So you’ve decided you’re going to treatment. I bet you have plenty of questions, just as I did. Unfortunately, the internet does not have the best resources when it comes to navigating residential treatment for the first time.
What do I pack? What do we do all day? What’s it like?
I’ve been in your shoes. Unsure and apprehensive, and unable to find answers to all your questions. Luckily for you, that’s why I’m here.
Let’s start with the most important one.
What Do I Pack?
This is somewhat dependent on what level of care you’re going to. Typically, inpatient units are much stricter on clothing than residential facilities are.
Don’t forget the most important rule: pack comfy.
I packed plenty of sweatpants and leggings (if they’re allowed) along with t-shirts, sweatshirts, and cardigans. Along with that, plenty of pajamas.
My favorite item that I packed had to be my fuzzy slippers.
Most facilities will tell you to pack layers in case of varying temperatures. This makes cardigans and sweatshirts a hot commodity item.
Also, make sure your clothing is appropriate. Nothing too revealing or with provocative images or words on anything. I would hate to see your clothes get taken and all that’s left for you is a hospital gown.
I would also advise figuring out beforehand if your program goes on outings. One of mine did and we went to museums and festival venues around downtown Chicago, so people dressed up a little more when we went out.
I packed a pair of jeans and a sweater that quickly became my “outing” outfit.
When it comes to shoes, pack comfy. Slip-on sneakers, Birkenstocks, or slippers were all I brought and I had just enough.
This is essentially what I packed for residential. My inpatient stay was much more abrupt and they had stricter rules when it came to clothing anyways.
We were not allowed shoes. All drawstrings had to be removed from clothing and we didn’t go on outings so there was no need for dressier clothes.
Entertainment objects are a crucial thing on your packing list as well.
Puzzle books, reading materials, and silly putty are by far the most popular items. Some facilities allow knitted or crocheting material, depending on where you are going. However, it is typically known that no magazines are allowed.
When it comes to toiletries and electronics, the policy truly depends on the facility that you are going to. Some will provide you with all your bathroom essentials while others require that you bring your own.
It is very rare that you will be allowed to having shaving razors, so be prepared.
My residential allowed electronics to be used within certain hours so I brought my phone and computer along with chargers and headphones for each.
All the nitty gritty is really dependent on the specific guidelines set by your program, so make sure you find out their rules beforehand so you can pack appropriately.
What to Expect Upon Admission
Your first day is typically pretty hectic. You usually meet with your entire treatment team and are just expected to get acquainted with the environment.
You will talk to your case manager, therapist, dietician, and psychiatrist typically within the first 24 hours of your stay. Be prepared to repeat the same things over and over again. It becomes quite automatic after the third time.
Upon arrival, your luggage will be taken to the staff office and held until someone is available to do a luggage search. You can request to be present at your search, which I did, just to see if they took any items that were prohibited. Don’t worry, the items will be returned at discharge.
Once they search your belongings, you will be shown your room and be given a chance to put your clothes away.
On your first day, you will also meet with a nurse and/or doctor. They will take your weights and vitals, probably a tube of blood or two, and an EKG.
Then someone will give you a brief tour of the facility and hand you your folder/binder with the orientation packet in it. Essentially, this just contains the rules and expectations of the program. This is where you will keep all of the many handouts you receive during your stay.
Also, don’t be surprised when they throw you into lunch after you’d arrived just twenty minutes prior (yes this happened to me and I did not know how to handle myself).
The first day can be quite overwhelming, but after your initial introduction to the program, things begin to calm down and you will get more acquainted. You start meeting the other patients and start settling in.
How Are the Rooms Setup?
At almost every facility you will have a roommate, or two. In my room, I had a bedside table with drawers and a small amount of storage space under my bed for clothing.
Some rooms had armoirs and others had desks. It really depended on what room you were placed in. But there was plenty of space for all of your belongings.
You were allowed to hang up, appropriate, pictures, drawing, or letters as you please to spruce up the room.
At my residential, I was provided with an alarm clock, which I didn’t end up using because the staff would wake me up before it had the chance to go off.
The bathroom situation is also dependent on the specifics of your facility. Some have in-room bathrooms and others do not. If there is not a private bathroom attached to your room, there will be a dormitory style one.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. There are a few shower stalls and toilet stalls with rows of sinks and mirrors. Even if your bathroom is attached to your bedroom, it will be locked through the entirety of the day meaning you’ll have to use the larger one anyway.
How could I forget? There will be flush checks. So get ready for someone to inspect your business before you’re allowed to flush. Depending on your progress, you may get off flush checks towards the end of your stay, but it’s not very likely.
What Do We Do All Day?
Typically, you’ll get woken up bright and early between 5:30 and 6:30. Bathrooms will be opened and you will change into your gown.
Weights and vitals must be taken anytime before breakfast. And no, you cannot see how much you weigh. Sometimes, you have labs as well so your blood will get drawn in that timeframe too. The nurses will also be at their station handing out morning medication.
You can shower in the morning if you like, sit in the group room or you can go back to bed until it is breakfast time. Then the dining room is opened and it is time for the first meal of the day.
You usually have 35 minutes to eat your meal and 15 minutes for snack. A staff will always be sitting in the dining room with you.
Meals and snacks are usually filled with some sort of table game to keep everyone slightly distracted from the difficult task at hand.
Following breakfast is the first group of the day. This can be anything from art to DBT to individual coping time. Then there is a bathroom break before snack.
I like to think that the day goes somewhat like this:
It seems somewhat repetitive but the groups are switched up a lot. Certain groups occur more often throughout the week than others, but you’ll never have a group multiple times in one day.
All bathroom breaks occur right before meals and snacks. If it is an utter emergency you can ask a staff to go, but if it is immediately after a meal they may have to watch you or make you sing the ABCs until you’re done with your business. So I recommend going every time there is a bathroom break.
Visiting hours typically happen during afternoons on the weekends and sometimes night times random days of the week. During visiting you can talk about nonsense, show them the facility, or play a game or two.
You will also be meeting with members of your team throughout the week. They simply come pull you out of groups. You’ll be lucky if they grab you during your least favorite one.
As the day reaches a close, rooms are opened between 8:30 and 9. You can go to bed once programming for the day is over.
The bathrooms are also opened then so you can brush up and shower if you please. The nurse will be at the nurses’ station if you have nighttime beds.
At the end of the day everyone is pretty tired, so most people turn in early.
Throughout the night, there will be staff checks every fifteen to thirty minutes. I hope you’re a heavy sleeper otherwise your nights might be rocky. If you cannot sleep, you are allowed to sit in the hallway while you are working on getting tired.
It’s pretty much the same thing day in and day out, so I hope you like a rigid routine.
What’s the Food Like?
Both of the treatment facilities I have been to had pretty decent food. It’s obviously not an upscale restaurant, but its far better than simply being edible.
You get to work with your dietician when it comes to menu planning. They are pretty accommodating to dietary restrictions as long as they aren’t eating disorder related.
They try to switch up the menus and keep them on a few-week rotation so you most likely won’t be seeing too many of the same meals.
Snacks are more simple than meals and you can essentially have almost anything as long as it meets your meal plan requirements.
Both facilities I was at had three main course options along with unimaginable side dishes during meals. Menu planning was always my favorite and I treated it like a puzzle, working to fit in all my exchanges properly.
All in all, the food was manageable and actually somewhat enjoyable at times, which makes eating it slightly easier.
How Are the People?
The others patients are fantastic. We would always joke that treatment friends take a day to make while “real world” friends can take weeks to months. You get to know everyone pretty quickly as you’re with them 90% of the day.
It’s almost comforting being surrounded by so many people who understand what your life is like on a daily basis. It feels like an unspoken bond that you just get each other.
And this may come as a big surprise, but they were the new kid once too. Everyone has been in your shoes so they are extremely opening and welcome to newbies.
You get extremely close to everyone in your program especially since you’re sharing some of the darkest parts of your lives with them. I have met some of the most amazing and inspirational people while in treatment.
The staff always told us not to exchange numbers or personal information with other patients but not everyone always follows that rule.
Is the Staff Nice?
From what I have experienced, the staff is utterly amazing. They care immensely about your well being and truly have your best intentions in mind.
I have seen staff go above and beyond in the most miraculous ways.
One nurse went on a hunt to find the perfect pen for a woman with severe OCD.
There have been staff who showed us dog videos to cheer everyone up during a tough snack.
Some even put on little performances for us and have quirky, but amazing, dances.
There was one day in treatment where a few select staff gave a presentation about their own eating disorder recovery. It was so meaningful and inspiring to hear about their struggles and see the amazing work they are doing now.
Altogether, the staff care so much and will go above and beyond to help you in any way they possibly can. They are there to support you and guide you through one of the toughest times in your life. From what I’ve experienced, they do an amazing job.
Did I miss something you were wondering about? Shoot me a message or let me know in the comments below, I’d be happy to answer it.
*All of the information above was based on my own personal treatment experiences. The specifics of each facility may vary.