Sunday, 1 March 2015

NEDA week | What bulimia means to me.

Throughout national eating disorder awareness week i've been following the #neda tag on instagram and while it's great that people are trying to raise awareness for eating disorders it's also somewhat disheartening to see that the majority of posts feature individuals at severely low body weights. Such posts not only fuel the competitive nature of eating disorders, they also reinforce the damaging misconception that you have to be thin to have an eating disorder.

As someone who has suffered from bulimia for 12 years I know the pressure of never feeling ill enough or like i don't deserve help because I've never been hospitalized or reached a critically low weight, and I know I'm not alone in feeling like this. The majority of bulimics are of average or overweight, same for those with ED-NOS but that doesn't make either illness any less severe or damaging. Yet for those individuals asking for help and receiving treatment is a hell of a lot harder  and a disorder without extreme weight loss is much more likely to go undetected because everyone knows that only skinny people have eating disorders right?

What we should be raising awareness about are the things that can't be seen, the mental and physical anguish that goes on regardless of what the scale says; what it's actually like to live with an eating disorder. With that in mind i've decided to share something that i wrote for therapy a few years ago, it's a little long but i hope it's worth the read. Just for the record i am still bulimic and can easily say that trying (and still trying) to overcome it is the most difficult thing i've ever tried to do.

What bulimia means to me.....

"In the beginning you tell yourself it'll be different for you, you would never let it get that out of hand. Other people are trapped by their disorder but not you. Then before you know it when you should be out having fun, seeing friends, studying, living life you're at home hiding in the shadows with bulimia. You eat food you don’t want, food you don’t even like. You eat too much, so much that you can’t even taste it but you can’t stop, because while you’re eating all you're thinking about is the process of eating and in that moment nothing else matters, in that moment everything will be alright. You can’t stop until you're physically forced to, when you’re so full that it hurts to move. You sit for two, three minutes max, just remembering how it feels not to be empty.

But the fullness is scary; you can feel everything you've just consumed moving through your insides threatening to taint your body, threatening to tarnish the illusion of control that you've spent so long perfecting. You force yourself to the toilet, hair back, seat up, music blaring, deep breathe; heave. As the first surge of vomit hits the water you smile in relief, and like an old friend, you let it take over. Fingers move at their own accord, plunging deep into your throat, teeth scratching at the scars that permanently mark your knuckles before fluttering down to the toilet bowl. Passing through the contents you silently note what’s already come out, checking with bated breath for traces of blood. Back to the throat, heave, heave, vomit, repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat until the familiar taste of bile graces your throat, the acidity gripping at your taste buds, leaving your mouth sour and raw.

As much as you detest the bile you welcome it in glee because with the clear substance revealing your now emptiness you know that you have done well. With a satisfied smile you flush the toilet but before the water even has time to settle your head starts to cloud, whatever was in command as you faced the porcelain bowl is pushed out by the same darkness that you purge to escape from. Just seconds ago you felt light and free, consumed only by the action not thoughts of the deed that’s just been done. But now there is nothing to stop the thoughts from flooding back in, you start to feel heavier and heavier; ironic when you’ve just rid yourself from 5lbs of food. Hands still clutching the toilet rim you pull yourself up, exhausted but knowing you have to erase the last hour of food and vomit. Toilet first, then hands, soap all the way up to the elbow just in case. Teeth next, water then mouth wash, wincing as the cold liquid graces your rapidly weakening enamel. Apprehensively you turn to the mirror, your eyes blur but a quick check confirms that you escaped from any burst blood vessels this time round. Lost in the mirror a faction too long you try and remember when the reflection staring back at you with dull skin, puffy cheeks and dead eyes stopped scaring you.

Reaching for the bathroom door leaves a knot in your already aching stomach as you pray that no one is stood on the other side, constantly in fear of being found out, already seeing the disgust and disappointment in their eyes. But no you are alone, all that awaits you is the mass of wrappers and plates strewn over your bed, hastily left in the hurry to get to the bathroom. You struggle to even remember what exactly you ate that short time ago, recognizing most by how it came back up not how it went down as you bag up the evidence. Only now when the last few crumbs are brushed away do you allow yourself to breathe again. Only now do you acknowledge the speed of your heart and the pain in your chest. This scares you. As much as you think about death, the thought of your heart giving in at this exact moment is all too real. So real that you silently vow that tomorrow will be different but before you know it you’re walking back from the toilet, making the same all too familiar promise to yourself, praying and hoping that one day tomorrow really will be different before it’s too late.

Bulimia nervosa is not just an eating disorder, it’s everything. At first it’s a miracle cure, your safety net that lets you reverse any little blip in your otherwise perfect diet. It’s your friend when you’re sad letting you escape from the thoughts and memories that force you to take a blade to your skin, but once it has you in it’s grasp it won’t let you go. Then when it’s too late you realize the true identity of bulimia nervosa; a thief. It might be years after you first met but eventually you will look back and realize that bulimia has stolen everything, your time, your energy, your potential, your friends, your health, your hopes and dreams, your self esteem, your happiness, your life."