H – Hospitals

Today (or tonight, or tomorrow, or yesterday, depending on what country/time zone/dimension you are in) I am going to talk (write?) a little bit about hospitals. Specifically clinics which provide therapy for mental illnesses.

In my case, I needed to go inpatient to find a safe place to stay and get the professional, intensive help I needed. My binge eating disorder was killing me and it was time to do recovery, cold turkey hardcore intergalactic-war style.

The hospital I was about to enter was not like the hospitals where you wait to get an X-ray and leave, where you get a scan and then drive home for dinner, or where you do a test and decide what to do for the afternoon. This one was different. I had my suitcase full of clothes, magazines and university workbooks, not knowing how many weeks I would be spending there. You couldn’t open the windows, the bathrooms had no hooks, the doorknobs were suicide-proof. There was carpet, and handing over sharps, and therapy sessions. There was being thrown into a TV-reality drama like situation in which I suddenly had to accustom to living with at least twenty other strangers, all of whom had eating disorders.

It’s interesting, isn’t it – many people see mental illness as something trivial or easily fixed, so telling some people afterwards that I had been in hospital for 6 weeks got a nice reaction of sympathy and acknowledgement. But unless they were friends or family, I didn’t tell them why, or that it was a psychiatric hospital. For some sad reason, I was ashamed. Worse, I wasn’t the only one. There were girls who I met while inpatient whose friends thought that they were on holidays, or in for some physical malfunction. It’s so sad that we are afraid to tell the truth, fearing judgement, exclusion and criticism. When telling a good friend personal problems, they (should) react with support, acceptance and warmth. So why is it so hard to tell people that we are in recovery for an eating disorder? I could say “I spent 6 weeks in hospital” and people gasp, realising it must be serious, but for some reason the phrase¬† “I went to hospital for 6 weeks to recover from an eating disorder” would carry less weight (hahaha… pun not intended.) Yet in my experience, the reality of eating disorder recovery is extremely frightening and requires a huge amount of effort, courage and bravery. With a shattered bone, they’ll put you under and fix it up, adding a few screws and plates. The physical pain will eventually go, and after some physiotherapy and checkups everything will be almost back to normal. With an eating disorder, it feels as if you are piecing hundreds of shattered bone fragments back in place by hand, without an anesthetic, with no rest allowed.

I thought that when I was in hospital I would have heaps of time to be productive and study. Nope. While I did have spare time, I was too exhausted to do anything remotely taxing – when they say recovery is hard work, it actually is. It takes energy, concentration and heaps of effort. We all crashed into bed at 9pm, exhausted after a day of constantly fighting the demons. It was hard to concentrate and memorise things, as I had used up all my brain power resisting urges and facing my fears.

It was certainly an experience though. As the weeks passed and people came and left, ‘graduating’ at different rates and needing different levels of support, the dynamics of the inpatient group changed – sometimes mums and married women dominated the common room, other times it was mainly 16 to 18 year old girls. In many ways, these teenagers were much more mature than many people I know who are in their twenties. Forced to grow up quickly, with their high school in disruption, dealing with thoughts and fears that make an adult curl into a ball and cry, aware of suffering and struggle. I admired them. The few men that were there seemed lonely, surrounded by females, dealing with an extra layer of loneliness.

There were injokes about medicines, there wasn’t much to gossip about apart from which nurses would be on which shift and if any new people were coming, the bitchy backstabbing was aimed at people who were not complying with their meal plan or cheating (such as exercising in secret.) At times I felt like a retired grandma, surrounded by tea, crocheting and sitting around. Other times I felt like a prisoner, eating at set times, unable to go to the bathroom after meals, not able to go or do what I wanted.

Even though I was surrounded by people, it was extremely lonely at times. It was frightening, terrifying, challenging and overwhelming. The outside world went on without me. Parties, movie outings, beach days passed as I painted, tried to sleep and used 23GB of internet. I was constantly reminded of my situation and there was no break from it.

Other times, however, it was a comfort to be with people who knew what it was like. To be with people who had also had their illnesses questioned, judged, minimised. To be with people who wanted to stop damaging their body. The phrases “I ate a potato even though it was my fear food” or “I drank soft drink for the first time in years” may seem insignificant and even silly to some, but someone could say it there and know that it would be acknowledged as a real and worthy achievement.

Going inpatient made a huge difference to me and I am so glad I went. I am also grateful my parents and I could afford it. But I couldn’t have made the most of it if I hadn’t been ready to recover. There are places you can go where they’ll force feed you so your heart doesn’t stop beating and your bones don’t disintegrate, but that’s not recovery. This was a place for those who needed help in dealing with the thoughts and urges; and wanted a better, freer life.

While inpatient was a massive help, it didn’t fix me. Upon getting out, I still needed therapy, visits to various doctors, I am still not 100% recovered, even though it’s years afterwards. Please remind those who may not know – you won’t come out of inpatient completely recovered. It takes more than just 4, 6, 12 weeks to be free of intense fears and be able to consistently cope with thoughts. People may expect you to be completely back to normal and unfortunately that won’t be the case, as recovery is a long journey and much more complex than just a broken bone. But at least it is worth it.

 

I could go on and on about my experiences in hospital, but I’ll just blab on about them further on another occasion.

See you next Thursday. Take care! :o)

 

 

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H – Health

To me, ‘health’ is a giant can of worms – full fat, high sugar ones at that. It’s so confusing these days to understand what it really means to be ‘healthy,’ because we are constantly being inundated by approximately 129031209 million contradicting ideas. There are myths and studies, opinions and magazine articles, celebrities and chefs, all telling us different stuff. To be honest, most of them quite silly.

These include:

  • Carbohydrates are evil
  • Sugar is evil, so eat fake-sugar
  • Fat is evil so get low-fat
  • Don’t eat anything after dinner
  • Full fat is better because it has less sugar, so low-fat is evil
  • Exercise intensely for short periods of time
  • Eat lots of small meals every day
  • Meat protein is evil
  • Eat lots of raw fish
  • Eating before exercising is better
  • Foods with grains in it are evil because cavemen didn’t eat them
  • Dairy products are evil
  • Super foods will turn you into an amazing person
  • Gluten free stuff is healthier
  • Eating fake-sugar makes you crave real sugar
  • Exercise for long periods of time
  • Eating after exercising is better
  • Eat a few big meals every day
  • Raw food gets rid of ‘toxins’
  • Eat oatmeal and nothing else three times a day
  • Meat protein is great because cavemen ate it

I could go on, but it gets rather boring, tedious and repetitious. Which of the above have truth to them? No clue. I’m not a doctor specialising in food nor a qualified nutritionist. (Although if I was bothered, I would argue against the majority of the above points.) But I do know a thing or two:*

  • Health should be about health, not weight loss. A lower weight is no indication of health and even if you are trying to lose weight, the weight loss shown on the scale would be a loss of water, body tissue and muscle, as well as fat. If you keep going too far, then your organs will shrink and your bones will become brittle and hollow. But it’s weight loss, which is apparently good, right? While we all know the health consequences of being too overweight or obese, not much attention is paid to the impact of being very underweight for a long period of time. Well, here you go: You’re much more likely to get an infection, have a heart attack, develop osteoporosis, suffer from infertility/a miscarriage, break bones more easily in a fall, have low blood sugar, an electrolyte imbalance, die, I could go on. It can be just as damaging as if not more deadly than obesity.** And yet most online BMI calculator pages recommend ways to lose weight, regardless of whether you play with the numbers and give yourself a BMI of 3.8 or 3704.4. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,” hmm this article looks good. Oh wait, nope, it’s just on weight loss. Again.

 

  • Body fat is not evil. Being obese is not good for you, duh, but fat helps keep our hair and skin healthy, it plays an important role in brain development and helps to prevent inflammation and blood clots. It keeps the organs warm and the energy from it can help you get through a strenuous job. Also, fat in food is nothing to be afraid of. While I do not advise eating a deep fried avocado slathered in butter with a side of olive-oil, full fat dairy products help you to absorb the calcium better, nuts won’t hurt you, and nor will cake. Or chips. Or anything. If you go to a buffet and have absolutely everything, you are not going to suddenly turn into a Totoro-like human (though you may feel like one for a few hours.) If you are gaining weight after being underweight, most of the weight gained isn’t fat anyway, it’s just your organs, muscles and bones becoming bigger/denser/awesomer.

 

  • I don’t want to be too clich√©d, but the proper way to go about health is BALANCE. (Yep, capital letters, it’s that important!) And the most important thing to know is that everyone has their own individual balance. Some people thrive on healthy foods and genuinely don’t like junk food, which I find a little strange, but as long as they are not posting about it on social media, their eating habits are none of my business. Others enjoy their junk food but go to the gym. You see, for some, balance is grilled fish and potatoes on one day and crumbed fish and hot chips another. For others, it’s a salad for lunch and Chinese noodles for dinner. It can be going to gym once a week but skipping it now and then if you’re too tired or are sick. It can be having a chocolate bar as an afternoon snack every day and fruit for morning tea. It can be going to a buffet lunch and being too full to eat dinner or do anything afterwards. It can be lying on the couch all day watching TV and eating crisps but running around with friends another day. It can be white bread, white rice, normal pasta, creamy sauces, alcohol, soft drinks, lollies and deep fried stuff, whatever, as long as you enjoy it and don’t have it in excess, and as long as you still have your wholemeal sandwich with veggies and mineral water. It can be midnight snacks at a sleepover and a healthy breakfast the next day. You can be imbalanced by eating nothing but junk food all the time, but you can also be imbalanced by only eating raw vegetables and beans (and you would also fart a lot.)

 

  • It’s especially hard to make your health a priority when you have a mental illness, as so much stuff is in the way. But it’s soooo x 100000000 times important. Your health is literally the most important thing in your life, because if you keep on getting sick and don’t take care of yourself, the resulting exhaustion and weakness will simply get in the way of doing the things that you enjoy and find important for yourself. So please, take care of yourself and your health, even if your head tells you not to.

 

*Actually, I know a lot of things, like how to do up shoelaces, how to pass 3 hours watching Youtube, and how to insult someone in German.

** For those who happen to be too underweight and reading this, I don’t mean to make you panic or worry. If you are getting help for what is causing the extreme weightloss, your body is strong and epic enough to get things back to normal without any long-lasting damage. (Like the smoking adverts – “every day you don’t smoke is doing you well” – every day that you eat what your body needs you are doing yourself a favour.)

 

Til next Thurday, take care. :o)