I get that I might not be here today if it wasn’t for a few well timed hospital admissions but you’ve got to be a bit careful with the inpatient option: anorexia can be a little devil when it’s cornered.
The first admission was the worst. My head wasn’t in it. The anorexia was just settling in and it wasn’t giving up so easily. It was, at that point, a friend and a necessity. It was impulsive and naive and formidable – and its existence was being threatened, so it fought like hell.
The defences were up, the claws out. I was too young to understand what was going on, too scared to try and process it.
It felt like I was being attacked. It felt like I was being robbed. And, as a petulant teenager, I was going to prove my point. I was going to put up a fight. I might let them think they’d won – but I’d show them.
You’ve got to take recovery slow. You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with. The guns blazing approach doesn’t always work.
I complied, eventually. I wised up to the whole eating disorder game. Picked up a few tricks of the trade – inevitable when you’re hanging out with a group of experts – and heightened my resolve to get back into the driving seat.
Not a great success but, as I said, it kept me standing.
Admission number 2. We’re still in Eating Disorder Unit (EDU) territory here; still in the luxury of children’s services and private hospitals. This one was my own idea. A case of realising that I needed to change – we’ve moved from friend to foe by now – and wanting someone else to take responsibility – the patient syndrome again.
I thought I was ready, that I’d had enough – but I wasn’t quite there yet. The cornered thing kicked in again. The panic and the fear and the feeling out of control. I didn’t really fight though; I just mastered the art of deception.
Without realising that I was the victim.
Another non-starter which, unfortunately, confirmed the lessons of the first experience: getting better was incredibly scary and incredibly difficult.
It was hard to keep going.
Admission number 3 came after a long spell of day treatment. We’re out of en-suite bathrooms and Sky Televisions and expensive food now: when you’re over 18 and an insurance risk, good beds are hard to come by. Number 3 arrived in the form of a Section. It was a little unexpected, very much resented – and completely necessary. I wished they’d done it sooner.
By the time they finally got round to signing the dotted line, I had totally lost the plot. This happens with an eating disorder. When the physical effects really get hold, you can’t behave rationally and you certainly can’t look after yourself.
Welcome to the wonderful world of adult psychiatric units.
Ironically, this was probably my most effective inpatient treatment. For three months, I was watched and followed and monitored and contained. I fought like a savage animal until I was exhausted, and then I reluctantly complied, and then I began to grow a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident and a little bit more hopeful.
I learnt that food could be okay. I learnt that I didn’t need to throw up all the time. I realised that there was more to life –
But I also tested the boundaries and got hooked back in to the addiction.
Another important lesson. Intensive interventions can work – but three months doesn’t stack up too well against 9 years.
Admission 4 caught me off guard. A body can only take so much abuse: the deterioration was quick, the result, a bit of a shock. Hardcore psychiatric treatment. You don’t come out the same person – but it’s up to you whether the post version is better or worse.
I chose the former.
It was a great impetus for change. It put everything into a whole different perspective.