I have been inpatient many times during my battle with mental illness but this post is mainly focusing on my longest admission when I was detained under the Mental Health Act in August 2014 and spent 2 months in hospital being treated for anorexia.
I see a lot of worrying posts on the internet where people seem to want inpatient admissions, maybe because they do not feel that they are ‘ill enough’ unless they get admitted to hospital but also there are some people who want the experience and seem to imagine it to be fun, like they’ll make friends and it will be one big sleepover. That is not what inpatient is like and if you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder then you are plenty ill enough and you do not need a hospital admission to confirm that. Inpatient is necessary in some cases and I’m not writing this post to scare people, it isn’t all bad and it helped me to have a stable footing to continue my life but I want to give an honest account of what it is actually like to be inpatient.
I was admitted to a general psychiatric ward with input and treatment from eating disorder specialists (I live in Wales and going to an eating disorder ward would mean going to England), it was difficult as the staff weren’t all trained in eating disorders. I find it strange how eating disorders are mental illnesses and yet mental health teams don’t seem to have training in them, it almost sends out the message that eating disorders aren’t ‘true’ mental illnesses. I was often supervised by staff that had no idea about anorexia and what the right and wrong things to say were, sometimes food was forgotten or wrong which I’d find very distressing. There was one day where my dinner was so late that it was supper by the time it got to me and I ran out the room in tears and none of the staff could figure out why I was so upset. I wrote a list of things not to say to me and put it by my door because the comments about how thin I was or wasn’t and so on were making recovery really difficult.
I was really quite unwell when I was admitted to the ward and I had to have a member of staff with me at all times, they call this level 3 observations. I was on this level of observation for two weeks. That’s two weeks where I was watched when I ate, when I slept, when I went to the toilet, when I had a bath. It was humiliating and also extremely frustrating. Not only that but they had to measure my fluid input and output which meant that every time I had a wee I then had to stand there with the member of staff whilst they poured my wee into a cup to measure it. And there’s people that think anorexia is glamorous?!
I missed my freedom which I suppose people would expect, but it was with everything. Sitting outside the clinic room waiting for hand over to finish so I could take my night medication…at home I could’ve just took my medication and gone to bed. Routine is so important to me and my mental health but it had to completely change on the ward, you have to live by their routine.
The ward was peaceful in contrast to other wards I have stayed on. The staff used radios to communicate rather than pulling alarms every time they needed assistance but there were still many unwell people on the ward and other patients can be loud. I lost a lot of sleep and sleep is so important to mental health. There was also the night that the fire alarm went off in the early hours of the morning. It isn’t the same as being at home and I did get very homesick. I missed my dog and snuggling up on the sofa with my family watching TV. I missed being able to access my phone all the time and communicating on social networks like most people my age.
I would dread the clinic room: blood tests, medication, weighing and the awful Sando K for low potassium that I ended up spitting everywhere because it was foul.
I got incredibly bored towards the end of my admission, I would do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in two hours and then I’d probably do it again because there was nothing else to do but I had to stay on my full meal plan for a while before I was deemed medically safe to have some leave from the ward.
That particular admission helped me and I am grateful to it for where I am now, however inpatient is not always helpful. It isn’t the ‘dreamlike recovery’ that many imagine. I had to come out of hospital and rebuild my life again and it was very hard. I hadn’t been shopping, I hadn’t done anything outside or around the general public and that made me feel very anxious and intimidated. It took a while to re-integrate. Another struggle was that for two whole months I wasn’t responsible for medication, food or decisions and suddenly I had to get my own breakfast and choose my own food in the supermarket. I had recovered to a certain extent in hospital and I almost had to re-do all that work when I got home.
I’ve also had scary experiences in inpatient. In a ward back in England I went for a shower and came back to a trashed room and some of my belongings had been stolen. I’ve had a patient open my door and shout and swear in my face. I understand that they are also ill but it can be very scary to have someone triple your age behaving like that towards you. Those experiences don’t happen to everyone and I am not writing this to scare people but I think honesty is needed. In all seven of my admissions I have never found it to be a ‘friend-making sleepover’ not a ‘straight-jacket, locked in room’ experience, instead just a very long, boring and difficult road to get well enough and stable enough to go home.
Here’s today’s Sock It To Eating Disorders silly socks photo:
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