We’ve been having a good run of things-a very good run. A few months of relative calm, a few months of good balance with medication and a few months of feeling like we’re on top of this.
And that’s why this past week feels so… so foreign. Why it’s snapping back to THAT place- that place of desperation, that place of frustration and that place of grief. Again. It’s almost Pavlovian how fast it comes back.
Ray’s stopped eating. Again. Whether his lack of eating is a cause or a symptom of his issues is something that I would dearly love to know. Probably both, but it’s a vicious cycle I appear to be unable to intervene in once it gets going. And I never seem to be able to “catch” it before he’s gone off the rails so completely that there’s no going back. Yesterday he took 3 hours to eat one piece of sausage. I was holding fast that he WAS GOING TO eat and that he couldn’t get out of it. No, he couldn’t go to his room. No, he couldn’t substitute it with something with carbs- he HAD to eat either a protein or a vegetable. No, I didn’t have any bacon. No, he couldn’t eat McDonalds instead. And no, he couldn’t play in the last game of soccer until he ate. And so he missed it- he missed his last game because he couldn’t choke down the food that is necessary.
There’s a fine line with Ray between anxiety and control issues. If he had been unable to eat at all, I would have found another way, but when he kept trying to offer me alternatives that he preferred- alternatives that did not meet my criteria of protein or a vegetable that was healthy- I knew that the issue was control, not anxiety. The more he dug in, the more I dug back. It’s such a battle of wills sometime, and I feel like so much is on the line- that if I “give in” he will fall apart even more than he does already.
It hurts my heart so much that he uses food as a means of a control battle. He fights us on homework, cleaning his room, etc., but food is the battle that is the most trouble. I offer him choices- I provide options, and he fights me on those. Last Wednesday, I asked him to come up with – and he could make it himself- a meal that had a protein and a vegetable. He chose Mexicali Round Steak from my Crock-Pot cookbook. Yum! He was excited, he chopped and he put it all in together. We all left for school, excited at what was for dinner that night. That night… he didn’t “like it”. Could he have buttered toast instead? Could he have candy? I said “No”, and he ate nothing. I offered that he could have candy when he was done with the dinner he had come up with. He ate nothing. He dug in his heels that he was not going to eat and I dug right back. We finally compromised on peanut butter crackers- of which he only ate 2. He went to bed- hungry. Again.
This ongoing challenge is made worse because he’s dreadfully underweight. He’s 8 1/2, and weighs 48 pounds. He’s weighed 48-49 pounds for a year and a half. My friend Elaine was shocked when she saw him without a shirt on- he looks like one of “those” commercials- those “please give money to feed the hungry” commercials. He refuses to drink supplementary shakes, he refuses to eat anything other than toast and candy. He would rather go hungry.
The horrible thing is that he has done this literally his whole life. He would nurse until he wasn’t hungry anymore- not until he was full. 20 minutes after he had nursed, he would be on full throttle screaming and I knew that it was because he was hungry. I would offer; he would refuse. I would dribble milk onto his lips and he would finally take the nipple, and release it a few minutes later. We would have peace for a moment, until the whole cycle repeated itself. He weaned himself at 11 months because he refused it altogether. Between 1 year and 2 years of age, he was diagnosed as “failure to thrive” because he did not gain any weight- not one ounce.
We do know what to do- we have a whole range of things to do. We have tried yelling; we have tried firm silence. We have tried firm schedules of meals; we have tried allowing him to graze during the day. We have tried rewarding good eating with toast or candy, and we have tried giving him control over what he eats. We’ve tried letting him eat whatever he wants as long as he gets his vitamin or the supplementary shake; and we’ve tried serving balanced meals. We have a nutrition web site on our Favorites for him to reference and see what he’s eating. Each of these might work- at different times. And each time he does this, I’m never quite sure what combination of things to try now… what will work today? And when he refuses the vitamin and the shake, I feel stuck. He digs in and I have to dig right back.
And so yesterday was spent on the sidelines of a really great soccer game that my husband was coaching that came down to a sudden death in penalty kicks between Ray’s team and the opposing team. He was not going to eat the sausage, and I was not going to buy McDonalds. And so he missed it- he stood there and ticced and ticced and ticced and refused to eat.
My poor husband- as a coach, he needed Ray. There were injuries and there were skills that Ray has that the team needed. At one point in the game, he came over to ask if Ray could play- his team needed him. I pointed to the 1/2 piece of sausage still left and told Ray that if he ate it, he could go and join his team. He said “No”, and I had to tell James that Ray wouldn’t play. It just killed me to see Ray ticcing away, watching his team, and refusing to eat. They won, by the way.
And it kills me when Ray screams at me “I hate you!” and I have to remain firm, remain firm. That if I give in, then he and I both fall apart. Then he eats nothing but toast and candy and will never do homework. Then he will never learn self-control because he doesn’t know what control looks like. Then, the autism/bipolar/anorexia… whatever it is- wins.
And that’s one thing that I will never allow to win in this fight for my son. But it sure is hard. And it sure involves a lot of tears. It’s so hard when we Fall Back…
And the great irony is that the more my son refuses to eat, the more I seek solace in the same foods that he wants. I eat the “good for you” stuff to model for him what healthy eating is and to encourage him to keep me company in this food, and then I drown my worries in the stuff that he craves as well. Ben and Jerry’s does fix things for an evening- but takes a hell of a toll on me. The irony of our having opposite weight problems does not escape me….