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Pat: “As someone who’s been through it, I understand how parents feel”

Pat Ayres portraitPat looks back 25 years to when she cared for her daughter, who struggled with an eating disorder in her young adulthood. The isolation she felt at the time has motivated her to run her own support group, so she can be there for other families going through the same situation.


For the first few years I was in completely unknown territory. I can see now that the signs were there, but it wasn’t until Princess Diana spoke on TV about her own struggles with an eating disorder that I really recognised the condition in my daughter. It was before internet, and it was difficult to get information.

My daughter was living away from home, at university, which made it harder for her family and friends to see what she was going through. She was 18, so I had no access to information about her medical care. The university wouldn’t talk to me, her doctors wouldn’t – I felt very isolated.

As parents you’re left trying to hold it all together. It’s hard to speak up about what you’re going through – I never spoke to my friends about it at the time, I felt so much guilt.

Sometimes my daughter would call me in the night – just to make sure I was there. In the darkness of the night the condition could be consuming, and she needed reassurance and the sound of my voice. It did mean I couldn’t shut down. When my head touched the pillow it would throb and I thought I could hear the phone ringing in the middle of the night.

Looking back I don’t know how my husband and I coped with all the ups and downs of the controlling illness. We had each other but we barely spoke at times – we didn’t want to transfer our individual fears to each other, we wanted to protect each other from what was coming next.

I ended up collapsing and was rushed into hospital in an ambulance. I had been trying to carry on as normal, letting my body soak up the distress and worry. Something had to give.

For a long time I had seen myself as just a mum, doing the best I could for my daughter. Talking to Carers in Gloucestershire helped me change my way of thinking and recognise that I was a carer as well.

Attending a carer support group with my husband helped us to deal with everything we had been through. You’re scared to talk in case people judge you as a bad parent. You constantly question what you did wrong, where you slipped up. It took a long time to really understand that the condition had nothing to do with our parenting, and that there is no one thing that will fix it.

You do get through these things – however impossible it can feel at the time. At church once they were talking about a quote from the Bible: ‘It came to pass, it never came to stay’. I’m not deeply religious, but sometimes a few simple words can give you the hope you need.

One thing the experience taught me was that I didn’t want any other parent to feel the same way I did – isolated and scared to speak up. I now facilitate a support group so I can be there for parents.

I understand the torment parents feel as they watch their child suffer. And I understand the resentment you can feel as a carer. I felt like I hated my daughter at times – I wondered how she could this to us. Some parents came to my support group for the first time and when I said this out loud it looked like a weight had been lifted from them.

As a support group facilitator, you need to give people space to talk. Eye contact is important. It can be difficult to revisit painful times and I do need to have boundaries to make sure I’m there to listen, and not to go through my own personal journey again.

Caring is a much harder and lonelier world without emotional support. Support groups give you a freedom to open up about how you feel away from your own family. I have learnt so much about how it feels to live with the condition from some of the sufferers who attend the group. And it’s amazing to see them finally get what it can feel like for the families trying desperately to support them.

I know my daughter is very proud of what my husband and I have done.


  • For advice and information about caring for someone with an eating disorder, visit the Beat website.
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