A Case Study – A Mother’s Story Part 2

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Bad Professional Advice

Lynn Carpenter grew frightened of her daughter Sheena’s deterioration and one night called the family doctor where a doctor on call (it was a Sunday and their regular doctor was not at the office) was very adamant that Sheena receive treatment right away. But when she brought Sheena to the regular family doctor a couple of days later he dismissed the seriousness of Sheena’s eating disorder.

“He told us that we caught it in time and assured me that Sheena would work it out,”

says Carpenter.

Looking back now Lynn realizes that

“If I’d have followed my own instincts and got Sheena the intense therapy that she needed who knows what would have happened. Instead I took my doctors advice and I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

Sheena needed therapy to sort out what was behind her desperate circumstance but instead the Carpenter family doctor told Sheena to gain twenty pounds. She did what the doctor ordered, but without any other supportive help, the restricting and purging continued.

Sheena’s world became even more isolated and involved with depression and bulimia as she would spend hours studying the recipe books that filled her bedroom’s bookshelves. She became an expert on ingredients and their exact caloric count. At grocery stores she could become transfixed for ten minutes or more while fondling a piece of fruit or vegetable.

At home her mother became increasingly frustrated and distraught.

“She would just move her food around the plate, or she would eat it and put it in a napkin. I never knew when I would find regurgitated food somewhere in her room. It was very disruptive to our family life…,”

she says, her voice trailing off.

Eventually Lynn herself began therapy to try and make sense of the confusion and lack of answers surrounding Sheena’s disordered eating.

“I went because I couldn’t cope with Sheena’s eating disorder and because I didn’t understand it.”

Lynn tried to bribe her daughter to get some help and at one point she did get her into a hospital out patient program. But Carpenter feels as though she only agreed to this simply to please her mother and she soon dropped out of the program.

On the advice of a therapist Lynn moved Sheena into an apartment of her own in the hope that this would help her build some confidence and strength to fight the eating disorder. Today she still feels allot of guilt about that decision.

“I was so afraid of her dying at home, which she almost did in May. But,”

she sighs sadly,

“I just wish I would have followed my gut.”

Sheena was getting more and more ill. One day in the spring of 1994 at 57 pounds she lost total control of her bodily functions and then went into seizure. This landed her in the hospital and eventually onto the hospital’s psychiatric ward.

At first Lynn Carpenter was grateful. She thought her daughter would finally get the help she needed, or at the very least the experience would scare her so much that she would then agree to do anything to ensure that she would never end up on that ward again. However neither outcomes happened. “She would call me saying ‘why mom, why are you doing this to me?'” She finally agreed that if the hospital stopped force feeding her she would eat on her own. But she was made to eat infront of the nurses station while staff locked the washrooms so she could not purge afterwards.

She pleaded with the doctor in charge of her care to start therapy but according to Lynn Carpenter her pleas were in vain.

“Basically the doctor said that the body had to be healthy before the mind could be healthy.”

Three months into her hospital stay, distressed and distraught Lynn accepted her daughters pleas to leave.

It took Sheena’s doctor a full month to call Lynn asking where her daughter was.

“There was no way she should have been on the same ward as patients with other kinds of mental illness,”

says Carpenter.

“Depression is just not like any other kind of illness.”

On the advice of a therapist Sheena moved into her own apartment. Although she was only fifty five pounds she even landed a job as a security guard. Again Lynn believed that Sheena was showing signs of improvement. But after no not returning her calls for a couple of days Sheena’s mother got worried and went over to see if she was alright. She found her twenty two year old daughter lying dead on the kitchen floor.

Carpenter was devastated; she simply couldn’t believe that Sheena had died.

“She was so strong minded. She never believed she would die from depression. She would always say to me ‘mama, this will never take me away.'”

I wondered how many other mothers have wanted to believe this hopeful message. At a particularly bleak period, about a year before her death, Sheena and her mother discussed a suicide pact.

“I never thought I could ever live without her,”

she tells me. Carpenter speaks both vividly, as though it all happened yesterday and with a wisdom and understanding that only time and experience could have given her.

“I couldn’t bear the thought that I could survive without her for one year – forget about six. But here I am and now I know I am meant to live.”

Read A Mother’s Story.

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