Experiencing a Second Childhood
I am just beginning the process in therapy of revisiting my childhood, or lack thereof. I started ballet when I was young, and spent the majority of my time there. In between the studio and school (and studying throughout), there wasn’t much room for having a normal childhood. Another factor that significantly impacted me was my relationship with my parents, which unfortunately included a lot of neglect and abuse. I wasn’t safe at home, but I also wasn’t safe at ballet, where my genetic vulnerability to Anorexia Nervosa (AN) was first environmentally triggered. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, so I chose ballet, where I was at least praised for my thin body, performances, and competition finalist placements.
I realized in retrospect that I used my body as a cry for help when my parents didn’t listen to my words.
Growing up, I saw other kids experiencing a “normal” childhood and adolescence. They had friends, hung out after school, played group sports, knew about the latest music and trends, eventually drove their own cars, had boyfriends and girlfriends, went to school dances, Prom, and started new lives in college with a great deal of independence. I knew that that was the reference point for what others were doing, and that I was far from it. I was very envious of the other kids, as they not only had the love and support of their parents, they had the freedom to make their own choices, and to have a meaningful life outside of the home. I didn’t have that.
I’ve often wished that I had a magic wand and could go back in time to be more “normal,” but since I can’t, I’ve been trying to focus on what I can do in adulthood to experience some of the activities and feelings that are associated with childhood.
Some things I like to do on my own, but others I vicariously experience through my now 3 ½ year old daughter. Due to my history of AN, I was not able to be pregnant, so we had a gestational carrier. I was very worried before she was born that I would pass on my AN genes, and that I would not have a maternal instinct, as I did not carry her (though she is genetically mine and my husband’s). When she was born, though, and I held her skin to skin, I knew that I would love her forever, and I would make sure that I did everything in my power to not expose her to AN triggers such as ballet. I further noted that I was going to go above and beyond to give her the best childhood ever, and I realized that this was my opportunity to have a second childhood. I know that many parents feel that way, but for me it is unique, because I am actually experiencing many of the same things for the first time, just as she is. It is wonderful to see things through her eyes, with that innocence and joy, and I try to put myself in that mind set right along with her. We both jump in the kiddie pool, blow bubbles, write with sidewalk chalk, sing and dance, play hide and seek, and cuddle a lot. As she grows up, I am looking forward to sharing those adolescent experiences with her as well, and being a source of support and encouragement that I did not have.
I’ve often reflected on if there was a “purpose” to my having AN, from a spiritual perspective (though I am not religious). I certainly felt in the beginning that it was “my cross to bear,” and that I would have to live with it forever. Since my AN recovery in 2012, though, I’ve proven that I don’t have to listen to the Eating Disorder (ED) voice anymore.
Perhaps my “reason” for AN was to experience the struggle, heal, and go through a childhood with my current loving family.
About the Author: Heather, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW
Heather has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013, and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Through her position at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, she has also been collaborating with her local Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Partial Hospital, Outpatient, and Home-Based clinical programs since 2013. Heather had Anorexia Nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012. Her blog posts can be found at: NEDA, Medium, and Jenni Schaefer You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.