Recently I’ve been thinking a lot back on the time I spent as a day patient at an eating disorder unit. It’s not a service that is available where I currently live, but I spent two months as a day patient over the summer.
Due to a complicated situation (made worse by my indecisivenss about whether I would stay living where I was, or move back in with my parents), there was a point where I had been referred to both the eating disorder service in the town where I lived, and in my home town. My parents and I spent a long week discussing the pros and cons of treatment under each service. The point we kept coming back to was whether or not I wanted more day patient care.
This would mean returning to my flat and living alone. Or I could remain at my parent’s house, and hope that outpatient treatment would work better this time. Eventually I decided that the thought of spending nights alone in my flat was too much and we decided not to pursue any further treatment there. Luckily the eating disorder service in my hometown recognised the severity of my condition and acted quickly, assessing me within three days of referral and beginning treatment a week later.
But I often wish that I could return to the day unit. I made good friends there, and am still in touch with many of them. We supported each other through each challenge whilst at the unit, and have continued to do so after we left. Some of them left to go to an inpatient unit, others continued with day care, returned to outpatient or left treatment altogether.
It was a hot summer, and we spent day after day sitting in a small lounge watching daytime TV. In some ways day care is very boring. From before breakfast til after dinner we sat in a small lounge room reading, colouring or napping. Our day revolved around meal times – we would traipse from the lounge to the kitchen to suffer through the most stressful part of our day. And then when our allotted time for eating was up, we would file silently back into the lounge. It was monotonous. Each hour we would walk to the group room, to be educated about anorexia, taught methods to cope with anxiety or given nutritional advice.
But I learnt a lot whilst I was a day patient. They taught me how to eat again. How to cope with the anxiety. How to look after myself. We set ourselves challenges and pushed ourselves to fight the voice of anorexia. But we were taught to be kind to ourselves too. Before we left each day we had to say what nice thing we were going to do for ourselves that evening. Simple things; light some candles, have a bath, put on cosy pyjamas, phone a friend… But we were learning to love ourselves again. We were not only nourishing ourselves physically, but emotionally too.
I was eating better than I had in a long time. Food became lesss scary, and my weight stabilised. I had a support worker who understood me, and who each week listened to me rant and complain, and who sat with me as I tried to untangle the mess in my mind.
Though each patient was at a different point in their treatment, we were a supportive group and helped each other along. When there were tears we offered hugs and silent solidarity, and when there were successes we celebrated together.
I miss the unit desparetely. By the end of the summer I decided I had taken too much time off from a demanding master’s degree, and I left the unit to return to university. It didn’t work out. I wish now I had been more committed to treatment. But at the back of my mind there was always that nagging voice that I didn’t really want to recover. In the evening I would run and I rarely followed my meal plan at home. The unit did me a lot of good, but still I struggle on.