Today the letter arrived: we have been awarded the middle rate of Disability Living Allowance due to Ollie’s illness. It’s not a large sum, but it’ll cover the weekly hospital trips, with a little left over towards our other extra expenses. I feel relieved and desperately sad in equal measure.

It’s a relief because this is real recognition of the severity of Ollie’s anorexia. It feels like independent proof that his anorexia is huge, on-going, and tangible. It shows that this mental illness has a major impact on our lives. Somehow that is reassuring.

The decision also brings with it sadness. It puts our family into a category that I never saw coming. It labels us as having a child who is profoundly ill. The wording on the letter is stark: Ollie needs constant supervision so that he won’t cause substantial danger to himself. I know that this refers to both his history of self-harm, and to the simple fact that Ollie won’t eat or drink, at all, unless told to. Left to his own devices he would not respond to hunger or thirst cues. We are lucky that on the days that he attends school, he is prompted and supervised there for two of his daily six meals.

The other reason for my reaction is the timescale. Our award has been made for a two-year period. This is most likely a conservative estimate of the length of treatment ahead of Ollie. A recent documentary stated that the average length of recovery is around seven years, and that only applies to the third of patients that recover fully. A third will make only a partial recovery, and a third will carry the monstrous illness with them forever. These are sobering statistics. Although Ollie’s chances of recovery have been helped by the rapid treatment and access to a world-class multi-disciplinary team, it is likely that he will be affected in some way for the rest of his life. He’s only twelve. My heart breaks for him.

I haven’t, and won’t, tell Ollie about the DLA, as I’m afraid that he will find it upsetting. He knows he’s ill, so I don’t feel the need to labour the point with him. I will hide away the paperwork and keep quiet. We can add it to the file that we never expected to own.


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