My first job after immigrating was as an assistant house manager for the local campus of an international bible school. I met some amazing people while working there, many who I still have contact with. One such lady is the wife of a staff member. She approached me shortly after hearing my testimony, as her 15 year old niece was hospitalised with anorexia. She wanted to know more regarding this dreadful disorder and also asked if I was willing to speak with her niece’s parents as they were left in the dark and felt uninformed.
I spoke with her dad over the phone soon after and he asked a lot of questions as well as vent his frustrations towards her and the fragile situation they found themselves in as a family. I tried to explain to him the he should be upset with anorexia, not his daughter, that his frustrations should be directed towards anorexia’s influence and power over her thoughts and demeanor, that it is not something she can switch on and off nor is she allowing it to happen to her. I offered to borrow him a book called Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders, written by Dr Gregory Jantz, founder of The Centre – A Place of HOPE. It is a very insightful book that looks at the inner struggle a person face while in the grips of an eating disorder as well as the physical, mental and spiritual battle while recovering. I also agreed to visit his daughter in the hospital as she was willing to speak with me.
The first time I met Jess she was in the children’s ward of Waikato Hospital. She was sitting on her bed, frail and ghost-like. She had a full time care person with her in the room as she was on suicide watch. I introduced myself and sat next to her on the bed. I didn’t prepare anything. I didn’t know what I was going to say or where I should start. All I knew was that my focus was 100% on her. She was the most important person in that room. I decided that instead of trying to start a conversation from an already uncomfortable situation and sensitive topic, I’d asked if there is anything she wanted to know about me? And there were, lots!
We spoke for approximately 40 minutes. I found out that she was a dancer, that she absolutely adores her grandmother, she loves being creative and often paints and that she is saddened by the fact that her older brother recently moved to Wellington for his studies. We spoke about the small things that brings her great joy and how important it is to hold on to those moments. I also mentioned the coping skills I learned during my counselling sessions and how I still apply them today. The reason why I thought it necessary to mention my coping skills was that during my short visit with her, the feeding machine went off twice and her facial expressions on hearing the noise it makes and knowing that she can’t escape it was that of utter fear. I told her that when it goes off she should not think of it as “food” but as nourishment. That it is not a punishment but a necessity. And if she really struggles with her thoughts during that time then perhaps she can keep herself occupied with her art until the machine stops.
I gave her a hug, said good bye and left.
I had the privilege to meet up with Jess another 4 times over the course of 2 years, sometimes under worse conditions than what she was in when I first met her, and other times at her grandmothers’ house where she stayed when she showed progress. It took 5 years of treatment and rehabilitation before she was able to break free and walk away from her demons.
I am truly thankful to have been a someone on her path of recovery.