When I was in Remuda, we had general physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, nutritionists, and nurses. The nurses were there with us for the majority of the time- well they were there literally around the clock.
One of the nurses, Jennifer Goss, became a confidant to most patients. She was there to listen to us, give us advice, help us through meals, and just spend time with us. She didn’t treat us as a patient so much as a friend. You could tell that she truly cared about us and that she loved her job. Here’s some things that she has to say about working with eating disorder patients:
What is the hardest thing about working with patients battling eating disorders?
The hardest thing, I think, about working with eating disorders is the hopelessness the patient feels. They have arrived at this high level of care because either they or someone close to them has decided they can’t beat this on their own. As staff we also had the blessing of seeing the other side of ED- the side of the healing patient. Having this knowledge it can be so hard knowing you cannot convince someone that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, when they cannot conceive of such a thing in the moment. It is something they have to discover for themselves in time and in a lot of difficult treatment, however one of the BEST things about working with ED patients is witnessing the moment they start to believe and hope in something better.
What do you believe is the most important part(s) of being able to recover from an eating disorder?
Very basically, to recover from an ED, a person has to want it and be willing to do whatever it takes to turn their life around. The time I have experienced working with ED patients, and people in general who struggle from grave emotional/physical/social/spiritual difficulties, is that people need motivation and hope to thrive. Part of what a good treatment program does is helps a person re-discover things they have forgotten that they enjoyed in life. Of course, hope and motivation take time to develop, and immediately what is most important is stabilizing the patient: Nutrition, medication, rest, therapy. Long-term, the patient needs to make sure they have changed their lifestyle in a way that will support their recovery, so that recovery will “stick”. I have met some ED patients who have stronger will-power than anyone I have ever met in life! Imagine all the will-power and strength being put toward their ED behaviors, being instead put toward fighting for recovery!
How did working with eating disorder patients change your life?
Working with ED patients was one of the most touching jobs I have ever had. Often among an ED community you find that these are individuals with beautiful hearts, beautiful talents, and beautiful personalities that you get to see emerge once again with time. Seeing people at their lowest point will never cease to be a touching thing. It is humbling and it should be treated with respect. I always respected the fact that the patients I came in contact with were trusting me with many things. As the patients began to appreciate the small things in life and look toward a hopeful future, it was always a constant reminder to myself to appreciate all that I have as well. I laughed with them, I cried with them, I sat with them through some tough situations, and it was powerful. For myself on a spiritual standpoint it was powerful in a way that told me there just HAD to be a God looking out for us, and giving us the strength to accomplish what we never thought we could do.
How did you cope with coming to care for the patients you met there and not being able to contact them after they left?
This was a difficult part of our job- spending 30-90+ days with an individual, being by their side for everything from their most basic needs to great strides in recovery, and then their discharge. The truth is, we never knew how much time we were actually going to have with a patient, and every single moment mattered. Some would leave early, some would leave later, so each day was the most important day of their treatment. When they left, we had to know that we had given them the best care possible, we had given them tools to take with them on their journey, and for some of us, we had to just pray over them and give them into God’s care. For myself, though at times I was sad over a patient having to leave, I could feel peace that they were in God’s care and that we had done all that we could. Occasionally patients would mail letters of updates to the facility and pictures, and these always warmed our hearts.
Did you learn anything from working at Remuda for dealing with problems in your own life?
I have to say that the facility I worked at taught some pretty great skills. In our training we were of course familiarized with everything we would be teaching the patients, but after years of drilling these skills into their minds, it sticks in your own! My fellow staff members and I would jokingly use the skills with each other and talk about how we used them in our own life, but honestly, we did use them! It is a good thing that the skills we taught were practical enough for anyone to use in their life regardless of the issue. Besides the skills though, I truly was just reminded to appreciate the little things. I was reminded that life is a beautiful and short thing that should not be taken for granted or wasted.
Are there any common themes you find in most eating disorder patients?
I can’t really say they are found in “most” patients because while ED has a lot of similarities patient to patient, the reason it is such a complex disorder is it’s variations and it’s co-occurring issues. As far as behaviors go, they vary a lot. I think while many patients come into treatment thinking they are the only one with this “quirk” or that “fear”, they find that they are not alone and there are others like them out there. Other co-occurring issues often but not always accompany ED, such as substance abuse, other types of abuse or trauma, and many similar forms of self-harm besides the ED itself. Emotionally, we see a lot of depression, hopelessness, perfectionism or chaos, people-pleasing, and a general downward spiral, which has brought them into treatment. Sometimes a patient arrives to treatment with a lot of denial about the seriousness of their behaviors, and with strong needs to control what is happening around them.
How does it feel to watch eating disorder patients get better and regain their lives?
It is the purpose I have for doing what I do. There is nothing greater in that situation than seeing someone see for the first time all the hope and beauty and joy you KNOW is possible for them. As I mentioned before it is humbling. It is no small feat to start recovery for an eating disorder. When someone makes the decision to fight for their life, when you know that is exactly what it will be for them – a fight – it is a wonderful thing. It makes you want to jump for joy with them because you are excited for the good that is coming their way, and because you are so proud of them. Anyone who has worked with ED or experienced it closely themselves knows what a powerful and cunning disease it is. Witnessing someone decide they are going to stand up against it and live, is nothing short of a miracle.