The loud clanking of metal wakes me up from my deep sleep. I look over at my sound machine clock and the time reads 5:45AM. “I’m here to take your vitals,” the unit night nurse says. I throw my arm out of the sheets and she velcro’s the blood pressure cuff around my arm. “Good Morning,” she says and I moan back. Come into the common room so I weigh you. I quietly shuffle out of bed into the main room to see all of the other half asleep faces grabbing their hospital gowns to change into. The other nurse nurse stands next to the bathroom door while I shiver as change into my gown.
Welcome to inpatient eating disorder treatment. It’s in no way glamorous but it’s where I got stuff done. It’s where, throughout my three stays, I cried many tears, screamed in many pillows and laughed until my stomach hurt. It’s where I drank many ensures, completed countless therapy assignments and learned how to do the crazy math that was the exchange meal plan.
There are some days where I wish I could’ve been a normal teenager, but this place helped me survive. It helped me live again. I would’ve never celebrated my 19 birthday or had the chance to go to college with those cumulative 4 months I spent inpatient.
At a time where I felt no one understood me, the other women and girls I met in treatment knew exactly what I was going through even when we said no words. They made me feel less alone in my experience and that maybe I wasn’t as “crazy” as I felt. At least if we were, we were crazy together.
The first time I left home for treatment, I was only fifteen and the only times I was ever away from my family was when I went to Girl Scout camp for a week at a time. Obviously, I was terrified. Not only was I leaving my home behind, but I was going to a place that was going to force me to do what I feared most. This wasn’t camp…this was inpatient treatment. I was going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and I definitely did. However, the support I had around me there 24/7 brought me comfort in the uncomfortable situation I was in. I don’t think I really believed I would find that support until I spent a month there for the first time.
During my time in inpatient treatment, I met women and girls from all walks of life. I was able to step outside my tiny judgmental bubble I had existed in my whole life and I realized the people I encountered outside this bubble were some of the best people I’ve ever met. I met a woman from Canada, a girl my age born in Russia and adopted, a girl whose father was a minister, women in the military, women whose husbands were in the military, women with drug and alcohol addictions and surprisingly a girl just like me who went to an all-girls high-school in Louisiana. These girls saw me at my worst and are still girls I keep in contact with today.
The other patients and I shared our miserable experiences together supporting each other through it all. If you are not extremely familiar with eating disorder recovery, then you are not aware of the horrible discomfort that comes alone with re-feeding and the dreaded “re-feeding belly.” Now what I am about to describe is extremely real so proceed with caution. During re-feeding you are sick to your stomach 24/7, nauseated and most of the time constipated. You have to force yourself to eat large amounts of food and keep it down, which is harder for some than others who may have a history of purging. Re-feeding belly is the round tummy you get from all the bloating in your stomach and you look as if you’re pregnant. It’s like a more intense version of what us Americans call a “food baby.”
Inpatient treatment is not relaxing or enjoyable. It’s hard work, but without it I wouldn’t be sitting here writing the blog post. It helped me survive. I am forever grateful for the doctors, therapists, nutritionists, nurses and fellow patients who supported me through it all. I will never forget those 4 months I spent in inpatient treatment and I will always keep it close to my heart.