A letter to you, the day you were admitted to the eating disorder unit.
Please don’t give up. It will get better, I promise. It will get harder too, but it will also get better. This will not be the last day that you scream and shout, or the last meal you don’t complete or the last time you consider running for the hills, but this will be the last day you spend in the shell of your old life.
I’m so proud of you, Ruth. I’m not proud of a lot but I’m proud of you for walking through that door and accepting help. No, the fact that you screamed and shouted at every member of your family and staff is not great; neither is the fact that you sent them some of the most abusive texts I have ever seen. But I am proud of the fact that you’re here and that you’re even entertaining the possibility of recovery. Right now your only motivation is your family, but in a few months you’ll be doing this for you, one of the first things you’ve ever done solely for yourself, and it will feel great. It will also feel strange. So strange, in fact, that you’ll ask for a chat with the nurse because you don’t actually recognise what it is you’re feeling.
Talk to the staff. Be honest, be open and be yourself. This will be really hard but it will be worth it. If you’re not honest then treatment won’t work. Make yourself vulnerable and you will start to heal. Take down every brick in that wall you’ve built around yourself and gradually work out who you are and what you want. Listen to them when they tell you to self soothe. Yes, it will sound like nonsense and you’ll roll your eyes because how can painting your nails even come close to helping you deal with your distress, but just listen. When they tell you that you need to increase your meal plan, go with it – it won’t be as bad as you think it will and you will start to enjoy snacks again. When the staff tell you that you need to put some more peanut butter on your sandwich, take a deep breath, go back into the kitchen and do it. You can get through it, I promise.
I promise you that not far from now you’ll finally have the realisation that weighing yourself every day is a bad idea. Not only that but it’s a pointless one. Yes, Ruth, it is pointless. Do you know what? You’ll laugh, you’ll laugh at how seriously you believed that a slight increase in weight from the previous day was anything other than a fluctuation. You’ll also laugh at things like your attempt to pretend that “healthy” muffins tasted nice, at the fact that you had to carry a hot water bottle to uni and at your declaration to the staff in your first medical review that you were actually quite okay and really not that ill… before being taken back to your room in a wheelchair. You will meet friends who will help you to see the funny side of this nasty illness and whose humour and love will see you through some of your darkest hours.
10 months on and you’ll still be struggling. You’ll wish you were doing better but old habits die hard and there are still a fair few behaviours and fears that still need knocking on the head. It will seem impossible, but once upon a time so did eating crisps, so I’m pretty sure you’ve got the strength to keep going. You’ll still have nights where you cry yourself to sleep, mealtimes that lead to panic attacks and menus that reduce you to tears but you’ll still be fighting and you should be proud of that. In 10 months time there will be things you’re doing well at. You’ll have just gone to the gym for the first time in 18 months, and not as a form of compensation. You’ll have eaten all three main meals that day on your own, free of the routines that used to dictate every mealtime. You’ll also have a bath. Yes, a bath. A bath that won’t leave you with bruises or where you’ve had to get out at breakneck speed just so you don’t freeze before putting your clothes on. Yes, you’ll have a little wobble when you look down at your body in the water, but you’ll move on from that because you remember how nice it is to be clean and warm and surrounded by bubbles. There’s going to be a day on which you both pass your driving test and get an offer from your first choice university. Keep going and keep fighting because the happiness you will feel on that day is a reason to recover in itself.
I wish you could see the person you’ll become. I won’t pretend that your self esteem will be much better, but I can tell you that you’re learning to assert yourself and to put your health first. You’re buying clothes that you genuinely like rather than the ones you think will look cool, can you imagine that? Making a decision for you and feeling good about it? You still feel insecure and anxious and have SO many things to deal with but you’re starting the shed the heavy skin that’s kept you hidden for the past 21 years. On your last night in hospital you’ll cry your eyes out to “When We Were Young” by Adele because you’ll suddenly realise the magnitude of the journey that you’re on.
So please don’t give up now. Don’t stop before you’ve even started. Take a picture into every meal and fight with every ounce of strength you’ve got. This will be worth it. There is so much more to life than the things you’ve been doing, so please stick with this. Cry when you need to cry, scream when you need to scream and talk about how you feel. Don’t stop just because things get hard – drag yourself to the table and finish that meal, have that drink and drive the knife right into the heart of your eating disorder.
You can do this, Ruth. I believe in you.