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Mental health, anorexia and education

Our daughter was 17, in her final year of school, when she was whipped out and instructed to do nothing due to her anorexia diagnosis. It came as a shock to us as much to her. We just assumed that she would be back after a couple of weeks – this was her final year, she needed to sit her exams for uni, she needed to say goodbye to her friends and put closure on school. How wrong were we.

We had always thought that our daughter who worked so hard, took part in so many school clubs, helped with taking the clubs both in school and out of was almost the model student. What we didn’t know that this was a coping mechanism so she didn’t have to be with friends and only had to be with her illness.

Her school hadn’t noticed anything and – if we are honest – were particularly useless. They offered no support to her or us and no guidance on exams etc. despite us and our CAMHS team asking several times. So despite the school we managed to get through the end of term. My daughter didn’t sit any exams but did appeal.

Now she is in her fourth year of uni and we have learned so much about education and eating disorders.

Firstly the exams and traditional education actually don’t matter. They might seem important, critical even, at the time – but in the grand scheme of things they make no difference. It is being brave enough to stand up and say that, being strong enough not to be doing the same as everyone else but perhaps taking a different path and that it will be okay. After all, I still don’t know what I want to do and I am in my 50s! Why should our daughter at 18 know?

Transitions are really tough. Transitions between services, transition from school to the next thing, transition from illness to wellness. There is no straight line. But going through recovery and treatment gives us a wealth of tools to use and to keep using. We all regularly refer back to notes that we took and time that we spent with our CAMHS team to remind us that of how to keep moving forward. We still struggle with transition sometimes, even just when she comes home for the weekend, it can be unsettling. But that’s okay.

Finally, having an eating disorder in the family is awful, hideous, scarring. But it has given all three of my children skills that most of their peers don’t have. They can recognise unhealthy behaviour in their friends and they support their friends and each other in such a mature manner. They all have amazing listening skills, inner strength to use, compassion and empathy. We are so proud of the strong, independent, compassionate women they have become.

But if it is one thing we have learned – it makes no difference how many GCSEs, Highers, A-levels or degrees you have, but living free of an eating disorder really does matter!

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