Author: Valery B.
After those first few months in the hospital – away from your friends, family, and school – coming back can be the most challenging endeavor of them all.
When going into treatment for anorexia, most patients are encouraged to restore their weight into a healthy range. This restoration takes place in a fairly quick manner, as most affected individuals need immediate care in order to survive. How quickly this takes place, however, depends on the treatment facility and one’s treatment team. In any case, coming home with acquired weight is surely the cause of immense stress and anxiety.
Why? Well, the primary reason is fear that one will be seen differently. I remember the weight restoration I was put on. Restoring far more than I was comfortable with, I was discharged from Partial Hospitalization and sent back to school. My first day back was a midterm-exam day, when all of the students were taking their tests and leaving afterwards. I was meeting with my chemistry teacher to catch up on several assignments that I did not get to at the hospital. At 11:55, my session completed. My teacher, with her kindness and understanding, suggested that I stay in the classroom until all of the students left the building. Everyone should be out by 12:15, I remember her say. But, I decided against the offer, opening the door into a hallway, soon to be swamped with bustling students, ready to get out after their exams.
I walked out of the classroom at 12:00 p.m., just when the last flock of test-takers were discharged. I walked slowly, with my head down, trying not to catch anyone’s attention. Suddenly, I felt myself unable to breathe. I felt my body become tense and numb as nausea and sweat took over me. What was happening?
I was overcome with so much fear that I had a severe anxiety attack, which took me into hiding in a nearby hallway until the last student left the school.
Indeed, I had had anxiety attacks in the past; however, this one was different. In that moment, I could not breathe, could not move, speak or hear. I was paralyzed, with tears, somehow, managing to escape my eyes.
All of this occurred because I was scared that my peers and teachers would see my weight restoration and comment on it, which some of them did. For anyone suffering with an Eating Disorder, hearing remarks about restoration is so triggering, so dangerous, so powerful that one would need to bring it to therapy and discuss it with a trusted adult in order to prevent a relapse or, even, a suicidal thought. Comments as simple as, You look good, or, You seem much healthier, are often misheard in the affected individual’s ears as, You look big, or, You gained weight, and we can tell.
I heard the aforementioned comments, all of them, except for You look big, and, too, had taken them to heart. They truly hurt me – hurt me more than I could ever communicate. I wished that my peers and teachers would have been educated enough on Eating Disorders to know that making those remarks – no matter how innocently they were connoted – should not have been done. In my situation, the best thing to have done would be bringing me back into the atmosphere, catching me up on all the latest drama, providing me with the school work I had missed, and, simply, being my distraction from the adversities of my personal life. If school was my distraction, the transition back would have been a hundred times easier than it was for me.
I am not the only one who feels this way about coming back. Return is a difficult quandary to overcome on the path to recovery, and the lack of awareness and education, plethora of misconceptions, and, overall, associated stigma makes it that make harder for one to survive.
As a general note to anyone reading this blog, if you have a friend, family member, or peer returning from treatment – whether it be for an Eating Disorder or other Mental Illness – do not make comments to them about their physical, mental or emotional states. Do not barrage them with questions on their absence or past and current conditions. Instead, be their as a distraction for them, talk with them about school, friends, and life. Get their mind off of their situation and trauma and give them something else to think about, even if it is for a mere minute. For those recovering from Mental Illness, a distraction, no matter how small, is a blessing and a privilege that was not given in treatment.
Speaking on behalf of all who struggled and continue to struggle, I hope that you, the reader, now understand how sensitive, fragile, broken, and scared we may be. As our peers, friends, and family members, you have the power to make or break us. Use your power wisely.