“It was really scary,” says Roberta, of the August before her daughter Serena’s ninth-grade year. Now 24 and well on the road to recovery from anorexia, Serena also has vivid memories of that time period. Recently, mother and daughter looked back on that tumultuous summer, sharing their thoughts with each other and with us.
“Serena always loved the outdoors. Until she was about 10, we used to go camping for a week every summer; she was quite the adventurer. She earned stellar grades in school, and though she was quiet, she’d open up with kids she knew well. In eighth grade, she befriended three classmates, and when she asked to spend July with them at a sleepaway computer program, I was excited for her.
But when she came home, I could barely believe my eyes, much less think straight. What had happened to my beautiful, smart Serena? She’d been lean to begin with; now she looked entirely too skinny. The possibility that she had an eating disorder began to haunt me. I kept hoping there was some sensible explanation for the weight loss or that it was only a bad dream.
“It took me a couple of days to get my wits about me. It was wrenching to know that my daughter was hurting, yet when I reached out to her-telling her I loved her and asking how she was feeling-she was anything but talkative. Meanwhile, she ate like a bird and showed no interest in going outside, preferring to stay in her room. She was due to start high school in a few weeks, and I couldn’t imagine sending her there in the condition she was in.
Finally, she agreed to a medical checkup. ‘Okay, if I have to,’ she relented. ‘But my health is fine.’
“I made an appointment with the pediatrician for the following day. Meanwhile, I went to the library and borrowed some books on eating disorders. I knew little about these illnesses and was afraid of what I might learn. What I did know was that now was not the time to give in to my fears. Serena needed help, and my first priority was to make that happen.”
“It’s hard to put that summer’s experiences into a neat package, because that’s not how they happened. Even now, they haven’t completely fallen into place in my mind. Actually, my feelings were so jumbled that even if I’d wanted to sort them out, I wouldn’t have had the vaguest idea how to go about it. Emotions were not on my radar back then. I really didn’t know I had them, much less how to name them or what to do with them.
“Three classmates and I signed up for a sleepaway computer program in July. When camp started, I thought these girls were my friends. To this day, I don’t know why they turned against me.
When they joked around, I often missed the drift of their sarcasm.