A LETTER FROM MIKE POLAN, FATHER
I may not have my doctorate or be an eating disorder therapist, but I do have the experience of dealing with a daughter with a full-blown eating disorder these past 14 ½ years. Years prior to her eating disorder, we were (what I thought was) a happy, healthy and normal family living the dream. Then this terrible monster eating disorder entered our lives, kidnapped my daughter, and turned our world upside down.
My daughter was diagnosed at the age of 10 with anorexia. At that time in my life, I had no idea that eating disorders even existed. Since then it’s been 14 ½ years of doctors, therapist and nutritionist appointments, day programs, evening programs, residential treatment, transition programs, hospital stays, feeding tubes, relapses, recoveries, insurance issues, and a medical leave from college. My wife and I spent years feeling sad, lost, frustrated, helpless, and hopeless, thinking we would never get through this terrible time in our lives.
Finally after seven years, tens of thousands of dollars, and 5 treatment centers (3 times at the same one) our journey landed across the country from our east coast home to a treatment center in California. By luck we found a treatment center that I can honestly say if we had not found, she would not be here today. With the help of their caring founder, and nurturing loving staff, they began to nurse her back to health, both physically and mentally. As the months past, slowly but surely, I began to see life coming back into her body. After the six months in the program she went to their step down program where she spent a year. During that time, the program set her up with a job and she started to continue her education at a community college. She had a few stumbles along the way, but with the coping skills she learned, continued to move forward and earned her associate degree at Santa Monica Community College. I am proud to say, she is now in recovery and is a full time student at UC Santa Barbara on track to graduate next year. Something I never thought was possible a few years ago.
With all my experiences over the years I know firsthand what a difficult, confusing, and heart breaking time this is for parents and loved ones. As a Dad I want to give you a sense of hope, and know that recovery is possible.
Thanks to one of my daughters’ therapists’ encouragement I decided to get involved and share my experiences with the hope of helping others. With my experiences, realizing parents need help too, I came up with the idea of a presentation called “Tips on Surviving an Eating Disorder for Parents and Loved Ones”. Today I talk to family groups, giving them tips I wish I had years ago. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Take care of yourself; continue to do the things you enjoy. Take a step away, whether it’s yoga, golf or anything that will take your mind off it, because the eating disorder becomes consuming
- Don’t try to tackle the eating disorder yourself, get an eating disorder specialist team. Also find someone you can talk to for your own self-care.
- Get educated! Do your work while your loved one is doing theirs in treatment. NEDA is a great resource. Their website is amazing
- Live in the present, don’t live in the past or look to the future. Sad to look back, stressful to look too far ahead.
- The Journey is a Marathon not a sprint, no quick fix. Understand that everyone recovers at his or her own pace.
- Don’t assume your loved one is fixed after treatment. Have a transition plan. Continue to monitor and hold them accountable
- Trust the treatment team, they are the professionals. Let them make the difficult decisions. Answer those difficult questions with, “What would the treatment team think?” and ask them. This takes the pressure off you.
- Communicate, listen don’t try to fix. Approach them with, “I can see your struggling, would you like to talk about it?”
- Try to include all family members in the treatment. They can better understand what’s going on.
- Mom and Dad must be on the same page. You’re as strong as you weakest link.
- Attend family groups, better understand the struggle between healthy self and eating disorder self
- Get ready for the roller coaster ride; there will be slip-ups along the way. Say, “Ok what can we do to fix it?”
- It’s hard work; don’t give up hope.
- Remember the eating disorder is not a choice, recovery is. Believe recovery is possible.
Thank you, Mike Polan