Eloise was diagnosed with an eating disorder nine years ago and spent nine months in the Mildred Creak Unit (MCU), a highly specialised ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for young people with mental health conditions. To mark World Mental Health Day, she shared her experiences.
“I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder at Gloucester Royal Hospital where I had been admitted for three months during the summer of 2009 due to being dangerously underweight.
“I was wrapped up on losing weight and began spending all my time exercising obsessively and working out how to get away with eating as little as possible.”
“At first my family didn’t understand”
“At first my family didn't understand what was going on, they credited the weight loss to losing some 'puppy fat', but then they took me to the GP and he wasn't able to recognise the signs of my illness in that brief meeting either. He suggested I was a picky eater and that I should 'mix things up with food at home', like the shape and colour of pasta.
“Eventually my parents took me to our local hospital as I was fainting and woke up in the middle of the night with such low blood sugar that I had to be rushed to A&E. My family were supportive and my mum stayed by me in the hospital for most of those three months.
“For a short period of time everything revolved around me and my family had to drop their lives to support me and I am eternally grateful to their commitment because even though I didn't start accepting any help until later, they never stopped trying to help and support me.”
Frustration and fear at coming to GOSH
“I was first taken to look around GOSH by specialists from the hospital who drove me there as I wasn't well enough to go with my parents.
“I remember being very frustrated with the idea of coming to GOSH – I would get violent and I had to be restrained in the car. I hadn't eaten for three days and barely drank any water because I even became scared that water had calories in it.
“I didn't realise I would become a patient at MCU until a couple of days after looking around. It was a daunting experience because treatment is so intense and since GOSH was a three-hour journey from home, my parents couldn't stay with me.
A supportive welcome
"I remember all the other patients being so supportive and welcoming, they were like a small family. My family were relieved that I was finally going to get the help I so desperately needed, with the specialist care they provided at GOSH.
"I had no idea what to expect with my treatment in MCU. Every minute of the day is set in routine and schedule to create structure for the patients. This was something I hadn't had before and the activities each day – going to the park, Art Therapy, or Social Night – really supported us and kept us as busy as possible.
"The eating disorder treatment was excellent – there were support groups, as well as individual therapy and a dietitian who made a meal plan. MCU gave me two key workers who were my rock in the unit – they set goals and challenges with eating, exercising, or whatever I was struggling with.
"I was an inpatient in MCU at GOSH for around nine months before receiving follow-up treatment while I reintegrated back into full time education. One of the milestones in my treatment was being able to go to the park and on outings with the rest of the patients on the ward. In the beginning I was too underweight to walk anywhere and had to be taken around in a wheelchair."
Small and challenging milestones
"All my milestones seemed small, but to me they were a great challenge. There was the time I finished all of my meal and even opted for a pudding, or the time I went out with my parents for dinner and chose something new from the menu.
"Being able to go home on the weekends was another big achievement for me as I hadn't spent much time at home that year due to spending the summer in hospital. One special memory from GOSH was learning Makaton at the hospital school with 'Singing Hands'. I loved signing all the songs with children from other wards.
"For me, the hardest thing about being at GOSH was being so far from home and not being able to communicate with friends back home to tell them what was going on due to there being a ‘no phone policy’ on the ward.
"Seeing my parents only a few times a week was hard too – I felt quite out of touch with the outside world. But the staff members on the unit were some of the most patient and understanding people I have ever met. When they were working they gave their full attention to everyone and were always around to support us, it felt like a little family. My family found that the ward kept them involved with my recovery. GOSH even provided a flat for us to stay in when I was allowed home leave for one night, as it would have been too expensive to travel home and back."
Making plans for the future
"After my second admission I continued working with my local eating disorders team and CAMHS. I am still having psychotherapist appointments twice a week and am going to start up some more work with my local eating disorders team.
"My plans for the future are blurry as I currently want to put all my effort into being fully recovered, but I know I want to travel and see the world. I also want to focus on a career, I just haven't decided what career yet!
"I am still friends with patients I met on the ward nine years ago – these friendships last for life and really helped me with my own struggles."
“You have to help yourself – let yourself be helped”
"I hope the result of sharing my story is that people see that recovery is not easy, and that however much specialist help you're given, until you decide you want to get better and that you want to give recovery your best shot nothing's going to change. You have to be the one to help yourself, and however much other people show their support and help you it is ultimately your battle. That means taking on the support of others and letting yourself be helped in the process.
"You are by no means alone in your fight, and accepting help does not show weakness or fragility."