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Wendy

Age at interview: 64
Brief Outline: Wendy’s daughter developed an eating disorder aged 15 and started cutting herself. She has also taken overdoses and spent time in psychiatric hospital. Despite the shock of a recent overdose, Wendy believes that her daughter is beginning to turn her life around.
Background: Wendy, 64, is a sales manager, married with two adopted children. Ethnic background: White British.

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Wendy’s daughter developed an eating disorder when she was about 15. When she was 16 she was given a letter from her birth mother, after which Wendy says her daughter became angry and self-hating. She thinks her daughter began cutting herself at this time, but she respected her privacy and did not notice any signs. One day Wendy found her sitting on her bed swallowing handfuls of tablets. They went to hospital, and Wendy was horrified and shocked to see cuts from her wrists to her shoulders. Her daughter continued to cut herself, sometimes so badly that she had to be treated in hospital. The behaviour persisted when she was at university, where she was being seen by a psychiatric nurse, but Wendy felt she was kept in the dark as her daughter was over 18. She would have liked the opportunity to speak to the nurse, to learn how to understand and help her daughter.

Her daughter got a good degree but could not find a job and became depressed. Eventually the Crisis team decided that she should be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for three and a half months under section. She was prescribed various drugs which Wendy thinks caused a psychotic episode. When her daughter was discharged she started to improve and got a good job which she enjoyed. Wendy was delighted but then her daughter took another overdose, which was a great shock. She was told by a nurse that her daughter needed 24 hour care as she wasn’t safe, and she could either go into hospital again or Wendy could look after her at home. Wendy didn’t want her going back to hospital, so booked time off work to care for her. The next day her daughter said she felt much better and went back to her own flat. Wendy thinks this recovery was due to prayer.

Wendy has a very strong Christian faith and says without God she wouldn’t have survived. She was supported by a network of Christian friends, and because she works for a Christian organisation was able to take time off work when she found it hard to concentrate because of the stress. She says the impact of her daughter’s problems was horrendous. Wendy had panic attacks and palpitations. The stress also had a huge impact on her husband. He was ashamed of their daughter’s behaviour and dealt with it by pretending it wasn’t happening, although he was supportive of Wendy. They sometimes blame themselves for not being more concerned in the early days when their daughter had a weight problem. Wendy says her son could not cope with her daughter’s behaviour and became angry and verbally abusive towards her.

Wendy’s daughter has never really talked to her about why she self-harms. Wendy thinks she hides it because she doesn’t want to hurt her mother. Wendy would have liked the opportunity for some sort of family therapy where she and her daughter could talk to each other with a counsellor. Wendy doesn’t think medication is the answer. She thinks that if her daughter had had proper counselling earlier she would not have ended up on medication.

Wendy advises healthcare professionals to involve the family more. She would have liked to talk to a professional about her daughter’s care. She advises parents to get all the information they can, and if they see any symptoms of self-harm, to get help straight away. She says: “You do the best you can. I look back and think there are things I probably could have done a lot better, but I’m not going to let it spoil the rest of our relationship.”
 

Wendy said that her daughter 'holds it against us' for not taking more seriously her problems with food and weight.

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Wendy said that her daughter 'holds it against us' for not taking more seriously her problems with food and weight.

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She went back to the GP then on her own. I think it was mostly because of the weight issue then but you see, we, at the time, she I mean, yeah, we blame ourselves that maybe we should have done something about it at the time, but at the time, they were all drama queens. They were all fifteen year old drama queens looking for some drama and we observed it with her friends and the peer pressure, you know, and I just, so yeah, so we blame ourselves for that and she holds that against us or she has done, you know, “I tried to tell you.” But, you know, so yeah, I think she was mad at us over that and that’s why she would do the things to cause to cause attention, to bring our attention to the fact that she is not coping.
 

Wendy thinks talking would clear the air and wishes she and her daughter could be helped to do this.

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Wendy thinks talking would clear the air and wishes she and her daughter could be helped to do this.

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But talking about it, we skirt around. She knows I know. I know she knows but we don’t really sit down eye to eye. I would love to, absolutely love to but I think and, you know, that is something I pray about as well that one day we will have an appointment to talk about it because I think that a lot of things, you know, well, I know myself that if you can talk about these things you can clear the air and sort things, you know. 

I mean I think she has felt that oh, she’s just, that I’m disappointed in her because of what she does and because of the eating thing and because she’s not slim and, you know. I think, but that’s never anything that I’ve, I hope I have never instilled. I think that’s what she thinks I should feel but, yeah, and so yes, if there was, if you could have family counselling. If we had had or mum, daughter and a counsellor I think, you know, like you have Relate like marriage counselling, I think that would have been hugely beneficial because she could have talked in front of me and I could have talked in front of her but we’ve never really had that opportunity. Yeah.

Yeah. Some people do have that.

Yeah.

But it’s, that’s not something that’s ever been offered or mentioned to you.

No, never, no, no, no and I’ve, I’ve always felt that I wouldn’t intrude on [my daughter’s] privacy by ringing that, her CPN [community psychiatric nurse] and saying, “How do you feel she is?” It’s, I, yeah, I felt very much protective about invading her space, the same thing as I won’t invade her bedroom or, you know, I don’t know what goes on in there. Which is just as well [laughs].
 

The impact of her daughter's self-harm was ‘horrendous’. It affected several areas of Wendy’s life.

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The impact of her daughter's self-harm was ‘horrendous’. It affected several areas of Wendy’s life.

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Could you describe what the impact of it all has been on you?

[Sighs] I’m just coming out of it [laughs]. The impact at the time was horrendous. It was absolutely horrendous. I had palpitations. I had to change the ring tone on my phone because it caused panic attacks like, “Oh what’s happening?” You know, so I have a stupid ring tone that’s like a circus sound of [laughs] but just creates, yes, it just always, you know, when the phone rings, the fear, or when the door, the doorbell, you know, because with my son, we had quite a few visits from the police and that sort of thing. And you never know, when your kids are self-harming, you never, and they’re not living at home or they’re, you never know what that door bell is going to, so particularly living in a rural community, nobody comes to the front door, you know, [laughs] that sort of thing. 

The impact, yes, it had huge impact, huge impact on my husband’s relationship with them and with me in that it was just so stressful, you know. It was just so stressful. Again, that’s where my faith, that’s the only way I could cope. I have a tremendous network of friends, who have supported me in in friendship and in prayer and yes, if I hadn’t that, I don’t know what I’d have done. I don’t know how people I don’t know how people cope so yeah, the impact is horrendous, I would say, yeah.

And was there any practical impact as well?

[Sighs] Practical impacts. You’ll have to ask me a bit more.

Did it affect your ability to work or taking her to hospital. Or that sort of thing or?

Well, I’ve always been, I’ve always worked part time and I’ve and because I work for a Christian organisation I’ve always been able to do flexi-time. So yes, it did affect that because I would always put my children first so, yeah, I, but then because, as I say, because I work for a Christian organisation, that’s what we, you know, that’s what you would expect. 

So yeah, I had a lot of grace really with getting time off and so yeah, but yes, it did affect my, I couldn’t work though two weeks ago. I haven’t been back to work yet [laughs]. But yeah, I think because of the shock. It’s the shock is more than anything and then, I know at one stage, when things were really bad here, it was hard to concentrate at work and I couldn’t remember certain, things that I just know that I know that I know. I couldn’t remember them and I’d feel so stupid and then the more I would feel stupid the more, so that and that’s quite typical of stress, shock, so yeah, I did suffer a bit with stress, yeah.
 

It was ‘devastating’ when Wendy’s daughter was placed under a mental health section. Wendy thinks the drugs she was prescribed ‘induced a psychotic episode.’

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It was ‘devastating’ when Wendy’s daughter was placed under a mental health section. Wendy thinks the drugs she was prescribed ‘induced a psychotic episode.’

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So she was in in hospital then, that time for three and a half months but they messed about with her really badly with all kinds of different drugs and my belief is they induced a psychotic episode through the drugs and they sectioned her, which was absolutely devastating, because I honestly believed the whole time there was, [sighs] I can’t say there was nothing wrong, but I think they tried to put a label on her and that she had mental health issues. Maybe she does, I, depression is a mental health issue. Self-harming is a mental health issue but, you know, to be in a psychiatric hospital with stuff that you wouldn’t want to know about for a young girl was, so yeah, I mean I don’t know what more I can say really but that’s, she’s out of hospital. 
 

Wendy’s daughter ‘suddenly flipped and came to her senses’ when she realised how she was affecting her mother. She decided to get on with her life; it was as if ‘she was released.’

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Wendy’s daughter ‘suddenly flipped and came to her senses’ when she realised how she was affecting her mother. She decided to get on with her life; it was as if ‘she was released.’

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We have a really close relationship and I mean what happened when she came home this last episode was, I was called into hospital with something that was a little bit scary, and she just suddenly flipped and came to her senses and thought, “What am I doing feeling sorry for myself? I’m doing this when mum is going through.” And whether that was the catalyst that just flipped the switch that she suddenly thought, “No, I’m getting on with my life,” you know. 

So, but, no, she, that was that was the day that she just kept saying to me, “I’m so sorry, mum. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” And we just hugged each other and cried and cried and I think she was saying, “I’m so sorry for what I’ve put you through. You know, it was a, it was a.” And then it was just like she was released. I don’t understand it, you know. My, when my husband came home the next night he said, “Well, where is she?” I said, “She’s gone back to her flat.” Well, he couldn’t, and you know, he’s not, he doesn’t have the faith that I have, although he supports me in it and he believes to a certain extent and I said, “Well, you tell me what the difference was between yesterday and today, nothing.” Prayer, you know, it’s just something, it, something happened and it’s, I can see something changing. That’s my experience.
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