Jenn's Voice - Her Mother's Words

What do I know about eating disorders?  Why do I think that I’m competent to blog about eating disorders?  Good questions.  I have no personal knowledge of eating disorders.  It’s a disease that has not taken control of my mind, my every waking thought.  My daughter had an eating disorder.  When it began at age 13, we travelled the path to recovery with her.  Innocently, we thought her weekly therapist visits and our occasional sessions as a family had rid her of the problem within a year.  But, that was not to be.

Throughout high school, Jennifer maintained a “normal” weight.  We dismissed her obsessive eating behaviors as teenage angst and never saw the underlying symptoms of the disorder.  Jenn may not have realized it herself.  Mother and daughter watched Dr Phil work with anorexics and saw various Lifetime movies about anorexia.  We talked about anorexia and bulimia.  Jenn told me she could not imagine herself purging.  That mother-daughter discussion about bingeing and purging would come back to haunt me.

Years later, when the eating disorder took control of her thoughts, she would write in her journal,

“--worried mother...ie, i have to absolutely not engage in certain behaviors because my mom thinks it's gross and hideous (well, it is, but still, it sucks having your mom disgusted with you)”

That, of course, was never true.  When Jenn was forced to take a medical leave from Cornell and get treatment, she told us (actually, just me) in an email.  She couldn’t bring herself to call, I think, because she thought we would be disappointed.  I had hoped that the support we gave her during that time would show that we could never be disappointed in her.  But, that didn’t happen.  Maybe, with an eating disorder, even unconditional love isn’t enough.

She shared with me some of her struggles while in treatment.  I tried to understand by sharing my own diet failures.  How stupidly wrong that was.  Sharing my weight issues with her was like telling an alcoholic that I get drunk some times.  She would get angry and, in hindsight, I know my words were insulting and not helpful.

I remember a phone call after she was back in school.  She spoke of her disorder.  And I said, “I bet if you asked your friends what they like best about you, none of them would say it was because you’re thin.”  And Jenn responded, “How did you get so smart?”  A real connection.

Once again she would leave Cornell for treatment.  This time was different because she initiated it.  And she recovered.  After leaving the residential center, Jenn began outpatient therapy. One day, she came to me and said that she and her therapist agreed it was time for her to tell her parents everything.  She told me so many things about her life.  I think she was honestly surprised when I listened and tried to reflect back what she was saying without judgment.  (Note that Jenn only spoke to me.  She never wanted David to see her as anyone but Daddy’s little girl.)

From that day forward, Jenn and I had many long talks.  I became her chief confidante.   But, even so, it took reading her journal for me to get a glimpse into the desperation and sadness of her life when the eating disorder was in control.  Even now, five years after her death, I can’t read the entire journal.  Her voice haunts me and I can feel her pain.

No, I never had an eating disorder and I can never truly understand the suffering.  But, Jenn gave me a window into it.  And the voices of so many others, from Jenn’s friends to our applicants, have continued to echo that pain.  My truth, my path, is to speak for Jenn.  And stand firmly in support of all sufferers.