Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
When I was first told I would be an inpatient, I was tangled in a web of anxieties. I am a woman who likes a sense of certainty. So naturally I looked to the internet and found very little. So here it is, the vulnerable, exhausting reality of life as an inpatient.
I wake up, it’s 6 a.m. and I’m already guilty of being lazy and unproductive. The world is spinning and there are men in their 50s jogging outside. 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 10 past 6:00 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 use mouthwash three times and take a mental note 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 I’m not doing enough. I don’t bother with makeup because that means looking. Shaving is nonexistent. 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 old baggy turquoise shirt 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 6:30 and breakfast is at 8:30. 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 furiously.
My forehead burns. I just want to run, run into the mountains, into the fresh air and the water. I want to throw myself into an icy river. The nurse comes up to do her rounds, to check if 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 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 shoe 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.
The radio 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 snack time. It’s at 11:30 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 favorite 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 center with figurative knives in my gut. We have 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 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 how many calories were in the snack I just ate 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 half an hour to lunch. It is the most painful time. The kitchen smells of butternut squash soup. This means protein is on the side. There will be beans, salad, a bowl of soup and bread. In my mind 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.
Lunch 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 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 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 and I stare at the floor. He knocks us down like dominoes. Each of us unravels our cloak of problems.
On my turn I break down over my recent test results. I was two percent from getting an A. I scream, I cry. I am 2 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. I’m tearing my hair out at my desk at 5 a.m. 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. 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. Dinner takes two hours and then the bathrooms are locked. We can’t go upstairs until 7:00. We sit around in distaste and wallow in self-hatred. When they’re finally open, I run up and change into my PJs, the ones with the self-loving mantras I don’t believe. I grab my kindle. I’m reading Portia De Rossi’s autobiography because I need something, some promise, some glimmer of hope people actually do get out of this alive. My head hurts when 8 p.m. crawls along because 8:30 is snack time. The cornflakes are gone. I am freaking out. What am I going to have for snack?
When 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 my snack. 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 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 recognize 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 OK to need help and it takes immense courage to ask for it.
This piece originally appeared on Spunout.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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