The following timeline details my 25-year-old daughter’s health journey. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2006 at the age of 16. While there are many factors that go into disordered eating patterns, I have learned there is more than meets the eye when it comes to cause and effect. Thanks to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, for opening my eyes.
My Daughter’s Eating Disorder – A Timeline of Events
May 1989. Shannon is born, the third of our nine children. She is an easy, happy baby. She is relatively healthy with the exception of recurring ear infections, which we treat with antibiotics.
Fall 1994 – Spring 1999. Shannon thrives in elementary school. She excels academically from kindergarten through fifth grade. She is outgoing and has lots of friends. The only health issue we notice is her sensitive stomach. She gets carsick easily.
Summer 2000. We move into our Colorado home. Shannon is 11 years old and entering the 6th grade. Within three months she develops a severe case of strep throat, and in a short time develops another case of strep. Doctors treat her with heavy doses of antibiotics.
Winter 20002001. We begin to notice a personality shift. She becomes less social and begins to turn inward. She develops acne at any early age and continues to suffer sore throats and episodes of strep throat. Antibiotic treatments continue.
Years later I would learn about the connection between PANDAs (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections.), strep throat and eating disorders. See Certain Eating Disorders May Be a Neuropsychiatric Manifestation of PANDAS: Case Report.
Winter 2000/2001. Her eating habits change. She begins to snack and later tells me she notices an inability to stop eating.
Summer 2001. Shannon goes on her first mission trip to Mexico. She experiences severe abdominal pain and asks for help from team leaders. She also notices an escalating fear of speaking in front of a group.
Fall 2002/Winter 2003. Shannon’s vision deteriorates. She experiences increasingly painful menstrual periods. Her lips become abnormally chapped.
Summer 2003. Shannon goes on a second mission trip to Mexico. She develops strep throat and is taken to Texas for treatment with antibiotics. She notices a distinct change in her intestines for the first time. Her digestive tract feels “off.” Her brain feels “full.” She notices a major disconnect from feelings of fullness or hunger.
Fall 2003/Winter 2004. Shannon is a freshman in high school. She makes the volleyball team but notices a decrease in motor skills. She begins to pull out of activities. We notice more of a personality shift. She withdraws from friends. She begins to struggle academically.
Depression sets in. She loses her ability to focus. She finds herself daydreaming about traveling. She takes long walks alone. She has crying bouts at school.
Fall 2005. Now 16, Shannon begins work at a tanning salon. A coworker who struggles with bulimia shows her how to throw up food. Shannon is put off by the practice and thinks nothing more about it.
She continues to withdraw from family and friends. I am at a loss on how to reach her. I try to talk with her, but she is distant and angry.
January 2006. Shannon moves to Georgia to nanny for close friends of ours. I fly with her to help make the transition. I sense a renewal in our relationship. She starts to call and talk. She shares her increasing depression and talks about her eating habits. She tells me she has started to binge and purge. I suggest, and she agrees, that she should come home.
March 2006. Shannon returns home and sleeps in the large downstairs bedroom, the room where we will soon discover high amounts of mold. Her depression escalates. She regularly binges and purges. She begins patterns of self-destruction and daydreams about suicide.
We seek counseling for her, but I feel at a loss. I keep hoping for a turnaround. I do not realize the extent of the depression or the eating disorder.
Fall 2006. Shannon’s condition deteriorates. She is a senior in high school and hates everything. It is obvious she is doing her best to hang on. She remains open to counseling and attends her first session with a local counselor specializing in teen depression and eating disorders.
The counselor says she cannot help Shannon because her issues are “too severe.”
Spring 2007. We find a counselor who is willing to work with her. Shannon tries again for several months, with no improvement.
We uncover massive amounts of black mold in the lower level of our home. The remediators blow fans on the mold, releasing high levels of spores and pathogens.
I focus on the remediation while continuing to hope for a turnaround in Shannon. I am thankful every time she opens up and talks. I see her good heart and feel powerless to help her.
Summer 2007. Our seven-year-old son, Colin, is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Our 11-year-old son develops severe tinnitus. Our 9-year-old shows signs of a vision disturbance. Shannon continues to receive counseling.
Fall 2007. Shannon starts college at the local university. She moves into a dorm. She gets two jobs, relying on caffeine to get her through. She also turns to diet pills and laxatives. She tries to eat healthy but continually turns to cookies, donuts, cakes, and fast food.
We try another counselor, to no avail.
December 2007. Shannon moves out of the dorm and into her own apartment. The isolation leads to further escalation of the eating disorder.
At this point we are dealing with other seriously ill children. Our four youngest are now unable to attend school. Conditions range from severe migraines, vertigo, mood disorders, and hearing problems to abdominal pain, vision problems, fatigue, rashes, and more. (Read more of our story here.)
I see Shannon’s struggle and feel utterly powerless. Something seems terribly wrong.
Shannon continues to call counselors. She tries desperately to get better.
October 3, 2008. Shannon, now a sophomore in college and living on her own in her apartment, stops by for a visit and notices Kaitlyn’s abnormal eye movements . She sees the aggressive behavior of the two youngest, watches Reagan struggle with his dizziness, and leaves in tears. Something feels so terribly off to her, but she can’t make sense of it.
October 4, 2008. We vacate our home. I meet with Shannon at Starbucks to explain. She seems unfazed and disconnected. She is consumed with her own struggle, but I can’t see it. I have lost brain function and feel foggy and fatigued. I am barely hanging on.
December 2008. Five of the children and I relocate to Arizona. We receive treatment from a toxic mold specialist and begin the process of recovery.
Chris and the other children come for Christmas. Shannon decides to stay in Colorado.
Christmas 2008. Shannon calls and tells me she needs help. Her voice is more desperate than ever. We consider an eating-disorder residential treatment center. I call our mold specialist asking for any direction or thoughts on Shannon. He is the first person to suggest a connection between toxicity and the eating disorder.
January 2009. Shannon relocates to Arizona. She has left college and later tells me she is “consumed in chaos.” She feels she has no other option but to try Arizona.
Spring 2009. Shannon embraces the detox protocol. She continues to struggle and feels added guilt for purging the supplements. I am thankful she is with us and trying. We see a psychologist who understands the nature of toxicity and behavior. I feel a sense of guarded hope.
Summer 2009. We move to a bigger rental home. I see a hint of the “old” Shannon. Her brain seems to be “waking up.” We continue, as a family, to adjust our diet away from sugars and starches. Shannon willingly goes along, but I notice she is still drawn to the carbs.
I decide to take the focus off Shannon’s behavior. I stop being consumed with questions about her purging. I take hold of the fact that it is a symptom of something else that is wrong. I feel relief in my relinquishment.
Spring 2010. Shannon is still struggling, but then, all of us are. It has been more than two years, and I remain determined to focus on the healing process rather than the symptoms. Still, I battle with despair.
May 2010. Shannon, now 21, expresses discouragement with her progress. The GAPS diet comes to mind, something that was mentioned to me several months earlier as an option for our family. I print off the protocol and show it to Shannon.
She is immediately drawn to it. We make chicken stock the same day. She likes the soup and soon begins to make her own. This is the first time I have seen her prepare her own food. I notice a huge change in her.
Shannon tells me later that reading the GAPS diet protocol touched something deep inside that made sense to her. “It felt smarter than me. Nothing until that point did.”
We start her on amino acids as well as other supplements outlined in the GAPS protocol. She describes an immediate boost to her brain.
Spring 2011. Shannon continues to embrace the introductory phase of the GAPS diet. She eats soup three times a day and spends hours in the kitchen preparing it. But she appears thinner than ever. A friend confronts me in tears, saying Shannon looks near death.
I feel at a loss. I know Shannon looks worse, but I also know she’s better than she was. She’s more alert and cognizant than I’ve seen her in years. She’s talking more. She’s not purging.
Chris and I ask her if she sees how thin she is. She doesn’t. We express concern and then decide to trust the process rather than the way things look.
Summer 2011. I continue to study the digestive system and the implications of disrupted gut flora. I pore over Dr. Natasha Campbell’s chapter on eating disorders in the GAPS book. (I have excerpted this chapter here.)
Fall 2012. Shannon enters massage school. She moves into an apartment with her siblings. She tells me later that her mental processes continue to “wake up.” Massage school shows her that her body can be calm. She begins to have a sense of herself again.
She is still quite thin, and more family members express concern. I try to focus on the progress, believing yet again in the process rather than her appearance.
February 2013. Shannon calls in tears. She has viewed a photo on Facebook and sees her thinness for the first time. She asks me what she can eat to help. This is exactly what I’ve waited to hear, and is described in the GAPS book:
As the most severe deficiencies start melting away, the “Bingo Day” will come: your patient will wake up one morning, look in the mirror and suddenly realize just how emaciated he or she looks.
Shannon begins to diversify her diet. She tries new foods. She is more connected than ever with the need to nourish her body. She grows in confidence.
Summer 2013. Shannon begins to explore opportunities in modeling and acting. She communicates regularly and verbalizes her emotions with clarity.
Spring 2014. Shannon expands her diet further, tolerating more solid and raw foods. She says, “There is an increasing desire to ‘build a garden’ in my intestines. There’s less of a feeling of ‘just getting by’ and more of a desire to actually nurture myself.”
(For more of Shannon’s perspective on her journey, see Shannon’s Reflections.)
June 2014 – Present. Shannon works part time, continuing to nurture her health while exploring her talents and gifts. We agree to share her journey in hopes of encouraging others.