Yes, you read correctly! Grab a cuppa, and settle in. It’s a long one…
Disclaimer: While I have not used any numbers, and tried to be neutral in language, be very careful when reading if you struggle with mental health, or any talk of weight gain. Also, please remember that ALL experiences are different. This is mine, and I write this to be open about my personal struggles and experiences. Inpatient treatment definitely has its place, and I do not dismiss its value in some cases.
The last 2 or so years saw me struggle heavily, once again, with mental health, in particular, my anxiety. I was constantly stressed, on edge, and not dealing well with anything. I was having constant anxiety/panic attacks, especially when it came to social situations. I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough, and I was exercising to relieve my stress and panic. I lost a ridiculous amount of weight, and was reduced to nothing mentally, physically, and emotionally.
But I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I wasn’t well. And when I finally saw myself for what I had truly become, I knew I had to do something. I voluntarily began seeing my amazing GP weekly, as well as a psychologist who was fantastic, to work on my anxiety, and the more I was able to manage it, the more I was able to eat, the better I slept, and more confident I felt. I started gaining weight again, slowly but consistently, which both my GP and psychologist recorded. With their help, I was able to put on a very significant amount of weight within 2 – 3 months. I genuinely wanted to gain weight, and wasn’t victim to eating disorder thoughts and feelings towards myself or my body. It still wasn’t easy, but every increase was a celebration, and things were going well. I was having next to no anxiety attacks, I had stopped exercising, I was eating more and more frequently, and was generally much happier.
Even though my issues with food were not what you’d expect from a mental standpoint, because I had lost so much weight, my body was going through the same phases to recover itself. I voluntarily sought extra help from the Queensland Eating Disorder Services (QuEDS) and began seeing a representative weekly, on top of my GP and psychologist appointments. I could tell she was very much used to seeing the run-of-the-mill cases, as she constantly tried to pigeonhole me, fit me into the typical mould that I just didn’t fit. Three weeks in (and without looking at any of my recorded notes from my GP or psychologist), and even though my weight was increasing, and I was medically (and mentally, for that matter!) perfectly stable, this woman decided my progress wasn’t “good enough”. She admitted me under the mental health care act to the mental health ward where I was to be put on a meal plan. My family and GP, all of whom had been with me every step of the way and knew how hard I’d been working, were absolutely furious, but there was nothing they could do. There was nothing anyone could do. And so the story really begins…
WEEK 1: May 24 – 31.
After 12 hours of waiting in hospital, I was finally admitted to the ward at 9:30pm on Thursday, but transferred the following day to another hospital (due to catchment areas) at about 2:30 – 3pm. The downside? It was an unexpected transfer on a Friday afternoon, and no one had time to see me. No treatment team. No dietitian. No one. I was meant to be on a meal plan, but that wasn’t properly organised until Monday, and because of my dietary requirements (vegan, also dairy intolerant – I didn’t even bother mentioning my gluten troubles!), they scrambled to get me food over the weekend. I essentially survived off bread and soy milk. I did have a bit more freedom with food the first weekend, as I didn’t have a meal plan, but I was still famished. The nurses weighed me Saturday morning to get some basic details, and I had lost weight. Monday and Thursday mornings were blind weigh-in days for ED patients, and come Monday morning when I was weighed again, I was much the same. This made me miserable. The majority of my hard work gone in four days…
Monday, I finally saw my treatment team (who were about as helpful as a chocolate teapot), and the fill-in dietitian (who was the second best/most helpful/understanding person during my whole stay, the best being the regular dietitian). She actually asked me questions, and, through my answers, she saw my issues for what they truly were. She was confident keeping me on a vegan diet, and worked hard to get me everything I needed. But as I had already gained significant weight pre-admission, and was eating much more than even she realised, my body was craving food constantly. The meal plan wasn’t enough. I was still hungry, my stomach still constantly grumbling, and I was getting headaches from not eating. I asked the nurses for extra servings at meal times, but I wasn’t allowed. They didn’t have the authority. I had to stick to my plan. It was so bad that my family began sneaking in food for me to eat in the privacy of my room when I could get away.
I saw the dietitian again on Wednesday, the regular one this time, and spoke with her about how I was feeling. She understood that my body was past the “re-feeding” point and capable of taking more, and therefore, increased my meal plan to the maximum amount of calories, as suggested in the QuEDS guidelines. The head doctor on my treatment team (Dr. K) was very strict about following the guidelines. He took a lot of convincing, and I swear, every time he spoke to me or my Mum, he said the word “guidelines” at least 10 times… In each sentence… You could have made a drinking game out of him.
Now let me just stop here for a second to make sure you’re following the complete ridiculousness of the situation.
I was admitted for an eating disorder, and lost weight during my admission.
I was in for an eating disorder, and was left starving, stomach grumbling, head pounding.
I was in for an eating disorder, and being denied extra food.
I was in for an eating disorder, and was reduced to sneaking away when I could to eat food that my family had smuggled in for me.
Just chew on that irony for a little while… Taste good? I digress…
WEEK 2: May 31 – June 7.
Come Thursday morning weigh-in, I had lost weight again. It was an extremely small, almost negligible amount from what I was told, but it was a loss nonetheless. I was still starving though. My meal plan still wasn’t enough, and so my family and friends kept smuggling, and I kept sneaking off to eat at every opportunity I could. Even a couple of girls I made friends with on the ward (who weren’t there for ED, and could therefore eat whatever) began sneaking me food! Dr. K put this loss down to the stress of moving about, and the difficulty with my meal plan, but threatened that if I didn’t start gaining weight, I would be moved to the medical ward to be tube fed. I saw the dietitian again the next morning, and explained what Dr. K had said. She knew that not only would I be worse off mentally in the medical ward, but it would completely defeat the purpose as I would end up back on the very same ward with the same problem of not being fed enough. As a result, she decided to go against the guidelines and increase my meal plan again. This put me higher than the suggested maximum. Even with this increase though, I was still hungry. Significantly less, but still hungry enough to need to eat from the stash I’d accumulated from my family.
The weekend came and went, and the Monday morning weigh-in saw gains! FINALLY! The dietitian was stoked, and on Wednesday, agreed to let my partner bring me a burrito for dinner, under the proviso that I still ate a few things from my meal plan. It was probably one of the biggest burritos I’ve ever seen in my life. The nurses on call genuinely didn’t think I’d get through it! But I did, as well as the things from my meal plan, PLUS EXTRA. They were even more surprised when I was still enthusiastic for supper (dessert). The next morning was weigh in, and I gained weight again. I knew I would because I had FINALLY been able to eat a decent amount of food. But you want to know the funny part? Dr. K told me I had put on TOO MUCH weight. Never in my life have I ever wanted to laugh, cry and scream all at the same time until that moment.
WEEK 3: June 7 – 14.
By this point, I hadn’t been outside or home for 2 whole weeks. I had daily visits from family and friends, but no leave. Dr. K was not allowing me. I had already missed my boyfriend’s birthday, and I was getting more and more concerned because I was at risk of missing a wedding – my Mum’s wedding to her partner (and essentially Dad), Ted. This was a wedding I had been advocating for for over 6 years, and I didn’t find out until late Thursday afternoon if I would be allowed to attend. We fought hard, and the way Dr. K was talking, I was expecting a maximum of 6 hours on the Saturday. Thankfully the understanding registrar (Dr. M, we’ll call him) was on my side, and convinced Dr. K to essentially be a decent human being. I was allowed 4 hours leave on Friday and Sunday, and 12 hours on the Saturday for the wedding. What a relief! It was a test to see how I would cope with eating, etc outside the walls of the hospital, as they were talking about discharging me the following week, as early as Monday.
Let me just say this, we take the tiniest things for granted. The breeze on our skin, for example. I missed that. I even missed the sound of traffic, the grass beneath my feet. Little things. I took my 4 hours Friday, 3:30 – 7:30pm, for the “rehearsal dinner”. I use quotes because it was the most casual thing ever. I’m talking store-bought pizzas with a few extra toppings at Mum and Ted’s house with family, just to meet, catch up, and celebrate. Dan picked me up and we stopped at home briefly. I collapsed on our couch, then our bed, and had the best shower of my life, before going to the dinner where I had a pizza to myself. I sullenly went back to the confines of the ward that night.
Saturday was amazing. I took my 12 hours of leave from 9am, as the latest they would let me back in was 9pm. Dr. K actually had the nerve to ask me if I needed to take the whole 12 hours! What a joke, right?! Anyway. I went home, made two batches of vegan/GF brownies for the reception, gathered my things, and went to Mum’s where we had lunch, and got ready as a family before heading to the venue.
The wedding was beautiful.
I was able to fulfil my bridesmaid duties, be in photos, and be present for most of the reception. Mum and Ted had even re-arranged the order of the evening so I could be there for speeches (I wrote mine the day before!) and the cutting of the cake. I missed the first dance, but at least I was able to attend at all. I think it goes without saying too, that leaving that night was hard.. Very very hard. I was on such a high when I got back to the ward that night, but I was also miserable. Thankfully I still had 4 hours of leave the next day (11am – 3pm) to look forward to, which was a birthday celebration for Ted, as well as a post-wedding get together with all the family. I ate so much that day. It was the one day throughout this whole ordeal where I actually felt full and was not anxiously counting down the hours until my next meal. I still ate everything though, of course, and the next morning at Monday’s weigh-in, my weight had increased again. The dietitian was stoked, and recommended I be discharged the next day.
Dr. K, however, did not agree. He had changed his mind, and wanted to keep me in for another whole week, until Monday, June 18. I was livid. My family was livid. The dietitian was livid. The nurses were livid. My GP was… Well, you get the idea. I voiced my concerns, even applied for a second opinion. Cue Dr. M to the rescue again. He managed to bring my discharge date forward to Thursday, June 14, assuming I would gain weight again at the Thursday weigh-in. That weigh-in was the most anxiety inducing of them all, but thankfully, I gained weight, and was finally given the all clear to be discharged.
I walked out the doors just before midday.
And ate another burrito.
Post-discharge: June 14 – Now.
I have to say, leaving was very anti-climactic. I said goodbye, and the head nurse (who wasn’t the friendliest, I have to say) let me out, and that was it. But I didn’t care. I was back in the fresh air. I was free.
And since then, I have not taken a single thing in life for granted. I value my freedom and life so much. Each day is a blessing, another exciting opportunity, chance and experience to use my strength, and to grow, and I can honestly say that, asides from the friends I made in there, that was the only other positive from my time in ward. Yes, I gained weight, but 95% of it was weight they made me lose in the first place. The remaining 5% was weight I gained thanks to the extras my family and friends smuggled to me.
I see my time in there as a test of will, strength, and resilience. Anxiety is an illness I live with which takes daily management and maintenance, but it gets easier, even to the point where, most days, I don’t even think about it. I was managing it perfectly before being admitted, and while I could have let it all take hold again during those 3 weeks, I didn’t. I stayed strong because I knew I was better, I knew I was capable, and I was sure of myself, confident. I was able to manage my illness without a fault, and getting through those 3 weeks was just final proof of that.
I couldn’t have done it though without the never-ending support of my incredible boyfriend, family, and friends. They kept me going with their daily visits, gifts (food and otherwise), understanding, willingness to question the man and fight for me, and messages through a group Facebook chat (which I will always keep). Thank you, from the very depths of my heart. I also want to thank the beautiful girls who I befriended while on ward. If you’re reading this, know you are all such strong, capable women,worthy of the best, and I treasure our continued friendship very much.
And lastly, I just want to say this to those of you who are struggling… Please know that recovery is possible, and that no matter what, you too are worthy of it. Don’t be afraid to speak up, to reach out to your family, friends, myself, GP, or any mental health services, like a psychologist, Lifeline, Beyond Blue, The Butterfly Foundation, Black Dog, or Headspace. You are not, nor will you ever be, alone. Darkness can always be illuminated. Nurture the light inside you, and know that you can get through this.
Now, here is a small collection of photos from my Mum’s wedding. Enjoy!