By Hope Virgo

I was tired. I no longer had the energy to stand in a locker room downing water to convince the hospital staff at CAMHS that my weight was going up. I had failed at water loading before my last trip to the hospital and had now lost the will to do it again. I was trapped and felt completely alone. I didn’t know what to do anymore…

I was no longer making my anorexia happy. I wasn’t getting that value as, for some reason, I kept falling short of pleasing her. And as I battled on, my energy was running out. My family looked on helplessly as anorexia began to destruct me, taking me closer to death, gripping me tighter and tighter.

Little did I know that just weeks after my water loading incident I would be admitted to a mental health hospital where I would spend the next year of my life.

As I battled on, my energy was running out. My family looked on helplessly as anorexia began to destruct me

I won’t ever forget that first day in hospital. I stood there in the entrance and tears whirled in my eyes. My suitcase was next to me and I begged my Mum to take me home. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t have a choice and even though I begged there was nothing anyone could do to change this. I arrived shortly after 10:30 and there was a snack time at 11:00. I was thrown in at the deep end with a high protein, high fat drink. It was such a struggle. I hated everyone in the room and didn’t want anything to do with the staff. I convinced myself they didn’t know what I was going through.

After that first few days the strict hospital routine became so normal to me. Days were dictated by meals, rest time and therapy. By the third day, I was bored, tired and fed up. It was Friday night. Why was I stuck in hospital? At weekends, some of the other inpatients got to go home, leaving just two of us on the ward. My primary nurse was on the late shift, so she came up to see me before dinner. She brought some huge pieces of poster paper with her and we stuck them together. First, she got me to draw myself as I imagined I looked. Then she drew around me on the same piece of paper. It was only then that I realised that maybe, just maybe, I was seeing myself wrong. Maybe there was something a little bit wrong with my brain. Maybe the staff were right about me.

It was only then that I realised that maybe, just maybe, I was seeing myself wrong. Maybe there was something a little bit wrong with my brain. Maybe the staff were right about me.

I stared at the paper lost for words. Why couldn’t I see myself as being that small? Why did I feel so huge? After that she got me to stand in front of the mirror and look at myself. She put my hand on my bony shoulders and tried to make me think logically. It wasn’t easy being so objective. But it was the first time that I’d been able to look at myself and see what others saw – if only for a moment.

It was activities like this, these snippets of time that I realised I needed to fight to get well. The problem with anorexia is the weight seems to go up and yet the mind does not change. That relentless voice in your head is ever-present, and as you fight it day in and day out it is completely exhausting. This is why I was so lucky to have some fantastic support. Real person-centred care available to me whenever I needed it. The patience the staff showed me on the evenings I shouted at them and blamed them for my anorexia, or blamed them for making me “fat”.

I can’t reiterate enough the importance of mental health care in the NHS and the need for it. So many people seem to look down on it and it is still often viewed as the “Cinderella service” but I have experienced first-hand why we need it. The care I was given in hospital has enabled me to tackle other issues in life. The coping mechanisms I was equipped with have allowed me to stay well, fight a relapse and also spread the message that yes, recovering from anorexia is hard work, but it is also 100% worthwhile.

The coping mechanisms I was equipped with have allowed me to stay well, fight a relapse and also spread the message that yes, recovering from anorexia is hard work, but it is also 100% worthwhile

As the mental health crisis deepens and we see the inequalities of care across the country, it is so important that we hold on to the important role of the NHS in providing mental health care. That we well and truly understand the power of mental health staff, and their ability to save lives. They are of the utmost importance to the NHS in the bid to avoid losing more people to mental health problems.

Suicide, death from anorexia… this is all preventable! We must never underestimate the power of these jobs and person-centred care.

 


This blog is part of our NHS 70 series. Take a look at other posts in the series.