Back in the Unit.

Today is a week since L returned to inpatient treatment. We see her everyday and I talk to her in the phone. The unit is a small facility, twenty minutes drive away. Since her last stay it has been refurbished, from dormitory accommodation to ten single bedded places, with a new therapy building and small visitor rooms. But it smells exactly the same, as we all notice. It is the smell of institutional food, like warm unwanted potatoes that have been waiting for too long. Friends exclaim at the prospect of hospital food when I describe L’s meals and suggest that surely what she needs is appetising, freshly cooked food. I want to respond that it just isn’t the case that L would eat if only the food was nice enough, any more than a lesbian is a woman who hasn’t met the right man. Hospital food to an anorexic has a safety all of its own, it doesn’t inflame the taste buds so that Ed’s voice screams loudly. It is bland, lifeless and non-threatening. It is like dating the class bore so as to be safe from falling in love. Because delicious food entices L, warns her of the delights of a loss of self control and all the risks of pleasure and greed. She cannot possibly deserve it.

Our visits are generally confined to an hour as we are not allowed to remain for snacks. We sit in rooms which are newly carpeted, with sofas the colour of the room’s name. The Purple Room. The Blue Room. There is harsh electric lighting, no television and we sit in this alien environment trying to be normal. We are usually shown in as family members, having been let in through the locked doors and L comes to join us. Last night she was wrapped in a blanket, fully clothed, but cold. It looked as if she already belonged more there than at home with us. She sits with her knitting and we try and entertain her, after we have got through the What Did You Eat/What Do You Weigh stuff. The unit does not insist on meals being completed, food is removed after a set time and I worry about this. L tells me she sat and cried at lunch and I asked if anyone comforted her but as she is not completing meals, she must sit alone where no one notices her tears. My heart breaks on hearing this.

When I visit her alone, we just sit and I hold her, wrapping my arms tightly around her as she leans her head on my chest. And later, in bed, it feels like a void, like something you only feel in its absence. When things are too hard, I sleep in her room and her cat Harry curls up on the pillow next to me, leaving his vigil on the stairs to her room. We all miss her much too much.

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4 responses to “Back in the Unit.

  1. So hard for you. Hope the regime will soon stabilise L’s weight and then restore it to a healthy level. That will make it worth the pain you are experiencing.

    The sitting alone at meal times sounds very much like ignoring attention seeking behaviours in toddlers. With the reward for completing meals presumably being a more social meal time experience. Is this different from last time?

    Missing L so much is not really surprising. You all love her very much, and in recent times you have all devoted enormous amounts of time to supporting her through. It will feel as though a great chasm has opened up in your lives. But as you said, you couldn’t go on as you were. L was getting worse, not better. Inpatient treatment was the only available way forward. Because you all want her to be well and back in the heart of her family where she belongs.

    Stay strong in your resolve to support L’s recovery. Don’t let the misery you feel throw you off course. One foot in front of the other, plodding very slowly towards the peak of the mountain….

  2. Please remind her those insulating, tightly clasped hugs will continue long after anorexia has left the building. A part of her may not want to lose the strong sense of love when she’s ‘better’. Just a thought – i don’t know the background and got here via Mumsnet.
    From someone who had to make it through without x

  3. Those visiting rooms sound so much better than the ones here: we just get whichever group room is free, with institutional chairs, so it’s impossible to snuggle up for a hug.

  4. though this is a disputed method of re-feeding, I can see how it can work. Your daughter keeps refusing to eat/ensures, and won’t get leave and won’t gain weight, and the harsh reality is she’ll be facing an NG, or worse, a section. I know this seems horrible to think of, but it is true that she needs to want to get better, or for a little bit of her to want to get better; once the ball has started to roll, hopefully things may begin to look up. I guess right now, the tough bit is the first step. But as I commented on before, I definitely think hospital is the right place… Think how the last week would have been if she was home…. Even if she isn’t eating in hospital; it’s a safe environment where if things go suddenly downhill, they can be turned round – at home, with just one/two appointments a week contact with CAMHS outpatient, there isn’t the close support or observations. Try to stick with it, and bring up all these points at her CPA, where a member of CAMHS outpatient team will be there, alongside the psychiatrist and nurses. Keep strong, and once again, I’m truly sorry if any of this is too harsh or out of order – it’s not meant like that at all xx

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