Here’s the truth. I went undiagnosed and untreated for my depression, anxiety and eating disorder until I was a 20 year old college drop-out. My parents didn’t know what to do with me as a depressed teenager, and my despondency only led to their arguing over who was a worse parent. We all felt bad, but I suffered the most.
Thankfully, at my rock bottom, I got help. I saw a psychiatrist, got medicated and started on my path to recovery. But because my eating disorder was not anorexia or bulimia – rather it manifested in severe body image disturbance, binge eating, crazy dieting behaviors, and compulsive exercise – nobody took that seriously either. My eating disorder continued to fester from age 10 until age 30, when that hit rock bottom.
So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is don’t take your child’s moodiness or body image disturbance or disordered eating behaviors as just a phase of life. It’s potentially much more. Get on the stick, find professionals who can assess if this is a cry for help.
“But my child doesn’t want to go,” is what I hear the most from parents when they first approach us. As my mother used to say, “Tough! Where’s it written life should be easy?” Childhood is hard. It’s a struggle. You have to do things you don’t want to do. I didn’t want to go to a shrink when I was 20, but I was living at home and had no other resources. The leverage was there. She grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and made me go. I didn’t like it. I sulked. I didn’t want to have to take pills. But I did. I felt better, and I was grateful.
For the kids who come into our program, they don’t want to be here at first. The parents don’t either, as they are exhausted from having to fight with their kid day in and day out – push them to attend school, go to practice, do their homework, clean their rooms, wash and put on clean clothes daily, etc. But to have to fight about treatment? It’s the last thing they want. But that’s why it’s so dang important.
Parents often don’t realize that they are the primary tool for helping their child recover. We are a family-based treatment program. We teach you how to set boundaries, how to help coach and guide your child to healthier behaviors, and how to challenge your own negative thinking about your skills as a parent. Then by treating families in group settings parents start holding each other accountable while supporting each other. It’s the most effective way to recover, supported by a team, creating that tribe or village of recovery.
This is hard stuff. We all wish we could have “normal” experiences as parents raising happy, healthy children. But that’s not always reality. Your kids need structure. They need support. And most of all they need love – tough love too. So take control parents. We’re here to help.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.