To say anorexics are solitary and introspective is an understatement. I am continuing to find the constant noise, here, confusing and exhausting. My poor little brain can’t cope with all the sensory and cognitive information that overwhelms me when I’m with other people – the competing data streams of the television and radios, which are constantly on, even when nobody is watching or listening, and the various simultaneous conversations.
When I’m reading or writing, people interrupt and start talking to me, and my slight, weak concentration breaks down; I have to start all over again, working my way back into the text. And, of course, there is no haven from this, no place to get away from it and no time when it lets up, 24 hours a day. Even in sleep, someone else is in the room, breathing with you. It’s all so wearing and tiring and I’d just like a bit of time off, occasionally.
I was working on this blog, today, when a lovely nurse called Bridget came to have a ketchup with me. I assume I’m Bridget’s “priority”. We had a cosy talk, but I felt frustrated because I wasn’t getting on with my work. Being secluded here is a golden opportunity to write and I’m increasingly resentful of any distraction, even just people wandering into the art room, when I’m in there. I’m a nasty anti-social git and when, impulsively, I initiate conversation, it feels like failure, a lapse of self-control, a letting down of my guard. I’m wittering on to people, uninvited. What a twat.
Being admitted to an in-patient facility isolates you from your family and friends. Far from making you lonely, this gives you relief from the difficult, complicated relationships that have inevitably developed as you became ill, freighted, as they are, with exasperation, injury and resentment on their part, and shame, inadequacy and bewildered hysteria on yours. Here, you may not be close to anyone, but you don’t have to confront the loss of intimacy from the people you loved, or feel the sense of guilt and regret that comes from that, so the alienation is less fraught and profound.
We live in a state of continuous, morose endurance, akin to loneliness, no matter what the situation, and because we’re too ill to feel the lack of company, the luxury of this isolation can be dangerously seductive. It’s tempting to get comfortable with it, to build a nest out of it.
So being forced into any sort of society is beneficial for me. I am being thrown into the deep end of a re-socialising process. I can feel it doing good for me and I am interacting with the others much more ably (I feel) than I would have even a few weeks ago. I used to creep feebly away from any encounter, cursing the fool I’d made of myself, not because I’d said anything particularly stupid, but because just opening my silly mouth was in some way mortifying, revealing my limited, grotesque, pathetic inner goblin to the burning scrutiny of others, their withering looks searing my cringing skin. Now I’m more forgiving of my flawed and limited self. No-one acquits themselves brilliantly, in life, but we tend to be forgiving of other people, if only because we don’t care as much.
As part of embracing the whole process, I’ve made a commitment to engage whole-heartedly with every conversation offered to me. Especially when Dylan comes in to the art room for a chat, or when he wants to talk at bedtime. I put down my book or my MacBook and try to give myself wholly over to the conversation. I’m helping him, and this gratifies my desire to be useful and of service. His friendship is so important to me that once I’ve accepted that I’m not going to get anything done, it’s relatively easy to immerse myself in talk. I can even reveal some things about myself, telling myself that to do so will help nurture a conversation that is of benefit to him.
Ketchup, however, is more difficult. It’s clear that care assistants do this out of a sense of professional duty, so when they come and seek me out, it feels like they’ve cornered me and that neither of us really wants to hear my shit. Still, I force myself to engage. I owe it to my family and to the NHS.