My husband and I went out for dinner last night. It was nice. One of the impacts of the anorexia is that we've lost our alone time at night with each other. N, for some reason, won't go to bed until we do. He was struggling with this before he got sick -- so it's just 10 times worse now. We're lucky if N goes to bed 10 minutes before we do. We're all suffering from a lack of sleep because of it. Anyway, it was good to be able to talk and reconnect a little. We probably need to be better about finding time for "dates."
I've been mulling over a lot of things in my mind lately: the reward system, grades, N's progress, and my other kids. These things just swim around in my head all of the time. I'm the kind of person that likes to have a plan when I face a challenge. So, I'm wondering what my plan is. Here are some random thoughts:
About N's grades:
As we talked last night, we compared N's school work now with his school work when he was at his sickest. Even though N was very sick in early fall, I still set limits and helped him to be responsible for his school work. N's grades were better -- and so were his feelings about school (but not about his friend-situation). Also, his feelings about himself -- in regards to his school success were better. I changed my approach with him in October after reading (for the first time) all of the accusations of controlling parents causing anorexia. Now that I understand that anorexia has a medical/chemical/metabolic/strep cause (although no one is exactly sure of the details yet), I'm less worried about the control issues. But, I really think N feels worse about himself now than he did then. I see him full of self-loathing because he isn't doing his school work. We've let him not do it, largely not wanting to add pressure on him. But I think that instead of helping him, we've just allowed him to fail. Not that failure is bad. I think that I do need to let him fail at times. But right now, he needs to feel good about himself in every way possible. We worried that setting limits about his school work would make the anorexia worse. But now I'm thinking that the lack of limits has made the anorexia worse instead.
N is doing a lot better. He isn't better. But, I want to try setting some limits about school work in hopes that he is able to feel better about himself in turn. He also needs some reminders/limits about being respectful. It's so hard to know where the child that is growing up and going through puberty ends and the child with anorexia begins. Where are limits appropriate and even needed? And when are they too much to expect because of the anorexia? I'm not sure. But I do think that we've missed the line and need to readjust some. We'll probably be tweaking those lines until he leaves home someday.
About characteristics of anorexia:
I read some statements online about personality traits and anorexia yesterday. I feel like many of these common characteristics explain why N is struggling at school. One of the characteristics was having an "all or nothing" approach to life. N's teacher has them turn in their assignments in packets. N will turn nothing in rather than turn in a partially completed packet. He won't turn in an almost finished assignment for some points. In his mind, it has to be completely finished. He does this with his homework and chores. He has a hard time breaking his tasks up into smaller components and doing some of them at a time. Instead, he overwhelms himself by all that has to be done -- and then never does anything. Another characteristic was "attention to detail, but not able to see the big picture." This seems like an opposite to the previous characteristic, but it really isn't. N is such a detail person. I am constantly amazed by the details that he can remember. I think it is why he is such a good test-taker. We'll watch a movie and he will be able to rattle off the dialogue exactly as it was in the move. On the other hand, he struggles with things like summarizing. If you ask him to tell you about the movie, he'll take 30 minutes. He'll tell you every detail found in the movie. I once watched him give a book report to his class (supposed to be a summary). It was probably the longest book report ever. Sometimes, in his homework, he'll get so caught up in the details that it takes him forever to complete the project/problem. He can't see the bigger picture of just getting the main points and moving on.
About my other kids:
I continue to worry about J. He is just 9 years old. I can see him cringe now whenever an issue starts. He tries to be gentle with his older brother, but I can really see it taking a toll on him. He also just got a report card and did really well. I've got to find a way to reward J, without it being a stress for N but not taking away from J's achievement. J is a good boy. I don't want him to resent his brother. J has tried to be so flexible -- even when things are so unreasonable.
We agreed to try a reward system to just see if it would help N. We started this morning. He wants to earn a "multi-tap" for his PS2. I told him that he could earn $.50 towards it every time that he 1) gets to school on time, 2) goes to bed by 9:00 p.m., or 3) completes his homework. I am not ever going to take away from the reward. I realize that often the anorexia gets in the way of these goals -- so we're going to do this as positives only. I'm also willing to give a partial reward.
The reward system already helped to motivate N this morning. N really wanted to earn that first $.50. He tried so hard to make it to school on time. However, the anorexia got in the way when it came time to choose a shirt. He started into the crying cycle out of frustration both about the reward and the anorexia. But he steeled his face and stood up to the anorexia. A few minutes later he was completely ready for school (when normally the crying cycle would result in him being at least an hour late to school). I was so proud of him. I told him that he could have a partial payment because I saw him try so hard to beat the anorexia. Maybe I should have let him have full payment. I'll have to think about that.