Choosing Real Recovery

I’m sick of being sick. I’m sick of admissions and appointments and not being able to do what I love. I’m sick of putting hunger and a half-assed life over my own happiness. Of having to enrol and unenroll from university each semester because I’m too ill. I’m sick of denying myself foods that I love so that I can keep my weight at the bare minimum of healthy. None of this is healthy. I didn’t choose anorexia, but now I’m choosing to get rid of it.

It’s not that easy, I know, but I’m determined to beat this. I know it’s not going to be an easy journey and I don’t expect it to go smoothly, but I do believe in recovery. I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it happen for other people.

I’m finally accepting what it means to recover. For me, that’s eating enough food to satisfy myself and my dietician and increasing the variety of my diet. It’s choosing things for taste and not because the bitch in my head says so. It’s facing the thoughts again and again and not giving in. Recovery is going out and eating meals with my friends. It’s going to bed thinking about relapsing but waking up and sticking to my meal plan anyway. It’s gaining weight even though I’m scared of what that will mean, engaging in therapy and taking my medication.

The reality is, I cannot be healthy whilst I am undernourished. And I cannot be happy unless I am healthy.

I want to work and study and be independent. I want to have friends and joy in my life again. And to do that I need to recover.

You don’t have to feel ready to recover because chances are if you wait for the perfect time it will never come. You don’t have to feel ready, you just have to be brave.

Today I am choosing recovery, and not that fake eating disorder turned vegan or clean eating recovery you see on Instagram. I’m choosing chocolate and ice cream and happiness. Today I’m choosing myself.

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I was hospitalised for Anorexia Nervosa Part 2; Inpatient life

(This is a 2 part series and if you haven’t read part 1, you can click here to read it first – Part 1; The lead up)

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.

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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?

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art therapy helped me cope

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.

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One of the night nurses would leave messages for us to wake up to

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.


Part 1; The lead up

I was hospitalised for Anorexia Nervosa Part 1; The lead up

I never thought that it would happen, but here I am having just been released from an eating disorder ward. The last three months have been a blur that I would rather forget, but I am sharing my story in the hopes that it may help someone.

My eating disorder has been a part of my life for all my teenage years and now has made its way into my adult life. The two main risk factors for developing an eating disorder, though we know they definitely aren’t necessary, are being a girl and in the early teens. Combine this with being a perfectionist and having a chaotic home life, I never really stood a chance.

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My weight fluctuated greatly throughout my teens and I crossed the line between OSFED, anorexia and bulimia nervosa many times. Most of the time I was still able to ‘manage’ it on my own, or at least I thought I could. It wasn’t until I finished high school and turned 18 that things got drastically worse.

I struggled through my first year of university and in the beginning of my second year my weight dropped drastically, to the point where I was physically and mentally at risk. Looking back, I should have been hospitalised at this point, but I stubbornly pushed myself through the semester with twice weekly physical checks and weekly bloods. I was falling down, unable to concentrate, my hair was falling out and I looked awful but I couldn’t acknowledge it. Eventually, as a result of my depression, my eating took on different extremes and I gained a lot of weight back as a result of a severe and lengthy binge and purge cycle.

A year later, in about March of this year things took a turn for the worse again and while in a psychiatric ward; I stopped eating and drinking altogether. Being in this particular ward was traumatic for me for many reasons and I believe was the reason for the severity of this relapse. I still have nightmares about it to this day. My weight once again reached the low it had been the year before and soon the dehydration lead to ECG and blood abnormalities. This is when I was made involuntary, had an NG tube inserted and was transferred to a medical ward.

The week I spent in a medical ward was awful. I was bedridden, had a special nurse watching me at all times, 24/7 nasogastric feeds, daily ECGs, constant bags of fluids and electrolytes and supervision that included toilet visits and showers. The ward was a locked medical ward that meant I could not leave and I was kept awake by the machines beeping and the 5 other patients (many who had dementia) in the same room as me.

During this time I gained a fair bit of weight back and at a rate that was traumatic. My body was changing too quickly and yet I still wasn’t eating. At the same time, my outpatient team were hurriedly trying to get me a public eating disorder bed, a hard feat in Australia as there are scarce few available.

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In the meantime, I spent two weeks in a youth psychiatric unit where the non-eating-disorder trained nurses tried to manage my declining mental health and eating. I was given meal support, but usually for only one meal a day (lunch) and by the occupational therapist who had experience in eating disorders. She was my saviour during this time. After two weeks I was discharged and put on a community treatment order so that when an ed bed came up I would have to take it. This was necessary at the time because I was still refusing help.

Barely a week later, and a month after I had the tube in, I gained access to an eating disorder bed in a public hospital which is where I’ve spent the last 7 weeks of my life.


Part 2: Inpatient life

Shrinking – A poem about eating disorders

I am sharp edges that hurt
when they are touched.
A hollow chest
with a heart that thuds
exhausted with each breath.
Numbers are my power source
but like how an electric stove
is never quite as good as gas,
I am a slave to the backup
generator
that threatens to sputter out
when I push too hard.

This second-rate life defeats me.
I am an empty vessel
going nowhere but down
and I have no one to blame
but myself.
I am counting down days
until my weight equals death
because there is no joy in
learning to fall.

Turns out living without
is not living at all
and those size 6 jeans
were not made to be worn by
women.

Turns out the people who care
about your size,
they’re not worth keeping.
Turns out magazine are not interested
in teaching you to love what you have
because then,
who would buy magazines?

Take me back to when my little chubby hands
held ice cream cones on the beach,
to when the best part of birthdays was
digging in to cake.
Take me back to when diet culture
was not a thing,
to when going up a size was exciting
because it meant that you were
growing.
Take me back to when food was enjoyable
and not just a source of guilt.

I’m sick of teaching myself how to shrink.
This was not the future I had in mind
when I thought about growing up.

Edit: An alternative name for this was ‘Hollow Bodies’ let me know in the comments which title you prefer

2016; The year that was

,The year. The worst year. The year that was the worst year so far.

January-

My weight has declined rapidly. I am in the depths of my ed but I cannot see it. I feel amazing. Depression is nowhere to be found.

February-

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I started falling all the time

I am forced to have twice weekly physical check ups, weekly therapy and blood tests in order to stay out of hospital. I see a dietician for the first time but don’t stick to the meal plan because ‘I’m not sick’. I struggle with turning 19. I am miserable.

March-

I return to uni against everyone’s advice and do well for a while but it’s difficult and I can’t concentrate. I am isolated from my peers by my illness. Inevitably I  gain most of the weight back, leaving me full of self hatred. I stop my meds. Stop talking to people. Stop going to appointments. Start skipping classes.

April-

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Depression roars it’s ugly head. I throw everything into study.

May-

I start on medication #2 (escitalopram) and sleeping pills again because my head is too loud. I recommit to therapy. Almost exam time and I become incredibly suicidal. I don’t study because I don’t plan on sitting them. I’m failing my classes. My exams are deferred.

June-

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Admitted to an adult psych ward. First time in hospital and I’m terrified. Everyone is so much older and I feel like I’m making everything up. I am kept physically safe but there is no treatment. Out after a week but nothing feels better.
July-

 

I get to vote in an election for the first time. Struggle through exam time. I’m not getting better. A culmination of things lead me to taking a large OD and ending up in hospital. I have a bad reaction to a medication they give me, and hallucinate but then I wake up the next day and I’m fine. Covered in bruises from being restrained, but fine. I’m glad I don’t remember this. Have to have my heart monitored in hospital for a few days. I am angry at being alive. Have to defer uni. The pressure eases.

August-September

I spend these months holed up in my room miserable and wishing I was dead.

October-
I am stopped from making another attempt and am transported to a youth ward. The nurses are lovely and the patients are kind but being locked up without my normal coping mechanisms causes me to stop eating.  I trick everyone into thinking I am fine. But when I’m allowed out after a week I really do feel good. Strong. Maybe I can do this.

November-
I’m starting to feel better and positive about the future. My meds are working and I’m seeing my friends again. Things are great.

December-

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Coasting along. Starting to make plans for next year. Didn’t think I’d still be here. I’ve stopped taking my meds again but I feel happy and stable. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that things might get better.