“We are all born good – there is good in all of us. And good means we are all worthy and valued. “ – Bailey
This was the hardest blog to write up to date as Bailey is my daughter. She is in treatment for her eating disorder and is fighting as hard she can every day. I thought I knew her story, but I didn’t really know what it was until we talked openly about it. And just so you all are aware, we call her eating disorder thoughts Mr. ED.
When your child of any age is suffering, your heart breaks as a parent. You want to run over, cover them in band-aids, and smother them in your embrace. But it doesn’t work with a mental illness. And that thought stays with me that I feel so powerless in her road to recovery. I know there are things I can do to help, but I can’t fix it. I need to fix it so she can feel good.
Bailey started out the interview with her disclaimer (I think for me honestly) that it may be an uncomfortable and dark conversation. She shared that she has constant thoughts of darkness and it’s hard to get through the day sometimes. She often is tired of fighting back Mr. ED and just wants to give up. It feels safer for her to do that since fighting back will lead to a new way of thinking and living – and that is scary.
Bailey is not sure about how to define beauty but can recognize it in others when they are confident in their skin and can rock what they have with confidence. These beautiful people also don’t seek approval in others. People are beautiful because of their confidence and how they treat people being kind, but even though she can admit to being a caring person, she can’t bring herself to see herself as beautiful. Bailey doesn’t feel like a beautiful woman comparing herself to others. She feels she is the exact opposite of these people. She holds herself to different standards than she does for other people. She knows that her family and friends see her as beautiful but she can’t see it. Mr. ED tells her otherwise.
When I asked Bailey when she feels less than beautiful she didn’t need time to think it over. She feels that way all the time. When she looks in the mirror she sees ugliness. When she steps on the scale and it is a different number than she expected or when her shorts don’t fit anymore, she hears a voice in her head that tells her that she isn’t worthy of love and treatment, and is not beautiful.
My heart breaks hearing this. She is my daughter and I see nothing but beauty, love, worthiness, value, and compassion. She sees those things in others, but never herself.
She does have good days, though. She cherishes the good days because she starts to see the light peeking at the end of a really long tunnel. When she has the energy to get showered and dressed and makes an effort in her appearance, it gives her a lift. But the one thing that gives her confidence on good days is wearing her scrubs. It represents to her that she is working hard and feels confident.
I asked Bailey if she could remember when Mr. ED started to take over and she can remember it starting in elementary school and comparing herself to other students. She was picked on for her height among other things. When her dad and I got divorced, it really traumatized her. She felt out of control and scared. She felt the need to control something and the voice of Mr. ED got louder. Mr. ED told her that if she controlled her food intake, she would be in control of her life and feel better. Bailey has had this voice telling her lies in her head since elementary school! She is so used to believing the lies that to even believe something positive about herself feels so foreign. She feels that it is much easier to accept criticism than accept a compliment.
Why do we give the voice in her head a separate name as if it is not part of Bailey? I think, for me anyway, it is easier to see it as an intruder who took over a brain and made it diseased. Bailey will describe it as she has two voices – her healthy self and Mr. ED. Mr. ED has tricked, lied, promised Bailey so many things if she would just lose weight, or just don’t eat. Mr. ED promised she would be loved and get more friends if she would just restrict her food. Bailey sees that these promises haven’t been met and are lies. I asked her if when her shorts didn’t fit anymore if she lost any friends. She replied, “No, I didn’t lose any friends, I just lost myself”.
Bailey is learning in her treatment to appreciate others and offers support to those in group. She can easily tell them that they deserve treatment, but doesn’t feel the same way about herself. She feels like she gives a lot of support and appreciation to others, treatment or just in everyday life, but doesn’t feel she gets the same in return. I think her family is so focused on her getting better we have a hard time focusing on the everyday things that make Bailey, Bailey.
I asked Bailey how to help her better today. Is it more compliments and positive talk? She said the voice is so loud that is it hard to hear the help. I then asked what could I have done different earlier in her life? (**DISCLAIMER** – I know logically that I could have done everything right on paper and it might have had the same outcome, but mom guilt is alive in my head!) Bailey said it may have helped to have therapy when the divorce happened so she had more coping skills in her toolbox. I believe a strong foundation in early life would be helpful for a child to grow up with a confidence that is not easily broken. Bailey tends to agree and says that celebrating beauty in the child early on would be the best way to help grow the self-confidence. A key to this is for the adults to not talk about themselves negatively. If we are going to celebrate beauty in everyone, it has to start with ourselves. Bailey said that even though she doesn’t blame me, she was taught that it is ok to talk about yourself negatively from me.
Watching someone you love battle an eating disorder is probably the hardest thing I have had to watch and feel. I can’t seem to make sense of her thought process. I don’t understand the extreme thoughts and actions that an eating disorder makes a person do. I want her to break up with Mr. ED and start to love again. Love herself, see herself as her family and friends see her.
When Bailey talks about school, you can see she is so proud to be in nursing school. But the pivotal moment when she knew that Mr. ED was winning was last summer. She was in the fast track nursing program and was so excited to start this journey. She was seeing a therapist once a week to help with her anxiety. Mr. ED was there but I think for me I thought it was under control. Bailey was dealing with constant headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and feeling faint after walking for a few minutes. She had a full load in school. And she failed a class – by .1 (one tenth…) of a point. Her little bit of confidence was shot. She was defeated and came home feeling like a failure. Her Mr. ED was in full force. School was the one place she felt proud and now Mr. ED took this away from her. I think that is when Bailey finally looked at Mr. ED as something that needed to be removed from her life. When she went back to school, she started treatment. After a bit, she started to notice that physically she was changing. Headaches were almost non-existent, she had a bit more energy, and she was able to focus on homework and school.
What does Bailey think of her outlook on evicting Mr. ED? She is not sure she can beat it, and some days she wants to give up. But she works hard every day to try. I just ask that she tries. If she can’t do it on a certain day, I want to carry her through it. Her family is there to carry her when she can’t continue. I think I have learned so much from Bailey through this treatment. I realized that my words to my children carry so much weight. I want to be better about loving myself so that Bailey and her sisters can see that it is ok to love yourself and to be kind to one another.