The Horror of the Anorexia Ward

The Ward

This post was not born of good spirits. It should be no more fun to read than it is to write. There won’t be any uplifting messages. There are no lessons here. No hidden morals to be uncovered. It can’t be anything other than what it is.

I just need to be rid of it.

Like that damned spot, I need it . . . fucking . . . OUT!

It’s been haunting me and I can’t deal. I suppose this is how the bulimic feels when she’s sticking her finger down her throat. Or stuffing her face full of laxatives.

Fuck.

I’m not writing this well. I’m disjointed. But I guess it’s fitting. Because I saw some shit the other day that disturbed me. Truly fucking disturbed me. And I can’t make sense of it. So I’m writing it out.

Purging.

As fucked up as that may sound.

I brought a friend to the anorexia ward this week. She’d been slipping for awhile. It wasn’t the first time she’d been to the hospital, but the last time had been so many years ago that we’d all thought those days were done. Over with. That she’d learned to cope.

We were wrong.

I’ll spare you the details of our trip, other than to say that I’m ashamed for looking forward to having a day off and going for a road trip. Sometimes, I just don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with me. It’s ok though. I learned my lesson. This trip could have never ended in anything other than suffering. I should’ve seen that from the start.

I began to get a feel for how severe things were when she started shaking in the waiting room. We’d been sitting there for hours already, and they wouldn’t let her take her meds since they knock her out. I thought it was just because she was falling asleep. You know how some people twitch when they fall asleep.

At least, that’s what I told myself. What I wanted to believe.

We were watching soap operas to pass the time. A mindless distraction. To ignore what was really going on . . . that she was being admitted to psychiatric care.

That shit’s for crazy people, right? For loonies that need straitjackets and padded rooms. Well, she’d been in padded rooms before. This time shouldn’t be so bad. Two weeks is all it’s supposed to take.

If everything goes smoothly. If all goes right and the treatment works without flaw.

If after if after if.

When they finally got their shit together and it came time to admit her, we began our long walk. Hospitals are a fucking maze. I lost track of all the twists and turns we took. But the deeper we got, the worse conditions seemed to get. This wasn’t some fancy new hospital with clean walkways and spotless white quarters.

This place was old. Worn. Pain and loss had settled the structure. You could feel it. The suffering. It was in the walls. All around you. In the very fucking air.

Sorrow.

You couldn’t escape it. As much as you might want to, you couldn’t. It penetrated you.

Stained you.

Like that hotel in “The Shining,” this place has demons. Ghosts of torment long since passed. But you could feel it. I still feel it. I can’t get rid of it.

I can’t fucking get rid of it!

We finally came around the last corner. We’d made it to the ward.

The doors here are always locked, so they have to swipe their card to let you in. And to let you out. To let anyone out.

But that’s not what they do here. Letting you out is just the carrot on a stick — the dream that makes you behave. What they really do is keep you in. Make you part of the family. Welcome you with cries of anguish.

But I’ll get to that soon enough.

When they opened those doors and let us into the hall I was uneasy. I can’t even imagine how my friend felt. Terrified, most likely. Scared out of her fucking mind.

I’ll never forget the lighting in that place. It was purple blue. Or blue purple. I don’t fucking know. All I know is that it was cold. No warmth. No soul.

What the hell is wrong with these shitty hospitals anyway? Is it really so hard to get some normal goddamned lighting? I can’t get that cursed image out of my head. The hallway was impossibly long. Lit like a fucking mortuary. The air reeked of illness and antiseptic.

Maybe that’s just my mind warping things, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to stop. I want it out of my head. I want it fucking gone forever.

But it won’t go.

It’s part of me now. Till the day I die.

The first girl we saw was a rail. She was talking on the community phone. If I had to guess, I’d say she was 80 pounds. Nothing but bones and sunken eyes. Yet she was wearing jeans that somehow clung tight to her legs. You know, those “skinny jeans” that are so popular. I wouldn’t even be able to fit an arm into them, and yet they clung like spandex on her.

It should be a fucking crime for clothing manufacturers to make jeans so small. No wonder such an underweight girl ends up feeling like she’s fat. With clothes so tight, how can she not?

She didn’t really notice us as we walked by. She was caught up in her call and her own dark world.

But the girl we saw next sure noticed us. She was walking out of her dorm. Dragging her feeding tube stand along side her. The tube was taped to the side of her face — stuck right up her nose.

She looked at us. Right at us. Then she started wailing. Not crying . . . wailing. Like a fucking banshee.

Anguish. Pain. Hurt.

I felt it all. That’s when I learned the truth. Her tormented cries stabbed it right into my brain. It’s there forever. All these years, I thought anorexia and bulimia were about body image. Trying to keep thin. Trying to look good for the boys.

Quit playing the diva. Just eat your fucking food and keep it down. It’s not that hard.

I’m such an ass. I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong I was. This shit’s for real. These girls couldn’t care less about the boys. They have issues. Serious fucking issues.

My friend has issues too. I won’t go into the details, but shit’s happened. Scary shit.

And scars remain.

When I looked over at her, after the tube girl started wailing, I felt helpless. Her eyes were open so wide. Taking it all in. What kind of fucking welcome is this? I reached out and rubbed her shoulder, but I knew it offered no comfort. There could be no comfort in this place. Never.

And there were so many of them. I thought there might just be two or three girls to a room here, but when I looked at the whiteboards hanging on the wall of each dorm, I saw so many names. Too many. But hey, they’re just twigs anyway, right? They don’t take up much space. Just pack ‘em away and forget about ‘em.

Fuck ‘em.

When it came time to admit my friend, we were taken to a place called the “Sensory Room.” The goddamn Sensory Room.

What the fuck is that?

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a bright and happy place — full of color and cushions.

And it’s a fucking terror. A mask. It’s the smile painted on a murdering clown. The treacherous grin that conceals the truth.

The truth that this is no vacation. No getaway. Two weeks means nothing in this place. How can you ever get out once you’ve been admitted? You’re here until you get better.

But there’s just one problem . . .

How the fuck can anyone get better in a place like this? Where they pack the sick amongst the sick. Where corpses wail, and the very walls weep with sorrow. Here I am, a grown man, and I was scared. Not by the girls, but of what they represent . . .

Affliction. Disorder.

Until you’ve seen it, you can never understand. These girls, these hollowed out shells, are real fucking people. They’ve laughed. They’ve loved. They’ve had hopes and dreams.

And they’ve had pain. So much fucking pain.

Now they’re in the ward.

And my friend is too.

I looked back as we left her alone in the Sensory Room. I wish I hadn’t. It’s the image that haunts me the most. She’s sitting there, on that big over-stuffed couch, gaunt and shaking, with her head low and tears streaming down her face.

Abandoned.

By her family. Abandoned by me.

All I could think as we left her there was how the hell could anyone ever get better in such a place?

I called her up today. It took forever to get through to her. You can’t just call the hospital once and get connected. You’ve got to call five fucking times. Like you need to prove that you really do want to talk or some shit. Then they only give you ten minutes. I asked her how she was doing.

Not well.

She’s lost weight. They’ve got her hooked up to one of those feeding tubes now. Same as the banshee. And she doesn’t know when they’ll let her out.

I’m so saddened. But not surprised.

In the Anorexia Ward, how could it be any other way?

-Trevor

(Photo by theswedish at stock.xchng.)

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Comments

  1. Trevor, I’ve actually studied eating disorders, OCD, bi-polar, borderline and other mental health issues fairly in-depth. And woman with eating disorders have often been through something much worse when they were younger. It’s a tragedy. My former spouse had severe OCD. I spent six weeks in Houston in a hotel so I could visit the OCD treatment center at the hospital. The place was not as bad as the one you describe, but there is a darkness. At this place, there was also some light. They had fun from time to time. It took her three tries, (about 10 months of treatment), over three years to get to the point of even being functional. She also suffered from anorexia when she was younger. Chances are something bad happened to her, but unfortunately she won’t or can’t speak about it.

    • I’m sorry to hear that Dan. I really am. The thought of what some of these girls have gone through fucking enrages me to no end. What the fuck is wrong with people? What kind of fucking person does this shit?

      Ten months of treatment to get her functional is some serious shit. I hope she’s doing better these days. Not sure if you still keep in touch with her.

      Thanks for adding your story Dan. I’m glad there was some light there. It gives me hope.

  2. I’ve never been around an anorexia ward, or any ward for that matter. But I imagine them being dark, cold, screwy places just like your article describes. That’s some haunting stuff man!

    • I hope you never have to go to a place like that Jacob. Serious. It’s still haunting me. Even after writing it out I’m still bothered.

      It wasn’t a good place.

  3. Jesus Christ. I’ve heard that some of those places are terrible but your portrayal of your experiences it downright terrifying. I felt uneasy just reading your words describing it. I hope your friend makes it out as soon as possible and that you can get those pictures and sounds out of your head.

    • I hope so too Vincent. It’s no place for a person to be. Especially someone who’s already having difficulty. I just don’t see how anyone can get better in a place like that. I can only imagine the horror in the night as that poor girl wails and wails.

  4. Trevor, this is such an important post. Thank you for writing it. We have no idea what these (usually) women go through or have gone through. Your writing portrayed the reality of this situation. There were so many lines that really twisted my heart. But we need to hear them. We all need to know. Now it’s something we just can’t pretend does not exist.

    I hope that she does improve and that something happens there that can help her. I know that sounds shallow after you describe this place. I really just don’t know what to say…

    • Thank you Tammy. It’s not shallow at all, just an honest hope. And I appreciate it.

      I’m not sure how important this post is, but it was important for me to write. I’ve kept things in all my life and nothing good ever came from it. Now I’m learning to write to be rid of things.

      It helps.

      As for these hospitals, I don’t think they’ll ever change. I’d just like to see a little humanity brought to them. A touch of warmth.

  5. She could not ask for a better friend, Trevor. Hopefully, she does not feel as if you abandoned her.It sounds as if you went as far as you were allowed and stayed as long as you could. She’ll remember that.

    Suffering is a terrifying thing. When we see others suffer, our brains automatically run the scenario again with ourselves as the star. And thank goodness for that too, because it allows good friends like you to stick with someone in need.

    Hoping your friend is soon well and that your disturbing memories are soon assuaged.

    • Thanks CJ. I hope she’s well soon too. But I do feel as though I abandoned her there. I know she doesn’t feel that way, but I can’t help it. It was such a horrible fucking place . . . and we left her there. Doctors orders or not, that is no place for a person to heal. I just can’t see her getting out any time soon. I hope I’m wrong.

  6. Jesse Birkett says:

    My mom was a severe drug addict and then same shit. I don’t know how many time the medical establishment failed her. Fuck. Dude. How many times she went to treatment centers. How many times they basically treat you like a fucking a trained seal till you tell them what they want to hear and they let you go with no training to live in the outside world without the addiction. And then when you fail they send your ass right back and everyone in your neighborhood can moralize about your fucking failure behind your back.

    • Fuck Jesse, that’s rough. I wish things would have turned out different. I do. It’s a sad fucking thing, but I think the medical establishment often does more harm than good. Regardless of how well intentioned these places might be, the fucking conditions are just atrocious.

      I can’t even imagine working in a place like that. You either come home crying every night and get wasted to forget, or you cut yourself off from all your feelings and go to work dead inside each and every day. I mean, how the fuck can you go about your daily business with that goddamned wailing! How?

      And you’re right. People talk. They judge. They moralize. As though they can relate on any fucking level. It makes me sick that I used to be one of them.

  7. Hi Trevor. This makes me so sad. Don’t beat yourself up because you had to leave but continue to visit her, call, bring her things that connect her to the outside world and show her that someone cares about her. Please do that for her. I will keep you both in my thoughts and prayers.

    Your compassion is remarkable. If you get a chance you should read Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen and Appetites by Caroline Knapp.

    <3 to you both!

    • Thank you Carmen. It’s such a bitch trying to get through to her on the phone. And the hospital is too far away to make visiting even remotely practical. But we do our best. I think you’re right — it’s important that she feel connected to people outside of that horrid fucking place. The only thing worse than being abandoned in a place like that is being stranded. There has to be some hope, something to strive for.

      It makes me so fucking angry that this is the best we can do. Just drop her off in a place so fucking horrible that the mere hope of getting out is what motivates her. And it’s supposed to be a place of treatment. Of healing.

      We’ve got it ass backwards. She should be home with her family and pets. Comfortable. If she has to be watched over, then it should at least be by people that love her, not a crew of cold clinicians.

      But there’s no insurance money in that, is there?

  8. That’s… the thing about stuff that messed up is that we have to make solutions. It’s on us to make them up. Because obviously the people in the hospital who are just doing their jobs are not making things better.

    I read this book in high school: Eating in the Light of the Moon. It helped me a lot. It’s about mythology and stories to help heal the emotional injuries that lead to the rest of the problems.

    A lot of people think stuff like that is just about the boys. Just trying to look good. So often we miss what’s under the surface – that how you want to be seen is about who you think you are. If you are trying to bend your body to fit a view of who you are, if you really don’t see the good in yourself, you can just rip yourself apart. You’re right that the anorexia is just the very tip of the iceberg, and nothing is going to change at all unless the healing goes for something deep and real.

    If you’re all she’s got, maybe you could do some research into a center with better success rates that’s not so horrible to transfer her to? I’ll pray for you all, since that’s about all I can do.

    • You’re right Morgan, the eating disorders are merely the symptoms. There’s deeper shit at play here, but we can’t see it. Only those who have gone through it can ever truly understand. But my guess is that they don’t understand it any better than the rest of us.

      I don’t even know what the success rate in this place is, but her therapist said it’s the only place she can go. She’s been to other hospitals before, and I heard that they were even worse than this place. I try not to think about that.

      I just hope it’s over with soon.

  9. Hi Trevor,

    This was a moving and vivid account of this experience you had with your friend in the anorexia ward. It sounds so upsetting and I really feel for your friend and those poor other girls who are there in the ward.

    You’ve been a true friend in supporting her through this ordeal. You really have and all credit to you. In particular, I feel was those girls who have ended up in such places without any support from family and friends.

    I hope your friend recovers soon and that you’re both hanging out together just like any friends would.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks Hiten. I hope the same. That place was upsetting. I’d really never given much thought to places like that before. Just another hospital, you know? Someone goes away and comes back a few months later supposedly all better.

      I see otherwise now.

      And I’ll never view it the same again.

  10. I’ve never been around a anorexia ward bit it sounds eery. It was interesting to hear about your experience their. It great she has a good friend like you to help her through this time.

    • Count yourself fortunate Dan. It’s not a good place. It’s still bothering me and it’s been a week. But I appreciate your support bro. Here’s hoping this all works out for the best.

  11. This would be so hard to go through. I can’t imagine. I’ve never had an anorexic friend before so I’ve never seen the inner workings of this illness. I do remember one time when I was working in a grocery store when an anorexic person (or bulemic) stole some food and the cops came to take her away. She was so skinny that the police officer was particularly careful when placing the handcuffs on her. He was afraid he would hurt her too much.

    You’re a good friend to go through this with her. It’s hard to see things like that, but that’s what you have to do in order to be a good friend (and person). Hopefully some good things will come out of this. Some good things for your friend and some good things for you. I hope you can got some good life experience out of this. And also, I hope your friend gets better.

    • I appreciate that Steve. Thank you.

      That’s crazy about the lady the cops were afraid to hurt. But I totally get it. These girls are so frail. It would just be so easy to snap them like a twig. So sad.

      It’s been just over two weeks now, and my friend isn’t doing any better. She’s still got the feeding tube in her, but she’s continuing to lose weight anyway.

      She won’t be leaving anytime soon.

  12. I love the way you described the horrors of that day. It must have been a horrible thing to witness but it was a great piece of writing. it reminded me of a time when I worked as a cleaner in a nursing home. The state of some of the patients there was sickening and I will never forget the time I heard an old woman crying for help. I asked a nurse to have a look and she replied ‘Oh that’s Laura, she always does that, ignore her’. So sad.

    • Dude, that’s just fucked up. I can’t imagine working in a place where you grow accustomed to sick elderly folks crying out for help. Not just accustomed to it, but kinda cold. I hope you didn’t stay long. That shit would wear on you.

      Thanks for compliment on the writing though. It was a hard piece to write, but like I said, I had to get it out. I knew it was going to be a tough one to write and I’ll confess . . . I had a few while I was writing it. But damn if I didn’t feel better afterwards.

      And my friend got out this week! She was on that damn feeding tube all the way to the end, but they gave her a bunch of new prescriptions and sent her on her way. I’m going to go see her tomorrow. I hear that she actually lost even more weight while she was there, but she’s been doing better since she got home. I’m lookin’ forward to seeing her, but nervous as hell to see what kind of condition she’s in.

      Anyway, thanks again for the kind words Jamie. It means a lot.

  13. Wow Trevor. This post was raw. I agree with Jamie that it was good writing. The emotion didn’t seep through, it bursted through the words. Very good.

    We have a dying cat that my sister won’t put asleep. He howls like he’s 9/10 on the pain scale and we listen to it, day after day. It’s disturbing. I can’t imagine how much more disturbing a human scream of the same sort would be.

    These things give you some perspective on life.

    • Perspective indeed. Few things are worse than the cries of a person suffering . . . whether physical or emotional. My friend, told me that the poor girl just wouldn’t stop. She’d wail on and off through both day and night. Her wailing was a real issue for a lot of the girls. The problem is that they won’t allow the dorm rooms doors to be shut (gotta be able to keep and eye on ’em, you know). When she’d start wailing at night, my friend would get up and shut the door. Always within a few minutes, one of the orderlies would come by and open it again.

      This shit would keep up through half the night . . . girl starts wailing, my friend shuts the door, the orderly opens the door. It would actually be pretty damn comical, if it weren’t so fucking disturbing.

      But thanks for the compliment Stephen. Like I said, I had to get it out. Those emotions were going down on the page one way or another.

  14. The description gives me chills. Like visiting a nursing home where you can tell the workers just don’t give a shit. It is so sad to me.

    I am a little late to the post – how is your friend doing now?

    • Yeah, those nursing home stories are messed up. Thanks for asking about my friend Evan. She was discharged from the hospital this week. Not because she was getting any better, but because her insurance coverage ran out.

      So they gave her the boot.

      She had that damn feeding tube in her up until the very last hour. Fucking ridiculous. Fortunately, I think she’s doing better now that she’s home. She’s got family watching over her and I help them out on the weekends to give them a break. She’s keeping us all busy, but we want to see her get better.

      Cheers!

  15. Dale Rogerson says:

    I’m new to your blog, Trevor, and I saw the title of this post and just had to read it. OMG your words are extremely powerful and I was sitting here at work reading it through tears.

    You see, I have a friend who is anorexic. She will never get better (she says so). Luckily for her she has a fabulous husband who is totally devoted to her, does not try to control her (the reason for the anorexia in the first place – her parents) but just loves her as well as three boys who keep her connected to this world. When she was in the Douglas (psychiatric hospital in Montreal) her husband brought her her paints and encouraged her to express herself. She was always an artist at heart but was discouraged from being herself all her life. She did all the things she was “supposed” to do – get a degree in marketing, work in the professional world… and during all that time, she was slowly disappearing. I went to high school with her and had no clue of her struggles. We can be so clueless when we’re teenagers…

    It turns out that painting has saved her life. She has convinced herself that she must eat. However, she will only eat IF she has painted. You can check out her beautiful stuff here: http://veronikah.com

    I am so hoping her time at the Douglas was not as dark as your friend’s was and now feel compelled to ask her about it one day when the time is right. She is very open about her disease and does all she can to bring attention to it whilst trying to combat it. I hope your friend finds something that can inspire her to help her survive.

    • Thank you Dale. Your comment means a ton to me. Truly.

      And thank you for sharing your experiences about your friend VeroniKaH. It’s hard to fathom what goes on in someone’s head as they struggle with this shit. What could possibly cause a person to lash out at themselves. To cause self-harm. I don’t think I’ll ever fucking understand it.

      But we don’t really need to . . . my guess is the anorexics themselves don’t understand.

      We just need to be there however we can in whatever way possible. We need to be an anchor, if that makes any sense.

      You should definitely ask VeroniKaH about her experiences in the hospital. It sounds like she’s pretty open about things. Maybe it’ll provide a stark contrast to how I experienced the Ward. I sure hope so anyway.

      • I sincerely hope she’ll provide a stark contrast. The idea that she spent almost two years (off and on) in a hellish place like your friend just doesn’t compute with the beauty she creates (did you get a chance to take a look-see?)

        I’ll never understand it (I’m a total foodie!) and I guess you’re right, maybe we don’t really need to.

        Thanks again for your sharing of everything. I haven’t gone through the whole catalogue of your stuff – yet!

        I can only hope to be as prolific as you when I get my arse into gear and start publishing my words….

        • I did check out her website, and to be honest her paintings aren’t quite my cup ‘o tea, but then I’m not a very artsy person to begin with. It seems as though she’s got quite the fan base, judging by all the pictures of her work decorating people’s homes. It’s great that she’s found her outlet and been able to make a success of it.

          Good luck trying to go through my entire catalog. I’m not the most frequent poster, but my posts tend towards the longer side. It would be quite the effort . . . it’s gotta be enough to fill a decent size book by now. But I appreciate the sentiment!

          Now get your arse into gear and start writing! 😉

          Cheers!