My friend Sophie messaged me the other day.
She asked me whether I’d be up for writing a post about how being in inpatient care solves problems, but creates other problems as well.
I’ve never actually written a post for someone else, or about a topic someone else has suggested before, so I’m sorry if I don’t do it justice, Smitch, but here goes…
Sophie, as it happens, is a rather wonderful lady. She is brave and funny and also incredibly honest. I could tell you lots of things about Sophie, but the one I want to share happened early in the morning. I used to have a shower before breakfast (I am a creature of habit – I always have a shower at the same time of day.) and, one morning, I left my room, only to see Sophie walking towards me dressed as Bananas in Pyjamas in celebration of another patient’s birthday, having somehow stapled herself into a painted NHS bedsheet because – as we were a risk to ourselves and others – a needle definitely, definitely, definitely would not have been permissible, especially at that time in the morning.
That is what sort of person Sophie is.
Having never been asked to post anything before by anyone, I was slightly overwhelmed. I asked her what she meant. She told me about the time after she’d been discharged when she couldn’t eat anything around her family because they didn’t eat in the way in which we’d been taught on the ward; running with boobs (this is a big issue, especially if you’re not in practise) and, perhaps most in common with my own experience, that people look at you gone out when your funny story starts ‘when I was in hospital’.
And that’s where I’m going to start. For me, this is a problem. I didn’t enjoy being in hospital – it meant gaining weight, for a start, which was something I was very frightened of. Take away the weight-gain and it meant living away from my family for months at a time. I love my family: I didn’t ever want not to be with them but needs must, and the devil wears Prada, etc.
What we don’t talk about is the negative results of inpatient care. We are discharged and it’s very much ‘yay for discharge and being free’ but it’s very difficult to understand how this can be a very bittersweet thing.
Something I noticed the other day is that I always, always scrape my bowl to within an inch of its pottery life when I have finished eating. Although this is not a particularly important thing and neither negative nor positive, it is an act which occasionally takes me by surprise and serves as a reminder that inpatient changes your life in so many ways.
Sophie said that she finds it difficult because she often wants to start an anecdote with ‘when I was in hospital’, and I do this too. It’s difficult – obviously – because nobody quite knows how to react: people who don’t really know about the asylum back away slowly because why would anybody have a nice time and is this going to turn into a conversation about trauma? People who do know you and who care about you lots and lots back away slowly because does this mean that you want to go back into hospital?
It means, in reality, neither.
I’ve written before about how spending time with the same group of people for months on end in a space that you’re not allowed to leave, fighting against something as vengeful as Anorexia together makes you very close to those people. It is inevitable that you end up having some times that are funny, special, memorable, downright weird with those people.
If I tell you about the time when one of my friends threw an apple core and it landed inside my someone’s bra, then you’d probably laugh. If I then tell you that that someone was my Occupational Therapist and this happened during a group where we were learning to make our own tea again, why should your response change? It’s still funny, it’s just that it took place inside the confines of hospital.
By the same token, though, it really doesn’t make me want to go back there. Like I remember some of university incredibly fondly, you’re not about to catch me doing another undergraduate degree any time soon. It’s reminiscence: nothing more; nothing less.
I learnt a lot about myself in hospital – I know I’m not alone in this. Thirteen months devoted to self-discovery is not a walk in the park, believe me. Sometimes, it is hard to have been left with all of those realisations. It can be very lonely to have had that time and had to think about who I really am when other people of my age are (without wishing to be rude) somewhat behind me. This isn’t about me thinking myself wise or special, it’s purely about the time and the therapy and needing to think about those things when other people haven’t necessarily reached a point in their life where they need to.
However, what do you do with those thoughts and realisations when you’re re-released into the real world? How can you talk to people about innermost thoughts and discoveries when that’s not the stage of life that they’re at?
I guess the answer – and, yet again, sorry world because I simply do not have one – is to talk to people anyway. I talk to people from all stages of my treatment. This is not because I want to trigger myself into relapse, or because I like talking about different ways to starve myself (NEWSFLASH: people living with Anorexia virtually never talk to other people about food, weight and eating. For a start, it just isn’t the done thing. For seconds (sorry, inappropriate pun), my Anorexia is more complicated than talking to other people about weight-loss and wanting to do it myself. For dessert (I’ll stop now; sorry), talking to other people who obsess about food about food is BORING: it’s all we think about, why not spice life up a bit and talk about something else?).
I try to talk to people at work about my time on the ward because I want them to know that it is a part of my life, and I also don’t believe in hiding something that is not shameful or embarrassing. I want them to know how fantastic mental health care in this country can be (and it can be) and that inpatient care isn’t all completely terrible. Sometimes, I’ve just got a damn good anecdote I want to share, to be fair.
I talk to my family about it because it was distressing for all of us. It changed me as a person, and I’m sure it changed them too. Keeping the channels of communication open is important, and not something I can admit to being at all brilliant at, but I’m working on it. Talking about it means that nothing gets locked away and becomes taboo.
Talk about it: it’s part of your life. Don’t hide it away because other people don’t know how to react – the more you talk about it, the more they’ll understand. Talk about the good parts and the bad parts: one of the reasons that people are scared of inpatient treatment for mental illness is that they only have experience from Girl, Interrupted and the Victorians. It’s not like that: talk about what it was like for you.
Most importantly: talking about it – hopefully – prevents it from happening again.
I hope, Sophie, that this post has done some sort of justice to what you wanted. Keep being incredible etc. Kitty x