The last two weeks, my friend has introduced you to her struggle with anorexia and the beginnings of her treatment. Today she takes you inside the hospital walls where you will witness the glimmers of change that signify the start of her long road to recovery.
Hospital? Fun? I soon discovered those two words can not be included in the same sentence.
Treating sufferers of eating disorders, and being around fellow sufferers is a challenge all round. I was 22 when I had my first hospital stay and I learnt how to behave like a 12 year old - tantrums (you can't make me eat that! No, I won't stay on bed-rest! What I do with food is NOT disordered), sneakiness (I've found a hiding spot for my stash of laxatives in the desk cavity where no one will ever look), and lies (I hate desserts. No, really I do. What? You think I'm lying because I have an eating disorder and want to get out of having to eat it?).
But this is also the place where I concluded I did in fact have a problem. Not as bad as they said, but yeah, I was definitely eating disordered. But wasn't my addiction normal? Normal in the life of a sufferer of anorexia? Did I really have to get better? Can't I just stay in this space I'm in?
Sometimes I wonder if being in an environment with people with a similar personality type, similar disorder, and similar ultimate goal, is such a great idea. Whilst we teamed up with some things, other things we were arch rivals over - I'm going to eat less than her. I'm going to have put on the least weight this week. I'm going to get more attention than her.
Sometimes we supported each other, sometimes the claws came out. Support from inmates involved anything unrelated to food (as this was their competition also).
Support from inmates for putting on weight came freely - for losing weight, the daggers came out. "Oh you put on weight? You'll be OK, it's probably just that glass of water you had last night. I'm here if you need to talk". (Secretly, the thought went something like this "Awesome, she put on weight and I didn't - I'm so much stronger than her. She'll be fat before me").
You never really make true friends.
Daily struggles were still frequent although of a different kind in hospital. There you were allowed to throw a tantrum for having to eat, you were allowed to feel frustration at those around you, you were allowed to take things slow and steady. I developed a voice; my opinions and thoughts were as valid as everyone elses.
Every week was the same routine - weigh in's 3 mornings a week, 3 main meals and 3 snacks a day, 2-3 groups per week, ward round every Wednesday where Prof (as he was affectionately known) decided your fate.
Treatment is as complex an issue as is an eating disorder full-stop. Treatment was determined by individual progress. Lose weight, you were punished - given more calorific foods, placed on bed-rest where the only time you could get off your bed was for toilet breaks and meals until you put on weight, not allowed weekend leave, or threatened with a feeding tube up your nose.
Hmmm, not much incentive to lose weight, yet that desire to maintain your thinness, your strength and willpower, still overtook your rational thoughts.
Rational thoughts, something I hadn't had for some time, were emerging, slowly but surely. Before hospital, I knew the right thing to do, but had no intention of ever trying. Now my head was battling with knowing the right thing to do, but finding the desire to try almost impossible. I knew that I should, but I couldn't. My mind told me to run back to the safety of anorexia.
I struggled too with wanting to get better to see those who love me finally get the relief they deserved, yet difficult to take the steps I knew I needed to take to get there. I'd never felt so much like an emotional tug-o-war rope as I did now. When I thought back to pre-hospital days, those days seemed easy, simple in comparison to now.
In and out, out and in - this cycle continued 4 times over 4 years. Each time I'd get to a point of treatment I felt comfortable with, but then when it looked like I was heading into territory I hadn't set foot in before, I'd bolt.
Literally and emotionally.
I was good at signing those self-discharge papers, escaping hospital walls back into my "safe" world where I could continue with my controlled, rigid, anorexic life, happily where I was. But was it happiness? I now knew there was more to this anorexia ride than simply food.....
Once again I am floored by the emotional turmoil that my friend endured. Finally knowing what was the right path to take and yet, so bound by her commitment to her rituals and anorexic life, she was unable to take more than a few baby steps along the road to freedom before the old ways would drag her back. But at last we start to see that she is dealing with the emotions that have brought her into the black hole in the first place. Tune in next week for the final installment; to see how her life finally came back together for her.