I went to the local hospital earlier today, for a DXA scan. I had one three years ago which showed that after only ten months without my period, I had developed osteopenia. The bone density in my hips was right at the lower limit of normal, but my spine was half way to osteoporosis. Since eating disorders rarely respond to scare tactics I put this to the back of my mind and continued relapsing anyway. I didn’t get back up to a weight at which my hormones could function properly for another year, so I’m sure more damage was done during that periodless period. My reproductive system has been in full working order for twenty months now, so hopefully my bones will have started repairing themselves, but I won’t know what’s going on until I get the results in 2-3 weeks.
Lots of people don’t like hospitals. Some are even scared of them. My mum gets so anxious that she feels sick every time she goes into a hospital, even if she’s only there as a visitor. I guess it’s natural that so many people share this aversion when hospitals are such a common setting for human drama and tragedy. I have spent far too much time in hospitals over the last decade, mostly sitting in the accident and emergency department, waiting to be stitched up. I’ve also been admitted for depression (2001 – children’s ward, different to the long stay in the psychiatric hospital in 2007), abdominal pain (2001), an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite (2003), dehydration from digestive problems (2007) and kidney stones (2008). I’ve visited my gran after she fell and broke her hip and my other grandmother shortly before she died, sat with my mum in the outpatient department when she had to get a cast off her arm, seen both my younger brothers off for treatment on nebulisers during asthma attacks, and waited for a good friend to wake up after an emergency operation needed due to her severe self harm. But I don’t associate hospitals themselves with all of the anxiety and pain experienced as a patient and a visitor. Maybe that’s because I’ve also been something akin to a member of staff, when I did a student placement with the occupational therapy department of a big hospital in Dorset. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there – it was so busy and fast paced, there was never a chance to get bored.
Whenever I walk past a hospital I always feel a bit odd – it triggers a context-dependent memory to do with all of those trips to get various self injuries stitched up. Hospitals sort of make me feel like I should cut myself, weirdly. It’s not an intense or unmanageable urge, just a brief, “why am I here when my arm doesn’t hurt?!” feeling of something being wrong. It’s similar to the feeling I’ve had when I’ve visited York university campus at a healthy weight. I’ve been twice – once when I just wanted to go and look around last year, then again in February when I did my talk there during EDA week. It’s not an urge to relapse as such, more a feeling that I am in the wrong body, because I spent so much time being exhausted and ill in that setting that being healthy feels abnormal. Being healthy used to feel wrong all the time, but now that feeling is limited to when I am at York. Similarly, whereas once I couldn’t imagine ever not cutting myself on a daily basis, now I only notice that once-integral part of my life is no longer present when I walk past a hospital. Odd. Understandable in logical terms, but an odd feeling.
So I walk up to the hospital earlier for my DXA scan and am reminded of self harming, but that doesn’t really last long. I walk into the main entrance, see the signs directing people to different departments, and my eyes settle on the sign for occupational therapy. No, I’m there for medical physics…but now I miss being an OT student. I make it to the correct department, have my height and weight measured and briefly get annoyed by the fact that I’m a bit shorter than usual (I have been at various points between 164.75 – 166 cm whenever I’ve been measured in the last twelve months – I usually say 5 foot 5 when people ask my height, which is 165.1 cm 😉 ), before reminding myself that it really doesn’t matter if I’m less than usual because I don’t obsessively calculate my BMI any more, and a quarter centimetre is hardly going to make a difference anyway. After the scan I am sent for a blood test to check for bone health markers, which reminds me of being ill two years ago, and having blood tests so often to check if my B12/calcium deficiencies and liver function were improving.
You can change your weight, your behaviours and your coping methods, but old thought patterns die hard, and memories still hurt even if half of the original context is gone. I’ve spent the rest of the day feeling disjointed – grateful that I am healthy now and not hurting my bones or having to go for blood tests every five minutes, but feeling a little like this is an unnatural state of affairs. I am used to being a patient. I’m used to being defined and consumed by my illnesses. I’m used to being treated a certain way because of my labels. I am used to hospitals. And now I have been free from self harm (barring two lapses) for three years, at a healthy weight for fourteen months, and I am moving closer towards being a health professional than a professional patient. It still fills me with amazement that my life is not centred around medical appointments now. I felt like an imposter during my most recent counselling course – thrilled, a little rebellious, excited, but also like I was just waiting for someone to tell me that this career choice was impossible for me. To look down on me and ask me just what I thought I was doing there.
Moving away from all of that didn’t feel good to begin with. It made me horribly anxious and filled with self doubt, terrified about my future. I have gained confidence in my ability to escape from that life as time has passed, but it still feels strange and new and tenuous sometimes. I feel terribly alone and excited and damaged and determined all at once.