The Fear of a Failure to Thrive Diagnosis
As a student of #MentalHealth Counseling, I often think of a
diagnosis as a tree trunk. There is one,
solid stable disorder planting its roots and from the symptoms of the disorder,
a branchlike network of additional challenges and diagnoses blossom. I have discussed #SensoryProcessingDisorder
(SPD) before, this diagnosis has planted a giant Redwood like tree trunk in our
front yard. There are a multitude of
symptoms that have allowed additional problems and disorders to branch and
bloom, casting a large shadow over our entire house. One such symptom is sensory eating, and from
this symptom a tangled grid of branches has formed to develop a new and even
scarier diagnosis, Failure to Thrive (FTT).
The major difference between picky eating and sensory eating,
the most significant and frightening, is that sensory eaters would rather go
hungry than eat a food that would disturb their bodies fragile peaceful
state. Man is a sensory eater. Most people assume that that means that he
can’t eat certain textures. We all know
people who can’t eat tapioca pudding or cottage cheese without having a
visceral reaction. Personally, I
couldn’t eat shrimp until well into adulthood because that rubbery crunch gave
my body the heebie-jeebies. But for Man,
it’s flavor intensity. He cannot eat
foods that have too much flavor. When he
was three-and-a-half he mistakenly grabbed a garlic flavored cracker off the
counter and before he could even finish chewing the first bite he broke out
into a cold sweat, his eyes began to water, and his entire face turned bright
red. His body was literally rejecting
the flavor. He couldn’t eat for the rest
of the night.
Years of having such extremely intense bodily reactions to
flavors have naturally resulted in extremely poor eating habits and dread
around food and mealtime. I mean, if
every time you put food into your mouth it made your body feel pain, would you
want to eat? In our house, mealtime
brings fear and #Anxiety, not pleasure and excitement.
You see, from day one, every bite of every meal that has
gone into his mouth has been prompted by me.
“Take that bite.”
“No, you’re not finished yet, little guy.”
I can remember when he was younger, I would bring him his
breakfast on a Monday morning and think, “Here we go, 21 meals and the week
will be over.”
Meals can take upwards of an hour-and-a-half. He laboriously chews each tiny little bite,
bites small enough that he really won’t have to actually taste the food, while I would stand there, trying to stay calm,
encouraging and supportive. If I walked
away, he would simply not eat.
many years, I decided that I did need to walk away and just let him be. Mealtimes were causing me such stress, anger,
fear, and resentment that I didn’t want to be around him at all anymore. I forced myself to accept that he was going
to eat what he was going to eat and that was going to have to be ok. I couldn’t help him in any way if I was internally fuming and freaking out three meal
times every day.
That tactic worked for a while, he wasn’t growing a lot, but
it was steady growth at his own slow rate.
That was until our most recent visit, where we found out that he has
begun to lose weight. Now, a
seven-year-old boy that only weighed 38 pounds, was a mere 36.5.
When we heard the news, it sent me into a frenzy and I
yelled at him.
No, I screamed, I threatened, and basically tried to instill
a fear in him that would force him to eat better, that would allow me to remain
in my protective “Man eating bubble.”
I am ashamed, and it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to
my heart to know that I made him cry so much about something that he really has
no control over.
I vowed to get my fear in check and help him in a calm and
loving way. And that worked… for a few
you imagine what it feels like to have to remind your child to take every bite
of every meal that he has ever eaten in his entire life? It’s exhausting.
Can you feel the anxiety through the screen as I even type
those words? It’s palpable.
Like an alcoholic picking up a drink after a period of
sobriety, I picked up my anxiety about his eating right where I had left
it. It has now intensified to such a
severe level where every morning I’m yelling in a way that humiliations me to
Every meal I look at his gaunt body across the table. I see the dark rings of malnourishment under
his eyes. I watch him pull up the pants that are sized for a child half his age
as they slip down while he trudges across a room and I yell. I yell out of fear. Fear for his health. Fear for his growth. Fear for my own sanity.
Mostly, I just feel and incredible guilt every day. This is obviously my fault because I can’t
handle making sure he adequately eats each meal. This is obviously my fault because I’m not
finding the magic cure that will make this all better. I’m obviously only making it worse by
revealing my anxiety and fear to him in such a loud way and angry.
I just wish I could find a chainsaw strong enough to cut the
branches of FTT off at the root, because right now, I’m terrified that this
tree will fall and crush us underneath it’s weight.