I never really understood how powerful silence could be until this week.
Our days have been punctuated by Ollie's extreme moods. Flashbacks, outbursts of anger, depression. Then last week, he fell silent for a few hours. A few days later, he was silent for exactly 24 hours.
Ollie's illness has been dramatic, and during his massive decline, he became unable to speak. In the spring, the silence marked the start of the true horrors of constant self harm, enforced NGT feeds, refusal to let us touch him, complete lack of self care or cooperation, and months in an inpatient unit. In June, Ollie found his voice again, and he has been sharing his thoughts with us ever since. Things have been challenging, but our lines of communication have remained open.
Silence, then, is not something we welcome in our home. Children should definitely be heard. Conversation is crucial. Affection and emotion needs to be shared. We all go to therapy, we talk about everything, and it helps.
On Sunday, Ollie's silence seemed to come out of the blue. One minute we were eating dinner and chatting, the next he had "gone dark". His face changed to an empty mask, his body language showed anger, and he said nothing. Ollie got up from the table and curled up on our half-landing. There he stayed, in the foetal position, flinching when we touched him. He seemed to ignore us. It's as if he was absent.
We thought that it would not last long. That he would thaw, and talk, and it would be ok. But he didn't speak again that evening, and went to bed, in his clothes, in silence.
We hoped that sleep would do something magical and that it'd be ok in the morning. But Ollie woke on Monday just as dark as he had been on Sunday. He refused all attempts to get out of bed. We told him he needed his meds, and his breakfast. His brother left for school, and I sat on Ollie's bed, trying not to panic. I tried not to think what this could mean, where it could be headed. I tried to stay calm. No amount of cajoling got through to Ollie - so we had to bring out the big guns.
During his rapid decline, before Ollie was admitted to the inpatient unit, the only way that Ollie could be fed was via NG tube at our local hospital. We had a red card arrangement whereby we could be seen on the paediatric ward immediately. It was always a physically difficult option as Ollie would not go willingly, and it took at least two adults to get him in the car and safely to hospital. We were unrelenting and took him every single time he refused to eat. Ollie learned that there was no option.
My husband and I had already agreed that if Ollie refused to eat on Monday, we would have to threaten him with a visit to hospital. As Ollie knows that I couldn't physically take him there on my own, my husband had to stay home from work. It had to be a credible threat. So on that morning, I told my son that he had to come downstairs, take his meds and eat his breakfast, or we would have to go.
It felt like the previous six months had achieved nothing.
Ollie knew he was cornered. He found the strength to do as we asked. After eating, he returned to the half landing. This pattern then repeated throughout the day. Ollie ignored us, ate when he absolutely had to, wouldn't allow us to touch him, and remained silent. His expression was identical to the one we had seen during his period of crisis.
We took shifts, sitting near him, telling him that we were there for him. As the day wore on, my despair grew. My mind was swirling with images from the year. I looked at my son, curled up and unresponsive, and I wanted to howl. I thought it had all been for nothing. We were back in that black hole, only this time it was our fault. He was doing so well and then we had messed it up. I could foresee hospitals, tubes and restraints, a broken future. I feared for my husband's job, for our older son, for everything that we had started to hope for. I tried not to cry in front of anyone, but dinner undid me.
I sat opposite our sons. I looked at Ollie and felt exhausted. I felt unable to go on. In that moment all I wanted was to die. I wanted to opt out. I couldn't do it all again. I was too tired. I could do nothing more for Ollie. It was over.
Then I looked at Adam, our healthy, mellow 14-year old. My heart burst as I though my about leaving him. I couldn't leave. I couldn't die. I wasn't allowed to. I was trapped in a life of perpetual anorexia.
I tried to eat through my racking sobs.
Ollie left the table. Five minutes later he reappeared and spoke to us. He apologised, said he felt awful, cried, and hugged my husband. He wouldn't catch my eye. It had been exactly 24 hours.
Ollie's presentation changed completely. Within minutes he was smiling, chatting, seemingly "normal". He was back. I tried to look happy and relieved, but inside I was confused, angry, and bone weary. I felt manipulated. What had happened? Why had it happened? Was this how our lives would be?
The next day, we dissected all this in family therapy. We were reassured that recovery is never linear, that setbacks are normal, and that there were clear reasons both for Ollie's silence and for his return to us. We talked and talked, trying to make up for the silence. There is so much to try to understand.
Silence is a hugely powerful weapon in anorexia's arsenal. It's a tool that isolates, and allows fear and panic to set in. Will it happen again? Will we be any better equipped if it does?
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