7 weeks. That’s how long the eating disorder ward was my home, by far the longest admission I’ve ever had. I ate, slept and lived within those walls with no more than 7 other patients at any time. Those girls (and guys) became my friends and my family, along with the lovely nursing staff.
The day I was admitted, I thought they had made a mistake. I wasn’t sick enough and I didn’t need to be there. I didn’t ‘deserve’ the label of anorexic or the privilege of a hospital bed because there were so many people out there who needed it more. But the thing is, that’s how eating disorders work; they convince you that you don’t deserve help when in actual fact everyone does regardless of the severity of their illness.
I sat on my bed and cried. And cried. And cried. I was escorted to the dining room to sit with the other patients. Then began the routine of eating, resting, more eating and still more resting. I began on level 1 of a refeeding meal plan and eventually worked my way up to a meal plan of three meals and three snacks a day. A meal plan that meets my bodies nutritional needs. In the beginning, it was extremely difficult. I spent many a mealtime battling my thoughts and wanting to refuse the meal or supplement. And sometimes I did. But the nurses were determined and week after week it got easier.
My day began at 6.30am each morning when I’d take my first lot of medication, and on Mondays and Thursdays I’d change into a gown and be blind weighed. Breakfast was at 8 am, morning tea at 10, lunch at 12 pm, afternoon tea at 3 pm, dinner at 6 pm and supper was 8.30 pm. For 15 minutes after snacks and 30mins after main meals (also the length of time we had to eat) we weren’t able to move around and had to sit in a living area. Afterwards, we had a little more freedom and could use the toilet (next to the nurses station) or go into one a small ‘quiet’ room, but really we were fairly sedentary. Throughout the day we had regular blood tests and our physical obs taken (anywhere from once a day to hourly depending on our health).
Between 9.30 am and 9 pm at night, our rooms were locked. This was so that it was possible for us to be supervised with fewer staff, to help keep a regular sleeping schedule and to prevent overexercising. It was really hard not being allowed to sleep during the day or to spend time by myself and that’s one of the things I found the most difficult. I’m not a very social person so having to spend all day every day with other patients was a nightmare for me. Or at least it was in the beginning.
As this particular ward was underfunded, there weren’t many activities on. Twice a week, we hard art therapy run by a student and often only a couple of people would attend. I was usually one of them. I made a lot of collages in this time, as well as; watercolour paintings, paper mache type sculptures and journal pages.
Occasionally, though they were supposed to run weekly, we would have a group with the registrar that could involve anything from pros and con lists of our eating disorders to discussing identity or watching a video on the physical effects. We also had a pharmacy group with topics such as bone density, anxiety and sleep hygiene. Out of all of these, the best day of the week by far was pet therapy day. This was when we all got to sit around and cuddle a dog. Because what therapy is better than animals?
Ward rounds happened twice a week and they were the bane of our existence. The night before we would fill out a form with questions relating to what we had achieved, what we were struggling with and what we wanted out of the program including any questions we had. The longer you were in hospital and the more you progressed in treatment, the more responsibility and privileges you would get. Common requests included; downstairs leave, leave from the ward, unsupervised bathroom visits, participation in ward activities such as cooking and take away challenges (a rotation of Thai, Indian and Italian) and the most requested of all; discharge.
During ward round we would go into a room with a whole range of professionals that usually consisted of about 10 people (psychologist, psychiatrist, registrar, doctor, dietician, pharmacist, social worker, nurse, medical students, unit manager and whoever else happened to be there that day) and it is one of the most daunting things I’ve ever had to do. Think of it as a job interview but with everyone prying into your personal life. Not ideal.
The nurses made my experience what it was and are the reason that I progressed as far as I did, farther than anyone had expected. They prepared our breakfasts (toast or cereal), snacks and lunch (sandwiches) every day, but not dinners which were provided by the hospital kitchen. They ate with us, provided meal supervision and encouragement, washed our dishes (low and behold there was no dishwasher on the ed ward) and became our supports. A lot of laughter was had over the dinner table, a lot of tears too but mainly laughter. I become close to a few of the nurses and will always be grateful for them and how they made me feel like a person again.
I’m also grateful for the other patients and the special bonds we formed. Spending weeks and weeks with strangers, it was hard for us not to become close. Some of the girls I met were the kindest and most compassionate humans that I’ve ever come across and they are the reason I got through the admission in one piece. Having that support made mealtimes easier and gave me the motivation to eat so that I didn’t trigger anyone else or make eating more difficult for them. Though over time, it became less about that and more about getting better.
Though I went into this admission involuntarily, I am leaving with hope and desire for a better future. I take with me the knowledge that it is possible to beat this illness and that I possess the strength within me to do so. For the first time in a long time, I truly want to recover. I want my life back. I want to be free. It’s not going to be an easy road but I am finally ready to fight.