Anorexia Nervosa: A day in the life of an inpatient
Molly shares her experience of inpatient care
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"The nurse fills up balloons for me and I hurl them at the wall. I want to bang my head against it, to shut the voices up."
When I was first told I would be an inpatient, I was tangled in a cobweb of anxieties. I am a woman who likes a sense of certainty. So naturally I looked to the internet and I found very little. So here it is, the vulnerable, exhausting reality of life as an inpatient. I wake up, it’s six am and I’m already guilty of being lazy and unproductive. The world is spinning and there’s men in their 50s outside jogging. I’m 20 and I need to go go go. I start a list of everything I need to do today and my heart is pumping pumping pumping. I need caffeine. It’s already ten past six and I’ve achieved nothing. I shower. I wash off all the fat, the food and the lethargy. I make the water cold so I can feel something. I exfoliate my skin, scrubbing and scrubbing until it burns. I brush my teeth twice and mouthwash three times and take a mental note that it has run out again. My tongue burns and I avoid the mirror because I’m naked.
My body is clay and everyone is dragging it in different directions. My head is screaming at me that I’m not doing enough. I don’t bother with makeup because that means looking. Shaving is non-existent. I have to request my razor and they’re always suspicious of me. I tie my hair up really high and tight so I can feel it. I shove on a sleeveless green shirt and it feels too tight on my back. Suddenly I’m the hulk and I need to be put down. My forehead is burning and I rip apart my wardrobe searching for something that won’t make me want to die. I find that good ole baggy turquoise shirt that I can drown myself in and slip on a pair of navy tracksuit bottoms. I wonder if I’ll bother with shoes because I’m not allowed go walking yet. It’s half six and breakfast is at half eight. There’s no way I’m going down early because that means sitting and waiting and wanting to die. I clean my room back up, I write a letter to my friend and I draw posters for other patients, nurses and my little cousin. I push down and suppress every thought and draw manically.
My forehead burns. I just want to run, run into the mountains, the fresh air and the water. I want to throw myself into an icy river. The nurse comes up to do her rounds, check that everyone’s hearts are still beating. Mine still is, it has never been so fast. It’s nearly breakfast. What am I going to have? How many calories are in one rice crispy? Why does the other girl keep taking my milk? When am I going to get my walks back? And why do I need daily blood tests? My hands begin to shake. I walk downstairs. I smile at everyone and inquire as to how they slept. There’s anger and anxiety burning like incense. We sit, we eat, it’s silent and it’s sunny. My friends are waking up at festivals with one welly on and henna tattoos painted on their bodies. Nobody talks. The nurse tries to spark conversations but she’s met with grunts, nods and sighs.
RTE Lyric is put on full volume. I stare out the window and watch airplanes trail by, off to Liverpool and Amsterdam, Spain and New Zealand. Breakfast is over and I’m worried about snacks, it’s at half eleven and that’s in two and a half hours. How am I going to get through that? I have a blood test and it’s my favourite thing to do. I get to go outside for five minutes and pretend I’m someone else. I read a magazine about gardens because I forget what forests smell like. The nurse asks me how I’m getting on and I smile at her. She checks to see which of my veins have not collapsed yet and sighs at the purple on my arms.
I snail my way back to the centre with knives in my gut for the €30 that just fell out my dad’s pocket. We have Zuzanna for a group on body image. I get angry, I blame social media and I rant and rant and rant. People thank me, tell me I’m brave, I’m intelligent, I’m inspiring. But I am none of these things. I did not ask to be sick, I do not want to be here. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I am lonely and my heart is racing. My fingers are quivering and I’m counting the days down. We have snack and I weigh mine out. I can’t speak, I can barely move. My body is an alarm, ringing and screeching. I am shaking and crying.
Why is this happening?
Why can’t I be normal? They make small chat at the table and I can’t speak so I look outside and watch the airplanes again. We go back for the second half of group. My stomach is a balloon and I squeeze it and squeeze it but it doesn’t pop. I stare at the floor because all I can think is that snack I just ate was two hundred calories and the fat is growing and swallowing me up. I’ve forgotten what group is about. I draw swirls in my diary and nod and smile every so often. Group ends and there is a half an hour to lunch. It is the most painful time. The kitchen smells of butternut squash soup. That means protein is on the side. There will be beans, salad, a bowl of soup and bread. In my mind, that is four whole meals. That is a wedding feast. I can’t be in the kitchen. I go outside, I sing to the trees, tear out fistfuls of grass and cry. The nurse calls me and nervously laughs at how I’m always hiding away.
I cut up my lunch into tiny pieces. I burn my bread in the toaster. I cover everything in curry powder, cumin, salt, red wine vinegar and collagen, my weight gaining supplement. It takes me an hour and a half to finish. I am the last to leave the table. I curl up on the couch with a hot water bottle and watch the smokers outside, eavesdropping on their conversations. One patient’s ex-boyfriend left her a bunch of dahlias and a card in the garden and ran away, too scared to knock on the door. I think about men for a second and feel even more nauseous. The hairs on my arms go static and Liam is here for art therapy. I sit with my legs crossed on a beach chair in the white room, fiddling with my cream fluffy socks. We sit in a circle. Liam checks in with each of us individually. All he has to do is say and how does that make you feel and the first girl is howling at the ceiling. The girl beside her holds her hand, I stare at the floor. He knocks us down like dominoes. Each of us unravels our cloak of problems.
I break down over my exam results. I was two percent from an A. I scream, I cry, I am two years old again. I talk about the voice in my head. Which is what they all want you to do. Separate yourself from your disorder. For me, it’s a she. She is whispering in my ear, not good enough, waste of money, waste of air, waste of life, kill yourself. He just nods, accepts. People in the room congratulate me, tell me I did so well for a girl with anorexia. It’s not good enough. Not for my insatiably high standards. I draw a self-portrait of myself in Galway. I’m tearing my hair out at my desk at five am while my housemates are asleep. My room is a mess of anxieties and ripped up paper. None of it seems worth it anymore. Art therapy is over but I’m still angry.
The nurse fills up balloons for me and I hurl them at the wall. I want to bang my head against it, to shut the voices up. It’s dinner time. Sweet potato fries and chickpea curry. I drown it in vinegar and mountains of cumin. I turn it into a mud cake, mashing, chopping and slicing. My mouth burns as I eat it. My tongue bleeds, my forehead hurts and I am exhausted. Self-punishment for my inadequate results. Dinner takes two hours and then the bathrooms are locked. We can’t go upstairs until seven. We sit around in distaste and wallow in self-hatred. When they’re finally open I run up and change into my pyjamas, the ones with the self-loving mantras that I don’t believe. I grab my kindle. I’m reading Portia Dl Rossi’s autobiography because I need something, some promise, some glimmer of hope that people get out of this alive. My head hurts when eight o clock crawls along because half eight is snack time. The cornflakes are gone. I am freaking out. What am I going to have for snack?
There’s too much choice, there is no safety. Everything is an atomic bomb. The nurse calls me, locks my room and I mouse my way down the stairs, terrified, anxious and deaf to anyone else and their problems. I eat a slice of bread and a banana. I race it down my throat, dying for it to end. I just want to sleep. Sleep it all away. None of it is happening, not to me. Not Molly Twomey, the university student with the witty friends and supportive family. I read myself to sleep and wish it didn’t have to happen all over again tomorrow.
Today, I am at home. I have deferred my studies in NUI Galway and I am training to be a yoga instructor. I am also writing a poetry collection. Life is exhausting as an inpatient. I was forced to feel difficult emotions, come face to face with my disorder and recognise my real vulnerable self. I will forever be grateful to Lois Bridges. I am still in recovery and every day is a struggle. I needed Lois Bridges to kick start my journey because I could not do it alone. It is okay to need help and it takes immense courage to ask for it.