that was a relief. So, I was grateful that I was not in a collision so that I didn’t have to been seen out on the road looking like I had slept on that road.

We spoke about finding our identity in Jesus last night in our women’s group and not in the superficial, in the way we dress and what we look like. Perhaps I still need to work more on where I find my identity because what I looked like really mattered to me this morning. God doesn’t care about my PJ’s, he cares about my heart.

Now, please excuse me, I have a helicopter to polish and prepare for take off, the lunch box that was left on the kitchen counter needs to be flown to school…  

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Fretting and being a mum...

I had moment today, not one of the ‘lock myself in the closet and scream’ moments. A rare moment when God pulls back a little of the wrapping paper and I get a glimpse of the gift He has for me, for my girls, my family.

I would be a gold medallist in the sport of fretting over my kids. Most of my brain cells are on a loop, day and night, calculating and mapping, worrying about my 2 girls. I worry that we are giving them too much freedom and then I worry we are holding them too close. I worry about the friends they make and then I fret that they might be lonely. I could go on and list more but you would get bored with the trivial nature of my thought patterns. I guess the moment I held my screaming new born in my arms, I inherently believed that I was going to make a royal mess of this parenting thing, I mean, I could hardly look after myself.

My mother was only just 21 when she gave birth to me. Pregnant out of wedlock, in apartheid South Africa. Getting pregnant when you weren’t married was nearly as bad as murder. My father’s family begrudgingly accepted my mother into their fold, mind you only after the vows were exchanged. She always carried the shadow of the shame, the stain of sex before marriage. Can I just point out now that the product of that shame was me, little old me. I know that my mother worried about us, all the time. The family pointed out to her often that she was too strict, that she was too this, too that. I remember her crying often about how she could never be enough. She suffered from post-natal depression, she got ill, hospital ill. She struggled to manage her strong emotions, living with her was like living in the eye of a tornado, you knew you were ok but if the wind changed even the slightest, then chaos erupted.

But she loved me. She loved, loved, loved, loved me and my brother and my sister.

What was my moment then? It was this. As my mother sat nursing me in the hot, humid South African air and dreamed of who I might become, she could not have seen me walking in the cool, spring air in England 42 years later. She could not have seen that I would know love and peace so strong that it takes my breath away.

I am not sure she understood that God had my life all mapped out before she even met my father. Oh, God knew about the bad choices I would make and still make, the roads that became really long and rocky because of them. He knew the tears, the pain we would endure as a family. He knew I would cry, holding onto my daughter as she suffered, raging against her own illness. It is mystery to me how God always works things for the good of those that love him. And how He always carries me through.

My moment? I suddenly understood that my life is so much more than my mother could have dreamt, filled with so much joy despite the hard times- all her anxiety about getting it right and about my poor choices was wasted time and energy- I was held by the One that created me, held every moment. And so are my girls. I shouldn’t waste another moment trying to worry things better for them. The One that created them has it covered.