Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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I cannot keep silent anymore. It’s been going for too long and it’s driving me nuts. Mental health illnesses are wreaking havoc in my family and I’m feeling sad, angry, hurt and frustrated. My youngest, age 13, suffers from anorexia. My oldest, age 15, suffers from school phobia. Both conditions appeared this year, though the school phobia has been going on for longer. Both conditions have affected all four of us deeply, as well as everything that surrounds us – school, activities, friends, relationships. It sucks. It really, really sucks and I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall.
This is the lovely forest I had picked for today’s family hike on a Sunday. Yesterday, my youngest asked if she could prepare picnic lunches for all four of us. We said, sure, it would be great. She took her Kawaii Bento book out, made sushi rice, colored it blue and shaped it into cute animals with seaweed cut-outs. This morning, I checked travel times by train, the itinerary, the weather. It was meant to be a nice day for a walk. My husband and I both went to our girls’ bedrooms to wake them up.
“Morning, it’s time to get up.”
Only my youngest didn’t get up for very long. She came to the kitchen, looked at the lunch boxes and went back to her bedroom to lie down.
“I’m not feeling well,” she said. “I cannot come.”
She looked so pale, so fragile. Curled up in foetal position, she looked miserable inside and outside her body. I wanted to hug her, to make her feel better, but she didn’t want to be touched.
“I’m not feeling well.”
That’s a sentence we’ve heard regularly since the summer and the fact is, she didn’t look well at all. Initially, we attributed it to tiredness from school. Tiredness from being too much on screens. It’s ironic for us, used to enjoy the outdoors during every weekend and vacation, that we now spend our weekends hoping and praying that one of our girls will be upbeat enough to join us outside. The truth is, my husband and I have been going outside by ourselves as of late, leaving the girls at home. Its not a bad thing per se, except the absence of my daughters when we’re outside is a cruel reminder of their poor mental state.
I cannot share my plant discoveries with my youngest anymore.
I cannot play imaginary games on the trail with her anymore.
I cannot discuss school friends with my oldest anymore.
I cannot share a squirrel sighting or a river crossing with them anymore.
They’ve slowly but surely stopped going outside.
And yet, my youngest loves going outside. At least, she did. For Christmas 2017, she asked a one-person tent with LED-lit poles. For her birthday, she asked for a thermal sleep sack and a new camping stove. When we walk to her school together, we plan backpacking trips in our heads and discuss the pros and cons of such mountains as well as the perfect dehydrated camping menus.
But anorexia is sucking the life out of her. Her energy levels are way down. She weighs only 38kg / 83 lbs to 1.60m / 5″2′. She regularly comes back from school nauseated, refusing to go to her art class or refusing to do her homework.
“What have you had for lunch?” I ask.
“Boiled potatoes and a fruit,” she replies.
It’s a lie.
I didn’t know it was a lie until this week, when the school counsellor called me. My daughter had skipped lunch three days in a row. She also hadn’t had breakfast, which made dinner her only meal of the day, only she would eat three cookies after school and say she wasn’t hungry for dinner.
My daughter suffers from anorexia and I want her to be happy but I don’t know how to do it.
The outdoors used to make us happy.
The outdoors was our go-to Sunday activity.
The outdoors has become a luxury, something we do when on vacation because it’s planned.
However, our slow withdrawal from the outdoors started with my oldest’ school phobia a couple of years ago. If you don’t know what school phobia is, it’s also known as school refusal and it’s a severe anxiety that manifests itself, for my daughter, in crippling abdominal pains and headaches. Often, she would start stressing over school on the Saturday, feeling worse and stay in bed on the Sunday, to be in a miserable state on Monday morning. Monday came and went, Tuesday came and went and on Wednesday, she started feeling better.
I cannot tell you the number of hikes and trips we cancelled at the last minute.The number of hours I spent studying maps, looking for interesting places to go, only to shelf the idea for a brighter day when everybody would be feeling fine. The joy of anticipating these great adventures following by the extreme disappointment of cancelling a day out, followed by anger and frustration, not to mention the fact that I don’t understand how to make things better.
Believe me, I try, but trying’s not good enough.
Though neither my husband nor I suffer from mental health diseases, we both suffer the side-effects of metal health diseases. Each bad day for our girls is a blow to our mental. Each time I hear or see my girls lying in bed and suffering inside their heads, it breaks my heart into a million pieces. Each time I see their eyes looking away and retreating to dark thoughts, I want to shake the sadness out of them. I want to find the culprit, kick it hard in the butt, tell it never to come back and eradicate it from out lives. I want to take this shitty anorexia or anxiety and burn it to ashes.
I want our life back.
I want my girls happy to live again.
I don’t want to smile when deep inside I’m crying.
My eldest daughter now sees a psychologist every week. It helps. She’s much better and she’s improved her school attendance as well as her general mood. She keeps singing with her singing teacher and her choir, something that makes us all very happy.
Ironically, now that my oldest’s situation has improved, my youngest suffering from anorexia. That’s pretty twisted.
I don’t know how to fight anorexia but I will find a way. We all will. We need to, for my daughter’s sake. She’s a bright kid, she’s got a bright future ahead of her if only she would love herself and find her confidence.
Mental health illnesses have been ruining our lives and we need to talk about the mental health of our kids. They may seem happy on the outside when they’re really dark inside.
I’m sharing this in hopes that it will start a conversation. Neither of my girls know that I’m writing this and they’re probably going to be pissed but I can’t pretend that we’re all a happy family when we’re not. Yes, we go places, we do stuff, but we’re a broken family right now.
Mental health is a taboo in our society. It’s terrible and destructive, but it needs to be addressed as much as physical health.
The outdoors is supposed to be good for mental health, right? It’s supposed to heal and soothe, calm your mind, brighten your spirits. Only what do you do when you can’t bring mental health sufferers to the outdoors?
This is wrong.
I look forward to the day when we can all go back to the outdoors as a family with a bento box and blue sushi rice pandas, without worrying about what tomorrow will bring.
In the meantime, I’ll keep fighting with a heavy heart.