Two years ago our daughter, Connie, aged 9, was diagnosed with pre-pubescent anorexia. Unlike the teenage form of the illness, this is not about wanting to be thin, but it is a way of getting control of your life. It manifested itself initially with very difficult behaviour, which we tried to deal with ourselves and took advice from school. After a couple of months, the focus moved to mealtimes and unbeknown to us at the time, she had developed a rule in her head which said she had to eat less and exercise more than her brother, who was two years younger. The battles grew bigger and increasingly violent. Any books you read on this subject has people describing their children as being ‘possessed’, and that is exactly what it is like.
We knew at that point that we needed help, but it wasn’t very clear which route we should take. In retrospect asking the GP to refer us to our local CAMHS would have saved lots of time – we ended up there eventually. Due to this particular illness being fairly rare, our CAMHS were not very well equipped to deal with it. It took a month with them before things went downhill and Connie stopped eating entirely. She was rushed into hospital and was tube fed on the children’s ward for 2 weeks, before being referred to the Mildred Creek Psychiatric Ward at GOSH. They only have 7 beds, so we had to have a day place. That meant being in at 8am and leaving at 7pm every day. We could not do this from Cambridge, so I lived in London with Connie, and my husband was at home with our 2 boys and we swapped one night a week. Looking back now it seems totally mad and I don’t quite know how we made it work, but we did (with a huge amount of support from family and friends) and they made her better.
The treatment she had was some individual therapy (which didn’t really do anything for her until she had gained enough weight to be functioning mentally), family therapy which is essential, and group therapy – a children’s group for Connie and parent group for us. Talking to other parents, who have generally had much longer journeys than us, through many different institutions, it is this combination of treatment which made the difference for them.
After 3 months she became an outpatient and we went down to GOSH once a week. This continued for a year until we were then referred back to our local CAMHS. We have not seen anyone now for 4 months and are coping very well on our own. Her eating is still managed by me and the anxieties, which were the underlying cause, have come to the fore and we talk about them all the time. We have not got our old Connie back, but a new, funnier, more relaxed, much chattier Connie. As with all difficult things you go through in life, it has made us all stronger and lots of good things have come from it – Huddl being one!