‘If you don’t gain some weight before your next appointment, there’s a bed waiting for you in hospital.’
How many people living with an eating disorder have heard this?
I was driving to work this morning and thinking about how unfair this is. Is there any other illness where you’re threatened with a hospital admission?
I hand-blended my finger once. I was demonstrating paper making, whilst assuming the role of a responsible adult. I decided it would be a good idea to remove the paper from around the blades whilst the blender was in operation. Obviously, not a good idea. This was somewhat reinforced by the three hours sitting in Urgent Care and the subsequent week of cling-filmed showers because I wasn’t allowed to get my glued finger wet.
Nobody said to me ‘you’d better will that finger to stop bleeding or you’ll have to go to to hospital’. Nobody gave me a week to ‘turn it around’. Nobody said that I’d hate it if I went there, so I should stay out of hospital at all costs.
Certainly, no professionals involved in the patching up of my digits.
As I’ve said before, I am a huge advocate of the NHS. The majority of the care I’ve received from Eating Disorder Services, both inpatient and – at times – outpatient, has been unfailingly brilliant.
However, there were times before I was admitted to hospital when my outpatient consultant used to tell me I should gain weight to ‘stay out of’ hospital. I don’t believe that it is fair to threaten ill people with the treatment they actually need.
I remember being told that I should gain x kg in a week, otherwise I would ‘have to be admitted’, as though an admission to an Eating Disorder Unit was the worst thing I could possibly imagine.
It’s scary to have an eating disorder: most of the time, you hate both yourself and the position you’ve been in; the people who are helping you and the people who aren’t helping you. It’s crushingly, devastatingly lonely.
Telling someone that they’ve got to gain weight otherwise they will be given more specialist help isn’t logical, and it isn’t fair: it’s playing on the fear of food, of eating and of weight gain to spur someone on to get better. It’s encouraging someone to stay in a state of semi-starvation in order not to get better.
Surely frightening people who are already ill with a very specific fear is wrong?
Surely people struggling with eating disorders should be offered help, not made to fight against it?
I didn’t want to go into hospital – nobody does, I don’t think – but I also knew I needed to get better. I had also reached a stage where gaining x grams per week to stay out of hospital was simply keeping me out of hospital, not contributing towards any sort of recovery.
Threatening someone with a hospital admission is basically saying, ‘Stabilise your weight a little bit or we’ll send you somewhere that will help you to get properly better.’. It’s like telling someone with an ingrowing toenail to trim it a bit so that they can avoid having the pain relief of complete removal.
If you are someone who has been repeatedly threatened with a hospital admission, I would like you to know this: hospital is not something to be feared. Yes, it is scary. Yes, it is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life. But there is nothing better than recovery. Gaining a tiny amount of weight to avoid hospital is really, really not worth it. You are allowed to fully recover, even if the people who are treating you as an outpatient are inadvertently feeding your disorder by telling you you don’t want to get fully better. You deserve to get better; you deserve the treatment that you require to recover.
You are important.
More important than gaining a tiny amount of weight to stay trapped in a nightmare.
There is an addendum to this post. I have been shortlisted, in a crazy, amazing turn of events, for a Mind Media Award. I am so, so full of flutters of excitement and very proud of my corner of the internet. It means I get to go to the award ceremony, which is at the Southbank Centre in London, to see people who really, really make a difference to mental health awareness in the United Kingdom and beyond. Thank you so, so much for reading.