Eating Disorders: A Family's Experience
Guest post from Pam Nugent
We’re back with another guest post. Today’s comes from an organization I was extremely grateful to come across and even more grateful to have the honor of introducing to you today. Pam Nugent is the co-founder of The Laurence Trust, a charity in Northern Ireland that serves to spread awareness of men living with eating disorders and arm them and their families with the informational and medical tools needed to recover.
Her story is heartbreaking, but her passion in saving men and boys from a disease they’ve been stigmatized from opening up about is absolutely inspirational. I can only hope you walk away from reading this with a greater understanding of just how serious eating disorders can be and just how prevalent they are in any gender.
If you’d like to learn more about her charity and how you can help, please check that out here!
I’ll let Pam take over from here, but first:
Trigger Warning: This story describes behaviors and discusses suicidality. Proceed with caution.
Hello, my name is Pam Nugent, from The Laurence Trust. I am the co-founder of the charity, but more importantly I am a mum of two boys – Chris, aged 36, and Chairman of the Charity, and Laurence, who sadly left us aged 24.
When someone close to you suddenly passes away each person deals with it in their own private individual way. Slowly we are learning to live without Laurence. Time doesn’t heal; it teaches us to learn a new way to live, but it doesn’t heal.
Our family life was just like any other: our boys went through their education without too many glips! They both loved Manchester United, attending lots of the games in Manchester and like any other young lads watched the game in their local pub with their mates. They were both part of a cross community program between Maine in the USA and Northern Ireland. They had many friends together and went on holidays abroad like any other young lads. They had girlfriends (too many) and were loving life from their teens into their early twenties.
The onset of Laurence’s ED
In 2001, our family life changed dramatically: Laurence experienced a very bad physical assault at the age of 16; he had lost his grandfather four months before that; and his uncle passed away at the age of 39 two months before the assault. As a young 16-year-old man, all of this was too much to deal with at once.
He began to suffer from bulimia around the age of 18. We didn’t notice his illness, as Laurence was very sporty and we thought he eats well, plays football, goes to the gym, and is very fit. Besides, he was a boy, and we never thought about eating disorders. We didn’t even really know what this was; it never entered our thoughts at all. Laurence became depressed, more angry, more aggressive, and over-sensitive about everything. As time went on his symptoms worsened.
There were lots of rows in our family, so we blamed each other and felt very guilty. Laurence fought a lot with his Dad and there was lots of tension. We felt lost and like we didn’t know how to fix this. As a parent, you will do anything to protect your child, but we found we didn’t know where to turn; the GP was the last person Laurence wanted to meet! Many times when Laurence was unhappy, he wanted to end his life and even made attempts at it. He couldn’t see any other way to live a normal life without being sick or feeling deeply depressed every day. He didn’t want his friends to know he had bulimia or depression.
Throughout his illness, we fought with Laurence to seek help. As an adult with a mental health issue, it isn’t that easy to encourage and bring that person to get support. And when they are undiagnosed and without help, that person will be able to slip through the healthcare net.
As parents and family we were watching him slip away and couldn’t do a thing about it! This was very hard for Laurence and for all of us. We loved our Laurence very much and still do, and it was very hard to watch him suffer, listening to him vomit, watching him lose weight, hearing him cry in despair. We were very afraid for him, but he couldn’t see how worried we were.
The end of his life was not the end of his story
Sadly, his battle came to an end on September 30th, 2009, nearly 10 years ago now, though it still seems like yesterday. What have we learned? We learned he needed support, he needed to feel he had a safe space to talk, to share his greatest fears. We understand now that an eating disorder is something that happens; it is nothing to be ashamed of or seen as weakness. I learned this by talking to people who have recovered and by talking to men who are still living with an ED.
If Laurence was standing in front of me right now, I would tell him how much we love him, how much we miss him every day, and how proud we are of him. I would encourage him to seek support from professionals, family, and friends, as recovery is 100% possible, and I would tell him he isn’t alone in his struggles.
Laurence was a man with great compassion. He was very emotionally intelligent and very sensitive to the issues in this world. He wanted to help everyone, and he had a great sense of pride in himself that prevented him from seeking help. If he was here now, he would tell me it isn’t that easy to seek support due to feelings of shame and embarrassment, but he would tell me he desperately wants help.
My message on your blog is simple: Recovery is 100% possible. Get support and trust your family and friends; they love you very much, they want to help you, and they will support you. Don’t suffer in silence. Laurence loved life and he wanted to live but couldn’t find the will to survive.
Pam Nugent is the co-founder of The Laurence Trust, a small charity local to Northern Ireland that is devoted to increasing awareness of the male eating disorder experience and access to the necessary medical tools and channels. Her late son, Laurence, passed away at 24 after years of battling vicious bouts of bulimia nervosa, depression, and suicidal thoughts. You can learn more by checking out the site here.