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April 30, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Lifting the Veil

Eating disorders are notoriously secretive. For six years, bulimia was my deepest, darkest secret.  

It started at a young age. The boys at intermediate called me “fat” nearly every day. They made up cruel rhyming jingles like “Paddy the pie maker” and “Paddy the Fatty, sitting on a matty eating a meat patty”. One guy also used to comment on my “stomach rolls”. It was humiliating. I heard it so often that I started believing it. I was becoming a woman and my body was changing, yet I was told that these changes made me inadequate.

I can’t solely blame my eating disorder on the boys at intermediate. It was a culmination of many factors: societal pressures, my nature as a perfectionist, boarding school, and the media.

At age 14, I was deeply insecure about my body.  I ended up seeing a nutritionist for advice on healthy habits. The nutritionist encouraged me to write down everything I ate, guided me towards making healthy food choices and regularly exercising. An important aspect of my personality is that if I commit to something, I throw myself in headfirst. This new regimen was no exception. I started to lose weight. It was intoxicating. Every kilo down was a kilo away from the “fat girl” in intermediate.

I took it too far.  I had to strictly follow the diet. No exceptions. Naturally, I developed intense cravings for the “forbidden foods” that I didn’t allow myself. One night, these craving got too strong to bear and I ate dessert. I was deeply ashamed of myself. The food in my stomach felt like poison. I desperately wanted to press backspace on my decision. And I did.

This “cunning tactic” to undo my poor food choices and avoid weight gain quickly spiraled into an illness that ruined my life. On a standard day, I binged and purged three times. On a bad day, it could get up to ten times.

Binging and purging took a huge toll on my body. My hair fell out in places, my nails were weak, my teeth eroded, and dizzy spells from dehydration were common . I had to get regular blood tests and my heart monitored to check for irregularities. My schoolwork also suffered immensely. By the age of 16, I was put on antidepressants.

You would think that all of this would scare me enough to stop. Of course it scared me. But above all else, I needed to be skinny. I couldn’t be happy unless I was skinny, boys wouldn’t like me unless I was skinny, my parents wouldn’t love me unless I was skinny.

 

Mum’s intuition was good and she sensed that something was wrong. For the first two years of my illness, it was just mum, dad, and my school counsellor that knew.

However, at a girl’s boarding school, word spreads fast. Soon, everyone in my year knew about my illness. I felt the judgmental eyes on me at dinnertime. Behind my back, girls called my behaviour “disgusting”, and ignorantly questioned why I couldn’t just stop doing it.  

My true friends and family were deeply concerned, and urged me to keep fighting.  By the time I was 19, I had gone through three psychologists. I was in my second year of university, and I had become completely disheartened from the years of failed attempts. I was exhausted. I accepted that the illness was part of my identity and my future. I imagined myself as a 50-year-old woman, with a family of my own, still sneaking off to the bathroom after meals.

I hit rock bottom at age 20. My flatmates went home for the mid-year university break, leaving me alone in the flat. I was relieved because I wouldn’t have to conceal anything from them, and I could punish my body as much as I wanted to. On the night of August 26th 2016, I had binged and purged so many times that I could barely walk without fainting. I looked into the bathroom mirror and I thought, “how did I let myself get here?”

This was the moment I truly wanted to get better — not for my mum or dad or friends, but for myself. I sent a text to mum at 3am that night. Although she already knew, I need to tell her everything and be completely honest. I divulged all the gory details of my bulimia; from the ways I snuck food into the house, to the places I would dispose of the vomit, and everything in between. I finally lifted the veil.

August 27th 2016 was my new beginning. From then on, my mum was my ally and confidant. I purged (pun intended) everything in my life that enabled the illness to thrive. Being honest with her was incredibly scary, but it had to be done.

I hated the word “recovery”. From my perspective, I didn’t vomit anymore, so I had already recovered. End of story. Despite this mantra, some days were absolute agony.

Vomiting used to be my coping mechanism. It was how I dealt with stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. I have been told that the feelings of “release” and “relief” created by purging are somewhat akin to the feelings attached to the act of cutting. For the first time in a long time, I had to address my mental health issues. I had to fill the gap that bulimia left. I tried to fill my life with only the things that gave me strength and happiness: yoga, friends, fresh air, cooking, reading, walks, music, and most importantly, a lot of honest chats with mum.

After six years of chronic purging, my stomach muscles were extremely weak. After every meal, food easily found its way back up. This became incredibly frustrating because something that I was actively telling myself I couldn’t do would naturally happen. Awkwardly, I would have to hastily swallow the food back down. People would ask me what I was chewing on. I would reply, “I have this weird habit of chewing my lip”. The legacy of my bulimia lived on, and quite frankly, it pissed me off.  Fortunately, I underwent surgery early this year to tighten my stomach muscles. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

It is now 2018 and I am 22 years old. I have reached 611 days free of bulimia. By no means is my life now perfect. I still struggle with food everyday. Social situations involving food make me extremely anxious because I have no control over the food provided — it is usually “forbidden” foods I previously denied myself. This involves a lot of pre-planning for me. I have to hype myself up by reminding myself that I am allowed those foods. I am essentially an infant learning how to eat again.

I still have significant body image issues. On a daily basis I have to internally fire back at the negative self-talk. When my mind tells me “you’re a fat loser”, I force myself to fight back, by reading a book, writing down the positive things that I like about myself, or doing something for someone else that makes me feel good. I also choose not to weigh myself anymore. My self-worth no longer hinges on a number.

At times, the negative energy does pull me under, and that is okay too.

It is how you respond to being pulled under that is key. It takes strength to pick yourself back up. But it takes superior strength to know you can’t do it alone.

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