I’m exhausted, to tell the truth. Exhausted from trying, hoping and finding some belief in myself – for things to go tits up. By that I mean with my Bulimia. I’ve been on the acute mental health ward 12 days… after probably the second night, getting to grips with being here, I thought “ah, well let’s dig deep and find the positives of this experience:
- It will be a respite from binging and purging.”
That reason would have been written in a chunky black pen, highlighted in neon stripes (when the pen had dried of course). But when the urge comes, there is nothing standing in it’s way. A tidal wave doesn’t stop before a crisp packet as it gushes up over the beach and ask if it would politely move it’s shiny bum.
So after at a guess, my third day, I’ve been struggling. It doesn’t matter that I’m only allowed over to the café myself. My illness is stronger than that. It will always find a way. It doesn’t care about the amount of shame I feel, as patients and staff see me trail back bulky bags of food. Or takeaway boxes.
It was agreed in my last review that I’m allowed leave with staff and family, or to the on-site café by myself. At first they suggested to be accompanied by staff at the café, as they knew I was struggling, but this to me felt too restrictive. And when I’m in a good place I do cherish my time with the wifi and my laptop. So I thought this was my only free-time. To do my own thing.
As though sleep-walking or being pulled like a mettle bottle cap to a magnet, I have a few times found myself marching straight past the cafe, ten minutes down the road to the shop. Or stuffing cakes in my laptop case from the café to take back, politely say ‘hello’ whilst instantly dreading the next 30 minutes to an hour that’s to come. Hidden away in my hospital bathroom. To eat and then be sick.
You might wonder how they can let this happen? Being a mental health unit and all? As an onlooker I’d wonder this myself. Their job is to keep me alive, safe. Not help me recover from my Eating Disorder – and that much they have done so far. But I am also an informal patient, and as far as Bulimia goes, I’ve heard that staff are out of their depth with it on the ward. Which I get. My assigned nurse, who used to work on the Eating Disorder Unit where I’ve had two admissions, admitted that she knew lots about Anorexia, but nothing about Bulimia. Which I think pretty much sums up treatment available for Bulimia on the whole. And awareness and understanding of the illness. Even though it has taken over just as many years, if not more of the seven and a bit that I’ve been battling an Eating Disorder.
I did really appreciate the effort this nurse went to yesterday. I’d been a bit upset thinking that she had forgot about the 1:1 she’d promised, and it turned out she had spent 2 hours researching about Bulimia. And printed a lot of helpful materials off for me to read through.
She also suggested that I give staff my bank card to put in the safe, which I’ve done. They’re aware I can ask for it back at any time, and I would if I was desperate, but this way it prolongs the urge, and takes the strength away from any impulsion.
There’s a takeaway place I order from when in the evening I have no fight in me, mainly because they have ice-cream and for reasons to do with my Bulimia this is a go-to food. I’d deleted the app and cancelled my card details from their site, yet desperation grabbing me back; I found that you could pay by Paypal, so there I was last night, embarrassingly ordering for the second time here I did it. Sometimes, I’m waiting for the order to process, the little colour on the circle going round and round, the real me whispering inside for somehow the order not to work. And then it’s done, cooking and on it’s way.
Please don’t be shocked reading this. As I try and say to other people before they judge me, to me it’s normal behaviour. I know it shouldn’t be, and I don’t want it to be, but when I’m locked in my illness, it is.
I don’t want to go on too much but I do want to tell you that despite being exhausted, there is still a bit of hope flickering in me. I am often baffled at why, like even today it set off on a good foot, and then there I was… stuffing cakes yet again in my laptop case to return back to the ward and do what I desperately was hoping I wouldn’t be doing for the first time in ages today.
But saying that, here I am in the café. And I haven’t and don’t intend to smuggle any more cakes. I think it’s becoming suspicious now with the staff who work there anyway. And yes I am bloody ashamed. So much I want to cry. But hiding behind secrets only makes my illness more powerful, and as if people with Bulimia have enough shame to hide behind, it’s worth talking about. So that people know this goes on.
After last night, I’d completely written off today. Completely. But after last night’s impulsive takeway order and enough shame to fill 28 skips, I’d actually got a good night sleep with help of my medication. And feeling the new day on my skin, something told me to just get up and try. Again.
So I listened to my gut. I was so terrified to go into the kitchen, to have breakfast – let alone make contact with the patients who may have seen my takeaway stash last night at a late hour. But going in and deciding to write a new chapter, I sat down (resisted the urge to take my Weetabix to my room and feed my Eating Disorder with yet more secrecy) and allowed the morning to take shape. In fact, a couple of the patients came to sit with me. And we chatted – about normal stuff. For much of my time here, without realising, I have always craved to be by myself for not having much confidence. But I really enjoyed chatting to these two very interesting, kind people. In fact, when one of them heard I draw portraits, he asked if I could draw his in the next coming week. Which terrifies me but excites me for the opportunity. I guess I’ve never tried to draw much from life, because I’m scared of the human interaction for too long. For fear of boring them. And of course in terms of my perfectionism – for not being able to concentrate as intensely as I would with a photograph.
Following breakfast and patient chat, we had our morning meeting. And one of the nursing assistants who is from Africa, and has a fantastic heavy accent, led it. He could LITERALLY be employed as Mr Motivator. After getting us to introduce ourselves, just by saying our names, he encouraged us to give a round of applause after every single person. And his smile is a constant bright yellow, upturned banana.
After, I had a quick chat to request a 1:1 tonight, as if I have it planned in to talk to someone, I will. But in the moment when I’m struggling, it’s too hard to approach someone. And he explained to me the power of the words:
“Yes, I can.”
Remind yourself of your dreams and your goals, and tell yourself those three words every day. And it is so true; every day I still have this negative background noise. What I couldn’t do was say that I accept myself, that I am happy with myself. I wasn’t going to lie about that. I feel a build-up of hatred towards myself as the days go on. But your thoughts can really become your reality.
I also loved the metaphor he came out with about patients working with staff. Or generally as a human needing support as we all do, letting someone do that. He said: “One hand cannot clean itself. They can only clean when they come together.”
My logical brain at the moment, says I can do this. Between the really low lows, I have had some highs. I made an effort today to engage in the activities on the ward, and I reaped the benefits. There was a creative writing group on this morning, which being an aspiring author of course took my fondant fancy. And I loved it. This inspired me then to help the activities coordinator do some arty bits. Today has proven that the hardest critic on you is yourself. It might feel as though the world is kicking you down, but it’s how much you kick the ball back up that counts. You have to go out and create the life you want to. So I’ll keep trying.