My very first hospital admission was in 2013. I was 20 years old and naïve; I was relatively new to treatment and had never had a conversation with anyone who’d been in an inpatient setting before. I was super motivated – I thought I’d go in, get my food on track, increase what I was eating, gain the weight that I’d lost and then be good – ready to discharge and life would be back to how it was before I relapsed.
But that’s not what happens and that’s not how it works.
I remember going in there, a Tuesday that very first day was. Dinner was beef stroganoff and then sticky date pudding for dessert and I sat there staring at it as a huge wave of anxiety washed over me and the nurse who was working took me outside as I melted into a huge puddle and had a panic attack. Six times a day, for 6 weeks, we all walked down to that dining room together and we sat there and we ate and then we walked back to our unit for bedrest feeling uncomfortably full with the food we had eaten, as our body was not used to eating an adequate amount of food. That was hard; that was harder than I realised. So I went in and I ate the food and I got on the scales twice a week, watching my weight go up, as was expected and required. But I didn’t feel better, I felt worse.
I finally discharged, feeling ready for day program and capable and motivated to do what I needed to do at home – but the thing was, I wasn’t. I went home and sustained things for a little while and then fell in a heap all over again. And so begun the cycle, the cycle of being at home and struggling and eventually landing myself in hospital again for refeeding and kick-starting weight restoration and containing my exercise and increasing my food intake. It’s how it has been for 7 years now – I’ve not yet managed to find my place of “wellness” despite what my weight has been – eating disorders aren’t about the weight, they’re about the behaviours. Hospital isn’t about the weight; it’s about containing the behaviours that have had certain medical consequences.
For those who don’t have much knowledge about eating disorders, I want you to know this: hospital doesn’t make me well. Hospital doesn’t make someone well; hospital doesn’t make the eating disorder go away. Hospital doesn’t make someone feel better about themselves. And hospital is hard work, but the REAL hard work happens at home – where one has to follow the meal plan and stick to an appropriate amount of exercise and refrain from engaging in whatever other behaviours it is they struggle with, all without the support of the inpatient setting, without nurses and therapists and dietitians and psychiatrists around them. Hospital CAN help – don’t get me wrong – but it’s not the be all and end all.
Hospital doesn’t *fix* someone. It doesn’t solve the problem. None of this is about the food. Please don’t expect people to be *better* just because they’ve been in hospital or they don’t cry over a sandwich anymore or they present as *well*, whatever the heck that is anyway. Ask them. Ask them how they’re feeling, ask them about their experience, don’t comment on their appearance, don’t assume you know how things are. Because they’re probably not as you think.