In Search of Better Stories

The Monster Won’t Leave

     It’s been ten months since we first sniffed the scent of a monster skulking around our home. Nine since it kicked in the front door and ruined our lives. The destructive effects of this beast named ED (eating disorder) are everywhere present. The banners that mark a happy home have long been torn to shreds. We are engulfed in the flames of a fire-breathing dragon determined to bring death and destruction down upon us. Our decimated world is one of chaos, despair, anger, hopelessness, frustration, anxiety, grief and insanity.

     We’d hoped to be better by now or at least to have turned a corner. We thought we were winning. Coming out of the hospital last summer, we were meticulous and determined. We packed in six daily feedings in a Herculean effort to re-nourish our daughter. She protested vociferously, threw herself to the ground, screamed, turned household items into projectiles and tried to body-check me on more than one occasion, but the mind-cracking drama that we endured at every single meal was worth it because, in the end, she complied. We weened her off of Boost (a liquid food supplement) and got her back on solid food. Her vitals stabilized, and she began to gain weight. She started to look less skeleton and more human. After a couple of months, we were able to ditch the wheelchair. Short walks became permissible. As the weight trended upward into a healthy range, school attendance became a welcome part of our day.

     In mid-December, the hope-sparking words came from the professionals. Looking at our daughter, they said, “You are 100% weight restored. It’s time to take your life back.” We got the green light for normalcy! Back to full-time school, back to Friday night hockey. Back to three meals a day. To celebrate, we booked a holiday over Christmas.

     But the insidious beast ensconced in my sweet daughter’s brain heard the words “weight restored” and concluded something entirely different than the rest of us. “Weight restored” to ED means there is no more need to eat food. He whispered another lie into her ear: Whatever happened last summer that landed you in the hospital is over, and all these efforts to get you to eat are no longer necessary.

     A new, more devilish resolve hardens itself like tempered steel around our girl. ED has grudgingly cooperated until now, but no more. Our Christmas holiday is anything but restful as ED begins a brutal counteroffensive to kill our daughter. “Fight Tikki!” I yell. But she can’t hear me. The voice in her head screams at such high decibel’s it rivals the volume you experience at a monster truck rally. We cannot compete. Our efforts at encouragement are drowned out “Eat less, exercise more” EAT LESS, EXERCISE MORE, EAT LESS, EXERCISE MORE!” The screams are deafening. At all costs, my once-sweet daughter must obey. We do the best we can. We get her in a play hoping that it will motivate her to eat more. We plan a bike trip thinking that this positive reward will help nudge her along in the right direction. But anytime there is an outflow of energy like this, ED smashes us with violent repercussions. 

 

ED has us outgunned, and so far, in 2023, he’s brought out all his big weapons.

  • Restrict — In the fall, we had built up an impressive menu of acceptable food items that Tikki would eat. Now one by one, she rejects them. “Honey, you’ve eaten this meal a hundred times; you can eat it again; come on now.” “No, no, no, no!” she moans as she looks at the food, I see her eyes begin to twitch back and forth. She buries her head in her hands and begins to sob and rock back and forth. She’s escalating. The distraction of the T.V. doesn’t work anymore; none of our strategies do. Our menu options steadily decrease.
  • Reduce — “It’s too much, too much!” She screams hysterically as the measly plate of food we’ve assembled for her sits untouched. “I’ll eat it if you just take some food away,” she pleads. But that’s a lie. We’ve learned that if you give ED an inch, he will take a mile, so we try to remain firm. But unlike a few months ago all our schemes to coax eating are failing with alarming regularity.
  • Disobey — “The anorexic behaviour has to stop, honey. This is madness! You must eat your food!” We say with increasing urgency and anger. All we get is a blank stare and a shrug. The minute we look away, her hand goes into the glass of milk; she scoops out a handful of the white liquid and flings it to the floor or rubs it on her pants. Food is mashed beyond recognition and spread everywhere imaginable. She is far worse than a fussy two-year-old. Smashed bits of food are squished on her plate, cup, hands and face. Any beverage she has gets spilled and dried everywhere. Take your eyes off her for even a millisecond, and she spits food out, pockets apple slices, or launches bits of banana into the living room. She sneaks off out of sight and cranks out 50 push-ups before anyone notices, even though we’ve told her repeatedly not to do it. She will never sit down in the house; she must always stand. She will become a fat pig if she sits even for a few minutes. We tell her that this is nonsense, “Sit!” We say firmly, but she simply cannot obey our instructions. We lose patience and get angry. In the heat of these moments, furniture gets broken, dishes smashed in frustration, and hurtful expletives uttered. These parental outbursts at ED don’t help. The more drama we create, the more ED thrives. Misery spreads, my oldest daughter is never around anymore. She doesn’t wish to be home; how can I blame her? When the screaming increases, my son sinks further into the couch, earbuds in, volume up, lost in his video games. My youngest daughter sits in the corner; big tears form in her eyes and silently roll down her cheeks. There is so much collateral damage in this war.
  • Defy — “Sweety, the food is safe; you can trust us” “NO! I don’t trust you,” she screams, anguish etched on her face. “You are fattening me up. You don’t know what you are doing!” You can’t reason with ED, and he has convinced her that he is the only voice worth listening to. “No” is often the answer we get now when we encourage her to eat. A passionless, firm resolve to defy all efforts to help her.
  • Divide — As the food and fat phobia become more pronounced, flat refusals to eat become more commonplace. The weight begins to fall off again. How do we not panic? I take a hard line. She has to eat what we tell her to. We can’t let ED play us. If we do, we will lose the war. “Let her starve,” I say, anger rising in my voice. “She either eats what we tell her, or we deteriorate to a hospital stay and feeding tube!” Curses lace my language. My wife envisions a different approach: any nutrition is better than none, so she is in favour of appeasement and negotiation. “At least she’s eating something, right?” She offers. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists!” I yell back. My wife and I don’t want to, but we are fighting. Strife spreads, and ED laughs. He’s got us right where he wants us. It’s classic ‘divide and conquer.’

 

     Our team of professionals supporting us is exasperated. Tikki is closed off to the therapist, the family therapist, the dietician, and the doctor. Ed whispers to her, “All of them are clueless,” she believes another lie. One day our therapist says that our case is “Anorexia in the extreme” — what wonderful news. Sports is the first to be carved back; then school is ED’s next casualty. At our most recent doctor’s visit, Tikki is four heartbeats away from being hospitalized again. She’s back in a wheelchair and on strict bed rest. She’s been waitlisted to go into a day treatment program, but our hopes for recovery are very low right now. ED’s counteroffensive has worked perfectly. We’ve lost all the ground we had gained.

     Our dear daughter has been absolutely throat grabbed by this monster, and he won’t let go. There are moments, increasingly rare ones, where the real Tikki comes out. We get fleeting glimpses of the beautiful girl we’ve lost, and happiness surges for a second or two but is then swamped with a tsunami of sadness. This is a robbery of the worst kind – We hate ED. If you are a praying person, I’ll be happy to take those prayers now.

Psalm 13 has never been more real.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!

We long for the rescue that comes later on in that chapter, but will it happen with our daughter? We can’t give up, and we won’t give up! But right now, we are losing this fight.

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35 Responses

  1. Holding Tikki and your whole family before the Throne of Grace.

  2. ED is such an awful monster. I’m so sorry your family is experiencing this nightmare. Praying for Tikki and for your entire family.

  3. My heart breaks for you and your family, Dennis. You can count on me to be faithful in prayer for you.

  4. Dearest Dennis and Mistin,
    How else can I express myself other than praying for you and your precious family. How can I practically help? We only see you but a fleeting moment at church and then you are gone. I see a mask of a family who used to be so vibrant and in someways still is. It’s very good that Tikki is involved in a play, that you aren’t letting “ED” get away with it! I feel your pain and suffering and yet your race in running will not be in vain! Has Tikki done any art therapy at all? Since she is a creative it may help.
    BTW my daughter Lauren went through a period in her childhood where she ate Macdonalds every day. I was aghast when my mother in law would buy her those meals but Lauren turned out just fine. I would run it by your medical team first though. I’m just sharing my personal experiences.
    Your sister in Christ,
    Pam

  5. Dennis, Mistin + family ~
    I simply have no words.
    But, I am praying … markie

  6. Dennis and Mistin, I am praying for you all and am encouraged by your transparent vulnerability. You will be blessed and many others too… my heart is breaking for you and hopeful for God’s presence and goodness.

  7. Dennis and Mistin, thank you for sharing this journey. Thank you for being real, raw and transparent. Our hearts break with yours. We’re praying that not only would this monster be destroyed in Tiki’s life, but that in the midst of this battle you would know and experience the heart, peace and strength of our Heavenly Father’s love. Lord, destroy this malevolent presence and evil invading Tikki’s life. Break the chains of bondage, set her free. And in this fight, be the manifest peace that Dennis and Mistin need. So very Amen we pray.

  8. Praying urgently for Tikki and your entire family right now. Trusting God to defeat this evil that is attacking. He is able! I will continue to lift you up to our LORD knowing that He is there, loves each of you, and will be working to accomplish His Will. Wishing I could hug all of you. Thank you for sharing this deep need.

  9. She only started getting healthier when SHE wanted to. About 15 counselors, therapists, doctors, nutritionists, pastors, teachers, family members didn’t get her attention until she got sick of being miserable and sick and incapable of even thinking clearly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes much longer than we would ever want it to. She’s in a MUCH better place with being afraid to gain weight, and her relationship with food. My girl might always have this struggle – just like we each struggle with things. But she had to first have a better view of who God is, and who she is in His eyes. She had to choose LIFE and to believe the truths that are in His Word. I could go on and on here. I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, and that battle has been so much easier than fighting ED. There’s just no making sense of it.

  10. Did your daughter ever develop a healthy relationship with food? Did she overcome the fat and food phobia.

  11. Ok Dennis, it’s been forever and ever since the Northland days. A friend sent me this link because we’ve walked this road, and still have hard days. She didn’t know that I knew you. My daughter wasn’t quite 12 when she decided to start dieting. That was 5 years ago. I’ve just prayed for you, and for her. I felt every single thing you described. Life can be very rough – God is always good. We as parents have to believe the truths, just like our precious children do. You and your wife are GOOD parents. Hang in there – here to help if I can. ~Shannon (Adams)

  12. I will be praying for your family as you go thru this time, for your daughter and for all of help with the Drs.

  13. Oh Dennis and Mistin our hearts are breaking. We are so sorry that you all are facing this terrible monster. We are praying.

  14. Cary and Nan Flinck promise to pray for you. We are concerned for a step brother 150 days in the hospital and refusing to eat. We share this concern and wrap our love around you.

  15. Dear Dennis,Misting and family. My heart sincerely aches for you. Even though I may not be the most religious person I am still praying for you with all my heart. Please take care,I love you. ♥️💋 Mary-Jane

  16. Dennis and Mistin, my heart is breaking and my cry to God is for you and Tikki and your whole family. I love and miss you all.

  17. Dennis and Mistin. I am so sorry to hear what your family is going through. All I can say is God knows and cares, even though we sometimes have a hard time believing that. Your family is in my prayers. ❤️

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