On living with bulimia

The content below is not very pleasant. Be warned.

KakaoTalk_Photo_2018-03-18-16-17-26_88Hi My name is Marta. I’m almost 31 and I’m bulimic.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder usually characterized by periods of binging—or excessive overeating—followed by purging. People with bulimia have a fear of gaining weight; however, that does not mean all people with bulimia are underweight. Some people with bulimia are overweight or obese. They attempt to use purging to manage their weight or prevent additional weight gain. Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness that requires intensive treatment.” – via bulimia.org

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Unfortunatly life is not a simple, straight train ride.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I had a serious problem. And even longer to start talking about it publicly (fortunately I was wise enough to seek treatment right away). But I don’t think I have ever gone beyond saying that I was seeing a shrink, took some drugs and had an undefined eating disorder. I thought that people around me either don’t care or would be disgusted by it and me (the way I was about myself). But talking helps, even if it pushes people away (my roommates decided to ‘divorce me’ based on my ‘lack of mental stability’). It makes ‘it’ a reality, acknowledged by others, therefore something I can fight with, not only in my head.

One important note: eating disorders, and mental illnesses for that matter, are very individual cases: different sets of symptoms, different therapy methods and drugs that work, different backgrounds etc. This is just a story of me, myself and I.

 

When does it start?

Obviously, I didn’t wake up one day with a delightful thought of binging myself silly and then throwing it all up. Specialists say childhood and growing up have an impact, and they are probably right. That being said, I was relatively normal until my mid-20s. Sure, I was aware of my weight (I was a ‘big’ teenager) but I also remember not giving a shit and being happy about myself. Yes, looking back there were symptoms, that started building up – comments people said that started affecting me, sudden need to exercise, restrictive diets. But really things started taking a bad turn when I started to lose control over my life – my corporate job was 24/7 stress, friends not behaving in the ways I have had predicted them to, people saying shitty things, I felt the social pressure to be ‘smaller’ and ‘prettier’… and a way to release this.. ‘pain of existence’ was to punish myself (for not getting a grip on myself). How to release the ‘pain’ (‘’ because it’s not like I was in physical or emotional pain – I was just so so overwhelmed, like being hit by a giant boulder)? Why, let yourself go super ‘bad’ by binging on your guilty foods (mine are nuts of all sorts, followed by the usual crisps, biscuits junk) and then stick a finger up my throat and let the whole thing go down the toilet bowl. Does it help? Very briefly. You then feel disgusted and guilty. Depression is any eating disorder’s best friend, so I found myself not really having a will to go on anymore. At it’s worst, I added to my binge-purge routine running a paper knife on my wrists and thighs. Happy times.

This is me somewhere mid-2014. I was very slim, borderline skinny.
On the inside I was thinking of myself as a ‘fat, useless, stupid cow’.

 

What do you do?

Disclaimer: I hate the whole psychiatrists and psychologist. Even despite some of my closest friends chasing those occupations as their life careers. I hate ‘opening’ myself in front of a stranger, I hate that they ask questions, poke at me to analyze what I thought at the exact moment that I decided to stick a finger up my throat (answer: ‘I’m a fat stupid cow’).

But. They do help. Saying things out loud makes them real and less scary. And if the person is a professional and can moderate your thoughts onto to a patch of self-reflection… there is a chance that it will make the whole weltschmerz less of a burden, if not go away completely. There are two catches with that: 1) you have to come across a therapist that is the right ‘fit’ for you 2) you have to trust them on this journey. The problem is that you don’t really know what’s right for you nor can anyone tell you that. You have to follow your gut feeling and be ready to cut things off when things are not going so well. But that contradicts 2). In other words, it sucks.

In my case, ‘cold cut-throat’ bitch approach seems to have helped more than ‘bubbly’. My first therapist was sweet and caring and very concerned with what was going on with me. That didn’t help much because the pity-party made me feel worse, made me cheat and lie just not to make the sweet therapist feel sad. In a way I was relieved when we were done, because it’s not an easy nor pleasant thing to be a cheating bastard.

Now my next therapist… oh boy, was she an evil witch. I hated her cold demaur and was not ashamed to voice it. On multiple occasions. Because I hated her so much, I was also not embarrassed to throw all my shit out at her, since I didn’t feel bad about her at all. And that oddly enough made me very honest with… myself. In short, I hate the woman like I hate my gym nemesis. But like with the gym nemesis (who pushes me to do skills I would otherwise avoid doing), I acknowledge what she did for me.

My current therapist is a mix of the two. I don’t want to murder her each session, but  she also keeps me in check and asks the right, albeit uncomfortable, questions.

Together with therapy there are multiple exercises like eating diaries (I have been failing badly at this recently), picture drawing, reacting past events etc. Both can be helpful in realizing what triggers you and what helps things move along.

I took these pics on a day when I was absolutly LOATHING my body.
Generally on days like this, I avoid looking at a mirror, let alone taking pics.
But as part of my recovery, I decided to push myself and say ok, I don’t look like Brooke Ence, but I still love myself. 

Another line of treatment is drugs. I’m not a big fan of these, but I so see that in extreme cases it helps. For almost 2 years I was on a cocktail of things from prozac and fluoxetine to some anxiety stuff. Thankfully the doctors who were taking care of me dosage acknowledged that I didn’t want to stay on it too long and adjusted accordingly when things weren’t going right (like the time the time I couldn’t sleep for a week and was bouncing off walls). And to their credit, when I was at my lowest of lowest, these medicine were what did help me get out of bed and, y’know, try to live. But I don’t encourage basing your whole journey of getting better on them. That’s why I am now off any medication. There are times when I remember how much easier it was when I did have that pill (or two. or three) a day. But I also remember that life is sometimes tough and I better buckle down and live through rather than look for ways of ‘scaling’ it down.

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Being surrounded by good people, who take you on the way you are, is really the best remedy.

What else? Have a handful of friends, family members, who you can turn to when you feel the dark cloud approaching. People who will LISTEN not JUDGE. Who will be there for, without making you feel guilty about… being there for you.

 

Working with a bulimic

For the most part you won’t even know that there is anything wrong with the person sitting next to you. Just an ambitious, hard working girl (or boy), maybe sometimes a bit nervous and controlling but such a life of the party!

I was able to fool my coworkers for over a year that there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with me. The manager sitting next to me never knew I was slitting my wrists under the desk, my timely binge/purge sessions ment there was never anyone in the bathroom to hear and I left all my sadness and misery to be dealt with at night, at home, alone.

But there are signs: anxiety about eating with others (I gosh! I had to make sure I didn’t eat more than others!), drastic weight swings (I lost almost 10kg/22lbs in 3 months), growing agitation and (when things really go south) visible fall of life satisfaction.

What can you do? Be there for that person. Don’t push, just build trust and show that you are there to LISTEN. And maybe give a hug. Don’t be WebMD, don’t judge, don’t say things like ‘you throw up after eating? ewww’, don’t comment on weight, don’t try to talk me into seeing a specialist. Just be.

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My coworker is the bestest best and can give you a 101 to dealing with bulimics.

Here’s a good list of wht NOT to say to someone with bulimia: CLICK

It pretty much covers what I wanted to say.

 

Living with a bulimic/being a friend with a bulimic/dating a bulimic

While hiding illness is relatively easy at work, it’s a whole other story at home and with your close ones. The one time you forget the to clean the toilet bowl from your puking can be a big red sign, but small changes in habits, behavior get picked up quickly.

I started avoiding meeting my friends because the mere thought that we would have to EAT was scaring me crazy. I started avoiding my then boyfriend, not only because of the perspective of eating but also because the fear of him seeing my ‘fat’ and ‘unattractive’. I became vegan just to only eat fruit and veggies (my body so hated me for this) and spent the little time off I had on exercising. People picked up on this and some of them became very concerned. Some, like one of my roommates, became terrified of me (for various reasons) and pretty much ordered me out of the house. Others commented that I’m just seeking attention. In short, I got support also from the most unexpected places, but I also got hurt by those I though ‘got me’ and had my back.

So you think your roommate/friend/significant other may have an eating disorder? Do pretty much like the above. LISTEN. Show that you are there for them. Gently mention seeking professional help (even going together, if it scares them). You won’t ‘fix’ them. That’s that person’s thing to do. Vut you can support them when things go dark and scary. Listen when suddenly useless and worthless in the middle of the night. Take their hand when they feel like they are drowning in the ocean of despair.

Those who just listen when I call out.

 

Do you ever get better?

Eventually it will get better but it may never be picture perfect. And that’s ok. The thing with being bulimic is that you are very much aware of your illness and remedy from the beginning. It’s like learning doubleunders – in your head you know all the drills and techniques and can probably a 1,000 no problem. But when it comes to real thing, you can barely string two. Same with bulimia – I could write a post, bah!, a book on getting out of the eating disorder. But when it comes to actually doing… It’s a sinusoide. There are days when I am the champ, eat well on time, smash difficult life situations without breaking a sweat, loving myself, physical and personality. But there are dark days when all I want to is binge myself to death, when I hate my whole ugly fat body, my incompetence, my stupidity and stupid big mouth. The trick is to increase the ratio of the latter and decrease the number of the former. Don’t dwell on setbacks and move on to try to have a better next day.

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Recovering from bulimia is like learning to do doubleunders –
you know what you are supposed to do put your body/mind won’t listen.

I don’t think I will ever be perfectly normal, whatever that may be. When I’m weak and scared it will always be a knee reaction to go back to my old ill ways. Sometimes I will act on it and go on a binge spree. Sometimes (hopefully more often than not) I will champ it through: find someone to talk to, do one of my distracting activities. I just have to try MY best and be a better version of ME.

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Yeah, fuck you bad thoughts. Stop making me hate myself.

So there you go. Here is my outtake of bulimia. If you think you are experiencing eating disorder or any mental illness : it’s ok. Feel free to reach out to talk. Or talk to someone you trust, who you know will LISTEN. And try to reach out for a specialist.

It’s all going to be, eventually, a’right.

Keep your meal times, read good books, like your job, keep fit and… carry on.

2 thoughts on “On living with bulimia

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