Tag Archives: binge-eating

On trying not to over react

IMG_1082Jo was bored. Billy spent Friday night at a friend’s house, then phoned very early Saturday morning to ask how he should get home as there was snow on the ground. We checked the trains on-line, all running normally. He eventually made it home by early evening, but in the meantime he had invited another friend along as well, a refugee from building work on his house. That meant that Billy had company all weekend and didn’t need Jo. Jo was bored and stressed. I don’t know quite what happened but there was some incident on-line with one of her oldest local friends, who never wants to see her. Maybe with Billy occupied she had tried to find other company and was disappointed that it didn’t work out. It became apparent on Sunday that she had no intention of returning to school. By the time we took Billy to the station on Sunday evening to make his way back to college we found “my blood is on you all” smeared, in blood, all the way up the white wall of the staircase. On Billy’s bedroom door, along with more bloody finger marks, was the word “Die”. Very jolly! Tony and I were both tired and not in the mood for Jo’s drama-queen antics. We focused on getting Billy out of the house, and assured him that we were not ignoring Jo’s behaviour, we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. He suggested she needed an exorcist.

Part of me wanted to ring her CAMHS counsellor first thing Monday morning to say that we simply couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. Part of me just wanted to tell her off and get her to clean it up the mess, as it seemed indulgent and uncalled for. Billy and his friend had ordered a Domino’s Pizza takeaway after supper on Saturday evening, refusing to share any of it with Jo. On Sunday Jo refused to eat saying that she only wanted a Domino’s pizza. I don’t usually buy them as they strike me as overpriced and not particularly healthy, but Sunday afternoon I had made a special journey to get Jo a Domino’s pizza. This she had turned down on the grounds that it was too small. She had evidently boxed herself into a place where she felt she had to act out her frustrations, as happened so often when she was younger.

Fortunately Tony and I were too exhausted to do anything and Jo was hiding under her duvet, refusing to make contact with anyone. We decided that we would ignore her histrionics, calculating that she was not a suicide risk. I could see some blood on her sheet and broken glass on the floor, but nothing to cause too much alarm. We hadn’t the energy to try to get Jo back to school, and phoned to say she wouldn’t be in that evening. Her housemaster was relaxed about it so we did not feel under any great pressure from that direction. A couple of hours later Jo appeared in the kitchen and presented me with a dirty pink flannel, with which she had evidently wiped the blood off the wall (we have tough wipe-clean paint for good reason). I asked her to move the flannel from the kitchen table to the washing machine, which she did. She then found the remains of her breakfast sausages and the Dominos pizza still in the oven and disappeared upstairs with them. She didn’t say much until this evening (Monday) having slept all day. She is clearly stressed, and has cuts all down one arm, having broken something made of glass her friend had given her, in order to make the incisions.

Part of the problem seems to be Jo’s indecision about going ahead transitioning from male to female. She feels female and just wants people to treat her as a girl, but is finding it hard to accept that she needs medical intervention if people are not going to see her, at least partly, as male. We find it easier and easier to think of Jo as a girl as in personality, and the way she talks, thinks and acts she has always been far more female than male. But one can’t escape the facts of puberty. However she dresses and does her hair, Jo is in a male body. Hopefully taking about it, rather than just acting out her frustration and sense of isolation, will help Jo move forward. I’m glad we didn’t react to her message in blood, even if it was because we simply didn’t know what to do and were too tired to engage with it at the time. You could say it was a call for help, certainly a bid for attention, but not one we would wish to encourage. Being fourteen is never easy, and for Jo there is a lot more to work out than just who your best friend is and why she doesn’t like you.IMG_1084


Today is our wedding anniversary. Thirty-three years ago, in deep snow and ice, I crunched across the road to the church with plastic bags covering my wedding shoes. A family friend cleared a path to the church, just as a few weeks later another friend dug the hole where my father’s ashes were interred behind the same village church. Today is wet and very windy but not cold. Perhaps perseverance is a more appropriate noun than endurance. To live closely with someone for thirty-three years and still be on speaking terms, even enjoy one another’s company, is certainly something to celebrate, but also a testament to a good deal of perseverance on both sides. If we choose with whom we live with and what we want to achieve in life before we are born, then the lesson Tony and I set ourselves was to learn to work together as a team in order to bring up two great but demanding children. Neither of us could have done it on our own. Nothing romantic imagesplanned for tonight I’m afraid, but we might open a bottle of wine with our Tesco Finest meal deal supper.

Tony fetched Jo from school, and she seems in good form, but insists she had a ‘shitty week’. Perhaps she did. Chatting with her in my study there is the usual list of ailments and invisible injuries (all caused by some remembered long-past incident in which Billy did something to her) and renewed pleas for box braids. Some of her schoolmates who are African or of African descent have had their hair re-braided over the holidays, and Jo still hopes that her small portion of Jamaican genes will transform her silky brown hair into something resembling that of her ‘Jamaican sister’ or Nigerian friend. Unfortunately as we live in a largely white area there is no expertise in box-braids among the numerous local hairdressers. We could venture further afield but that requires Jo getting out of bed during working hours and then having the courage to present herself in a salon. Public appearances in new places, not knowing how people will react to her, are stressful and generally avoided. If possible I tip them off that my daughter is transgendered, and have never met with anything but kindness. The last visit to the opticians was not, however, a success. The optician referred to her as ‘he’ and she wouldn’t go back to collect her glasses. I had to get special permission to fetch them without her getting a fitting, having explained the circumstances. I am willing to find a suitable hairdresser for Jo, but not prepared to make endless appointments that are never kept.

Both children had evidently forgotten that I was supposed to be in hospital today for an operation. At least they hadn’t been worrying about me but I would like to think that they were at least a little concerned! Billy made numerous phone calls and sent texts worrying about how he was supposed to be getting home. We had discussed this last Sunday; he would get a taxi or lift to the station then get the train home. I would transfer the money in good time into his account, but not so early that he would have spent it all by Friday. Some of the texts and calls involved the fact that he had asked an older friend to buy some tobacco for him as he’d run out. That was the taxi fare gone. He managed to get a lift with his landlady/host, but bought a single train ticket, which costs almost as much as a return. He evidently hopes for a lift back on Sunday night. Its not that we mind giving him a lift but it is a four-hour round trip if we have to deliver both children back to school/college, and Jo has no options other than the car. Billy seemed in good humour when I picked him up at the station. Dressed only in a T-Shirt and jeans he was not surprisingly rather chilly, as well as hungry. The weekend supply of snacks has already been devoured. Whether either child will have room for supper remains to be seen. Both complain at the habit the other has of eating all the food. It’s great to have someone else to blame; we all like to do it. Taking responsibility for oneself can also take a lifetime to learn, and is not a lesson we learn just once. Like marriage it takes perseverance and practice.


What do they dream about? Sometimes it’s not good. Billy used to wake up once or twice a night screaming, and would sometimes repeat over and over again “I want my mummy”, “I want my mummy”. I would hold his hand, rub his tummy, sooth his forehead and tell him that mummy was here, but we both knew it was the wrong mummy. There was little I could do to ease the pain and terror, only stay with him until it passed. Jo would complain of nightmares, but it was also clear that her dream life was vivid and generally more exciting than her waking life. When we tried to rouse her from sleep, often only three or four hours after finally crashing out after a night of hyperactivity, she would ask to “finish her dream” and that was it. There was little one could do until the sleep journeys had run their course. Whether it was lucid dreaming I’m not sure, but I suspect that much of it was. Maybe it still is. Both kids could sleep for Britain. The speed at which they determinedly become nocturnal is impressive. However tired at the end of a week of school, they will wait for that second-wind that allows them to carry on far into the night, gaming if permitted, but anything will do. We have tried turning off the Internet and hiding the router – that only works if you can find and confiscate phones and all electrical devices or they simply run up huge bills streaming data from their phones. It also means that we have no Internet access. Taking a mobile phone off a teenager is regarded as grounds for ringing child-line, so not something we do lightly. We have tried tripping the main fuse switch – that only works if you are prepared to guard it all night. We have resorted to taking lightbulbs out of their sockets. When Jo was younger this was a routine procedure, in fact for years we couldn’t have a light-bulb in her bedroom as it was a prime target for smashing, and light-bulb glass is sharp and shatters. Now I generally content myself with a rather weak, “Your really should get some sleep now, as you need to be up in the morning” at around 2 or 3am. To my surprise they sometime comply, but we often hear Billy moving around his room, directly above our own, much of the night. I lie there trying to work out from the sounds whether he is hiding or recovering a stache of ‘weed’ from the attic, or from or under the roof space. The peaceful days that follow a busy night are the plus-side of a nocturnal life-style. Tony and I can get on with work or chores while both children are flat-out for hours on end. I guess they are bored and just can’t see the point in getting up at the weekend or in the holidays. They don’t have many local friends and make little attempt to socialise. Perhaps life is so stressful that it is just their form of escape. I do worry about the likelihood of rickets when they don’t see daylight for days on end, and anticipate scurvy when they graze from the fridge and cupboards rather than eating healthy meals.

child sleeping

I met Tony at university. I vividly remember going round to his shared college flat at 10am, and being shocked to find him still in bed. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone in bed at that time unless they were ill. We always had animals as I grew up, and they required an early start. We might ride before school, walk the dog, let out the geese or just get up and on with the day, and I’m really not a morning person. I have never, ever, spent the day in bed unless very poorly, which is rare, and I hate eating when not seated at a kitchen or dining table. It all sounds very bourgeoise when put like that, but perhaps just a different generation (and dose of Scots Presbyterianism). One of the compromises that doesn’t sit easily with me is seeing the kids disappear up to their rooms with food, whether a cooked meal or packet of chocolate rolls or box of Pringles crips, on which they will binge – usually individually as they don’t do sharing. I did ask a speaker at an adoption conference what that was all about and they suggested continued binge-eating is a form of self-soothing, which makes sense.

Jo has been in bed all day – worn our from the stress of the gender clinic in London yesterday. I took her some chicken fingers with ketchup in bed at 9pm. I didn’t let on that one of the dogs had nicked her mince pie with brandy butter as she would probably retaliate (taking a swipe at the dog – not much empathy for animals I’m afraid). She will probably slowly gear herself up for a night of Netflix films on her iPad, and hopefully emerge a bit earlier tomorrow.

Here is the advice bit. Many adopted children have poor sleep patterns – something to do with the early wiring, rather than poor parenting on your part (or ours, as too many social workers and other ‘professionals’ have tried to persuade us). We spent years with good bed-time routines. These would start early and go on for hours, as Jo would become increasingly hyperactive the tireder she got, and they both found transition from day to night hard. Bed-time could last from two to three hours, say six to eight, or more often eight or nine hours, with Jo finally crashing out about two or three in the morning. We would do shifts. It was torture trying to get Jo to sleep until, finally, we were allowed to try melatonin. A social worker had mentioned it when she was seven or eight, but our GP and Jo’s paediatrician had no experience of it with children with FASD. It took another couple of years to get a prescription. The difference was quite miraculous. At last Jo could sleep when tired, and so could we. It was evident that her body couldn’t produce the melatonin it needed to fall asleep, nor the cortisol it needed to wake up again (and she couldn’t tolerate day-light, which didn’t help). We never cracked the waking up bit, but the sleeping is much improved. She stayed on melatonin for several years, gradually weaning herself off it at weekends, and by the age of 13 during the week as well. We never forced it on her, and wanted her to feel in control, which at last she did, able to sleep like everyone else. We found that many of the kids at her boarding school, most of whom have some sort of learning or behavioural difficulty, take melatonin, so there was no stigma attached to it. I felt like an ancient Persian or Vedic priest worshipping Soma, the plant-extract regarded as a deity. I don’t like giving or taking prescription drugs, but melatonin has probably improved the quality of our lives more than almost any other single thing I can think of (OK, HRT now comes a close second). Before melatonin the days were exhausting but nights never-ending, a form of torture. Holidays were a nightmare as we didn’t have locks on the doors or safe areas when away from home, and sleep-overs were impossible. We couldn’t go out or entertain as no babysitter could handle the kids and it took two adults whenever possible to control them. After melatonin we could at least aspire to some normality and much needed sleep, and Jo didn’t look quite so permanently exhausted. Our relationship with Jo also improved as we didn’t have to spend as much time trying to contain her destructive energy at night. At last we could enjoy the sparky, talented child inside the whirlwind.