When I was 19 years old, I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I was there for 29 days. It is very difficult for me to explain what those 29 days were like. In Star Trek IV, McCoy asks Spock what it was like to have died. Spock responds, “It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference.” Blessedly few people share the frame of reference of having been a mental health inpatient. I had been ready to be done with my eating disorder for many years before I was finally admitted to Hopkins. It was the hospital itself that I was not prepared for.
The next time someone asks me what it was like in the hospital, I won’t bother with words. I will simply point to this perfume and say, “It felt like this smells.” Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman is quiet and eerie. Its sharp, grassy notes murmur through the perfume like a stream of water. It’s quite spicy, but has none of the sweeter, comforting spices typical of the genre. Ormonde Woman reminds me of Hamlet’s Ophelia, an exquisite, fragile creature on the verge of madness. I never once lost my sanity. I was very lucky. Others were not. I knew girls who heard music in silent rooms. Ormonde Woman is a beautiful perfume, but you would be a fool not to notice the danger lurking behind its beauty. I find it terrifying.
I wrote a short story called “The Meyer 4 Welcoming Committee” a few months after being released from the hospital. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share some parts of it with you.
Meyer 4 wakes up at 6 AM. Your alarm clock is the scent of latex and powder as the nurse’s gloved hand probes your arm for a good vein and the burn of blood being drawn when she finds one. Some of the nurses try to soothe with a “good job, honey” or “that’s right, sweetie.” Most do not. You’re lucky. New girls get Monica. They say she used to work for a record company. Ask her to tell you that story about Kanye West. Still light-headed from the blood sample, you join the line of gaunt girls waiting to be weighed. The sicker girls leave the top of their hospital gowns untied, defiantly flaunting their bones. If you’re stuck behind them, try not to stare. That’s exactly what they’re hoping for.
If you’re ready to be here, it’s not too bad. The girls who aren’t ready, it means nothing to them. You see Julia over there? The real pretty one? She just got out of some place in Arizona. Five months, $250,000. Insurance wouldn’t cover it. Her grandparents had to pay for the whole thing. You know how long she lasted before they had to send her here? A week. The five months, all that money- as hard as she tries, it means nothing to her. Such a sweet girl, too. It’s a real shame.
Watch out for Lisa. She steals food. None of the nurses expect a 60 year-old woman to be stealing peanut butter, so she never gets caught. Last I heard she was selling it, too. Some people will do anything to hold onto the sickness. You know what I mean? It’s like that movie my kids love, with all the hobbits and the rings and shit. There’s that Gollum guy, right? He used to be Smeagol, before the ring makes him into a monster. You can still catch glimpses of Smeagol every so often, but for the most part, the original owner has vacated the premises.
It’s just like that. When anorexia gets through with a girl, she’s not Julia or Lisa anymore. You know, I met Julia’s mom just a few weeks ago. Really sweet lady. She told me that Julia used to have the most gorgeous singing voice. Who knows? She can’t sing for shit anymore. A few years of throwing up eight times a day will do that to you.
But you’re not one of those, right? You’re here to get better. You’ll be just fine.