My little sister (in-law) has an eating disorder. She has had an eating disorder for probably 4 or 5 years and she’s not even 20. In my husband’s family, things like that are really discussed openly. (Just like nobody mentioned the gay brother for years or the fact that the kids are leaving the Mormon church in droves.) So I took a cue from them and watched it get worse. We all sat there smiling at Christmas dinner when she would disappear after eating and come back 20 minutes later with a stick of gum in her mouth. We neglected to comment on her ever-thinning frame. It didn’t feel right to me and it bugged me to stand by but at the time I didn’t feel like it was really my place. I regret that decision immensely now. I should have said something, I should have at least started a conversation so that when she was ready to talk about it, it would be easier.
SIL went to BYU (Brigham Young University) Idaho (formerly Rick’s College, my husband’s first college too incidentally) for her first semester and did incredibly well. She’s a smart cookie and a kindred spirit and although BYU would not have been my first choice for her (the craziness that is that institution is worthy of a whole post), I was happy that she was getting away and getting at least some of the experiences that college life can bring. At the beginning of this semester I got a call and she told me she was coming home to get treatment for her eating disorder. I was surprised to hear her talk about it so openly and so very proud of her for taking such a huge step. She left her apartment and her friends and came home. She has been applying to do a study-program abroad in London and told me she wanted to get this sorted before she went. I talked to her at length about the subject and told her what a huge step she had taken. She told me that it was interfering with her life and she needed to fix this. She was committed and determined and I told her I would help her find the right program. We offered to let her stay with us and do anything we could to facilitate this journey.
Fast forward a month and half. She has done nothing. She sits at home, alone, in a house full of junk-food, waiting to leave for London in January. The word frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how my husband and I feel about the situation and we can’t help but blame religion a little bit. Because she lives in a small Mormon town, she went to see a small-town Mormon doctor. (Despite her other brother’s requests that she see someone in a larger centre that she won’t bump into at church on Sunday.) That Mormon doctor, in keeping with her father’s medical tendencies, put her on antidepressants. I think she may also be seeing a church-counsellor. The programs we were looking at for her were top of the line, in-patient programs that offer the resources she needs. Instead, she gets put on Prozac and sent home. She’s not depressed (not even a little bit) – she is sick.
It’s the same old thing. Why listen to the psychologist brother or the neuroscientist brother or the well-informed sister when you can listen to your uneducated mother and your church authorities? This eating disorder started in the house she is living in now. With a mother who suggested she try Weight Watchers when she was eleven. Who only a few months ago sent her bulemic daughter a package containing a pound of candy and 5 dozen cookies. It’s insane. It’s unhealthy and it is the last place she needs to be to fix this problem. We have seen this so many times – the easy way out, the mistrust of experts outside of the church, the over-reliance on church doctors, leaders etc. It’s self-limiting and at times it can be downright dangerous.
So now we have a young girl, out of school with nothing to do, living with an enabling (and equally unhealthy) mother about to embark on a journey to the U.K. with her books, her excitement and a very heavy mental issue in tow.
I get so tired of watching things unravel and having no power to fix it. The fact that we aren’t in the church makes everything we say dismissable. No matter how evidence-based or true it may be. This time though, it’s serious.