Top 5 things I missed most about being an inpatient in an eating disorder unit

I saw something on social media recently saying that there is nothing to miss about being an inpatient and that people should not be glamourising admissions. I totally agree that admissions should not be glamourised. However, I disagree that there are no elements to eating disorder inpatient admissions that you would miss. I think it would be wrong, and unhelpful, to deny this. I have been an inpatient three times. Each time I was discharged, there were parts to of being an inpatient that I missed. A lot. And it was also the parts that I missed which made adapting to life after admission so hard. I longed for those inpatient elements in my real life. But my real life didn’t have them, and I missed them. So to deny that these parts of an inpatient eating disorder exist is wrong.

I felt bad for missing these things at the time and I wondered what on earth was wrong with me to actually WANT to be an inpatient. I thought I must be evil and a horrid person for longing and missing being an inpatient, and that I should have been grateful for being out in the real world and getting my life my back. Who on earth would miss being in hospital? Well, I did.

I missed certain aspects of inpatient life and it made living in the real world incredibly hard. So at the time, I was struggling with the guilt for having these feelings of missing being an inpatient, coupled with finding adapting to life after discharge incredibly hard because of not having those things that I missed. I felt alone. I felt like I was the only one to feel this way. The post I saw on social media the other day reinforced that view that you shouldn’t miss anything about being an inpatient. If I had have seen this post at the times I was discharged, it would have made me feel even worse.

So I am sharing how I felt, and sometimes still do. I have also written about this in my book Running Free: My Battle with Anorexia (which you can find out more about here: Rebecca Quinlan Book). There are still times when I miss certain parts of being an inpatient. I hope that in sharing how I feel, it will help others not feel so alone. I am not promoting or glamoursing being an inpatient. That is not my intention. It is simply to show that these parts of inpatient life which disappear when you are discharged, can make adapting to life in the real world incredibly hard. Here is my top 5: The things I missed most from being an eating disorder inpatient.

1. People/company

Probably the biggest thing I missed about being an inpatient in an eating disorder unit was people. In hospital, you have people around you 24/7. I have struggled with loneliness for a very long time. Something I really liked about being an inpatient was that there were always people around. The feeling of knowing there were always people there was a huge source of comfort.

I’ve never been someone to socialise much and I have always struggled in group settings. So you may think the fact that I liked have people around all the time is a bit odd. But it wasn’t that I interacted a lot with the people, it was just knowing they were there. Hearing and seeing them all the time, any time. In my second and third admission, I found having people around such a comfort that I never shut my bedroom door. Whether I was brushing my hair, watching the tv, asleep in bed, my door was never shut. I wanted to see people walking up and down the corridor, I wanted to hear that there were people there. It was very hard to go from having people around all the time in hospital, to just having my mum and dad at home.

My mum and dad were not around all the time and I found I desperately missed that comforting feeling that came from being an inpatient and always having people around. Over the years I have adapted to my life outside of hospital without people there all the time. I don’t really miss it any more, probably because I haven’t experienced it for so long. But for a good few years following my second and third discharge, it was something I would desperately miss.

2. Routine/structure

Life as an inpatient in an eating disorder unit is incredibly structured. You have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at certain times every day. There are supervisions and therapy at certain times every day. Life follows a routine, you know what to expect at every time in every day, and it feels safe. When you are discharged, you are thrown out of this structured life and into a world where you have no structure or routine. And this can make discharge incredibly difficult. It was this lack of routine and structure that did, in part, contribute to my relapse and my third admission.

I found myself with days on end filled with nothing to do. My life had no structure or routine and I missed that. I missed that structure of hospital. At the time of being an inpatient in an eating disorder unit, the rigid structure can feel suffocating. There were times when I was desperate to just be free, flexible and do what I want when I wanted. But when actually faced with the reality of this, it was overwhelming. Terrifying. And it gave anorexia free reign to take over.

My third discharge was different. I started back at university within 3 months. This helped me to develop a new structure and routine. But it was still very scary, and I still greatly missed that element of being an inpatient. Again, over the years I did adapt and develop new routines and structures, which also includes the ability to be spontaneous and flexible.

3. Escape from reality

Another really big part of being an inpatient that I missed, and still do sometimes, is that having an admission allows you to escape reality. When you are in hospital, you live in a bubble that is not the real world. Hospital life is your life and that is all you have to focus on. There have been so many times since my last discharge in 2011 where I have missed being in hospital for this reason. When life can feel incredibly stressful and overwhelming, I would miss being in hospital so much.

When I was in hospital I didn’t have to worry about the stresses of coursework or exams, jobs and careers, national and global issues. Being an inpatient was an escape from this stressful reality. Particularly when I was at university, I would feel such a strong desperation to be back in hospital where I could escape the reality of life filled with stress. I don’t miss this part of being an inpatient as much now as I used to, when I would miss it virtually every day. But there will be times, mainly when life just feels very stressful and difficult, when I will miss being in hospital and escaping reality. Deep down I know that going into hospital and escaping reality isn’t a solution and doesn’t solve the issue. But I will briefly miss it before rationalising with myself and forcing myself to carry on.

4. Care

Missing this part of being an inpatient in an eating disorder unit made me feel really guilty. I felt, and still do feel, ashamed to admit that one of the things I missed about being an inpatient was that people care about you. Or, I suppose more accurately put, SHOW that they care about you. The purpose of hospital is to receive care. Whatever your illness or symptoms, you are the patient, and the nurses and doctors are there to care for you. Also, when you are in hospital, your family often express more care and concern for you. Hospital is associated with being unwell so obviously, people show that they care.

When I was an inpatient, people generally showed so much care for me. More care than I’d ever felt I had. When you aren’t in hospital, you are discharged because you are deemed to not need the care and treatment that being an inpatient provides. But just because you don’t need it, it doesn’t mean that you don’t miss it.

There is also often the expectation that when you are in hospital, you are well enough to just get on with life. You receive less care. There aren’t doctors and nurses around, and because you are not deemed so unwell, less care is shown. This can be a really big factor about being an inpatient that people miss. I have missed it. In the past, I have missed it a lot. Especially if I have felt that I have been struggling a bit and finding things a bit tougher. In life you just have to get on with things but in hospital, the whole reason for being there is for people to care for you. And I missed that.

People will always say that they care for you no matter what, and that being in hospital doesn’t make them care for you any more so. Logically, I can accept that. And deep down I do know that it is true. If a member of my family got taken to hospital, I would express a lot of care and concern for them. But I don’t actually care about them any more than I already did, I would just be expressing it more. But knowing and feeling are very different things. And sometimes, although I know it, I can’t help but miss the feeling of care that comes with being an inpatient. It has always been something that I hated to admit, so I want to admit it in case others feel the same. 

5. No expectations

When I was an inpatient in eating disorder units, there were no expectations from myself or from others. I never expected anything from myself when I was an inpatient because I was just focussed on surviving. But once you are no longer an inpatient and you are building your life, you start to build hopes and dreams, and you develop expectations. You expect certain things to happen in your life, be that a job, making friends, starting a family, finding a new hobby. But I found that some things I wanted and expected to happen in life didn’t happen. And the disappointment and sadness that followed would make me miss being in hospital.

In hospital you have no expectations, or you have expectations for your life once you leave hospital. But because you haven’t been discharged, your expectations are still hopes and dreams. I often found that these hopes and expectations I had developed in hospital for what my life would be like did not happen. And I greatly missed being in hospital where the disappointment of failed expectations were still hopes for the future.  

There is also a lack of expectation from others when you are in hospital. There is no pressure or expectation to do anything when you are in hospital. And that can feel nice. And I have missed that occasionally when I have not been an inpatient. Again, I missed this most when I was first discharged and I felt the pressure of societies expectations. The expectation that I should be doing certain things with my life by certain times. It made things hard and it made me miss being in hospital where there were no expectations of me. I don’t miss this part of being an inpatient anymore. But I do sometimes miss the hope that I had as an inpatient for certain dreams which I know haven’t happened. I miss not knowing and not having that disappointment.

But then who doesn’t want to avoid disappointment? No one likes feeling disappointed, or having too much expected of them. I have learnt that whilst hospital is a way to avoid these feelings and not experience expectations or failed expectations, being in hospital is also a guaranteed way to ensure your hopes and expectations never come true anyway. You can’t have anything in life if you are in hospital. So I have learnt to rationalise this missing element of being an inpatient.

Please do leave a comment if there are any parts of being an inpatient that you have missed. Or if there is anything you have missed as part of your recovery journey, please do share. The links to where you can get my book are on my book page Rebecca Quinlan Book or you can go straight to amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Free-My-Battle-Anorexia-ebook/dp/B09TTB9YTK/

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What I missed about being an inpatient. Bex Quinlan

1 thought on “Top 5 things I missed most about being an inpatient in an eating disorder unit”

  1. This is so right. I’ve been in mental health wards many times and had some terrible experiences there… but…i always missed the things you describe and felt shame for it. I read your post about 2022, hope you feel some improvement soon. It will come, I promise. X

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