Hello people! I have been so busy lately to keep up with posting, BUT here’s Charly’s story with her BULIMIA! I think it’s so important to share your struggles with an eating disorder, especially in this day and age, where all we see is ‘perfect people’ everywhere on social media.
“People forget that bulimia is a mental disorder not a diet plan.”-Charly
What is the name of your condition?
My condition is BULIMIA NERVOSA which is an eating disorder.
How long have you had it for?
What are your daily struggles, and how has it affected you?
I’m usually exhausted. I have marks on my hands from making myself sick, where the stomach acid has come into contact with my hands frequently. I used to get really embarrassed about them but I’m not that bothered anymore. My teeth are ruined – probably going to need dentures within the next 10 years! I usually always have a sore throat and my weight fluctuates due to the binging/restricting symptoms of my illness. I bloat like mad.
The most recent affect is my heart – my cardiology results from my last ECG weren’t very good. The illness has put a lot of strain on my heart over the years. My concentration is terrible, particularly on a bad day because my eating disorder voice is so loud that it’s hard to ignore. I think my eating disorder is triggered in two ways; one by low self-esteem and the other being a coping mechanism/ a way of gaining control. This is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding bulimia- everyone thinks it’s just a bit of a wacky way to lose weight, but that’s not the case at all.
When everything around me is spiralling out of control, restricting my food intake gives me a sense of that back. Or if I feel so low, my emotional connection with food is pretty intense so having a binge usually enables me to numb myself out, which is what leads to purging. It’s not just me looking in the mirror hating what I see, it’s so much more than that.
The voice inside my head is very critical and demands me to either not eat because I don’t deserve the food or to eat enough food for about 10 people (binging) as a way of punishing myself. I find the purging side is addictive – with most addictions you can abstain from the source, but obviously you can’t abstain from food (even though I wish I could!). Insomnia is a common symptom- I’m usually unable to sleep due to my eating disorder being very negative towards me, or until I’ve got rid of the food inside me.
I don’t find food pleasurable, I find it scary, stressful and quite frankly hell on earth. But I’m now aware of the importance of nourishing my body. I used to regularly go about 3 days without eating anything – that would really affect my mood!
My menstrual cycle is all over the place – I don’t have a period when I’m having episodes of restricting as my body just doesn’t work properly. I tend to binge/purge more than restrict/purge nowadays.
There’s a lot of shame surrounding it. Whenever I used to buy food to binge on, I would go to multiple different shops to avoid judgement from the people on the tills, and I would always buy a birthday card with the food to make it look like I was buying party food as I didn’t want anyone knowing it was for me. So I’ve got a stack of over a hundred birthday cards sat in my room!
I have constant blood tests, therapy sessions, weigh-ins, meal consultations, and it really does take up a lot of time!
I often look at other people just eating what they want, when they want with no consequences and I get so jealous. I never ever eat 3 meals a day, when my friends have breakfast I used to be genuinely baffled as to how they could do that and continue their day without having a meltdown.
There’s only a select few people I can eat in front of and I always have to turn down social events if food is involved. It’s lonely, confusing and I feel like such a burden to everyone around me. My house mate and one of my best friends Tara has to keep my weetabix in her bedroom because I’m too scared to be in charge of my food as I have a fear of never being able to stop eating once I start.
I think it’s important to reiterate that eating disorders are so complex and varied, that my account of bulimia may not be applicable to every other sufferer with bulimia.
How have you dealt with it?
I didn’t really deal with it very well at all for years. I’d say for at least 3 years I wasn’t even aware that I had an eating disorder. I thought I was just a bit insecure and I identified the voice inside my head as my own thoughts as opposed to the ED voice. I tried drugs to try and make myself feel better – I was in a state of desperation and would try absolutely anything to feel better.
I think the biggest thing has been acceptance, and letting go of the shame surrounding the illness. Even after my close friends and family knew, and I had admitted to myself I was unwell and needed help, I still made everyone keep it a secret as I was so ashamed. But by doing that, I wasn’t allowing myself to get better and give recovery a proper go. I’d been referred for treatment a few times but never showed up. The first time I didn’t think I needed it, and the second time I was so terrified that anyone I knew would see me at the hospital and I wouldn’t know what to say.
The biggest changes in dealing with it have definitely been with engaging in my treatment and being more open. I’ve sat in hours and hours of therapy, but I think the biggest help has been my peer support group. Meeting other people with eating disorders made me realise that they’re more common than I realised and I was able to use their experiences/struggles to help me deal with my own. It’s hard to explain to my friends why I hate going into supermarkets and why I get stressed about it, but in these support groups I don’t have to put all my effort into trying to explain things that are so tough for me, but so normal to most other people.
Part of the NHS treatment for eating disorders involves meal plans – so I have one in place that helps take away some of the stress surrounding foods- and so I know when my next meal is, and what it is, so I don’t have to spend all day worrying if I’ll be presented with any fear food.
Is there treatment for this condition?
Yes there is, but I am not entirely sure if it’s possible to be fully cured from the illness, or rather just learn how to manage it. I’ve met some people who say it is possible to fully recover and live a life where their thoughts and behaviours around food aren’t disordered, but I’ve also met others who believe recovery is a constant choice that needs to be made for the rest of your life.
Did you ever find it hard to speak about and why?
Yes! For me personally, I think I find it hard to speak about because I’m not underweight, and the general conception of having an eating disorder is to have a BMI of being (severely) underweight and almost looking emaciated. People forget that bulimia is a mental disorder- not a diet plan. I find it hard to explain too- making myself sick isn’t a choice. People usually say “can’t you just not be sick?” as if I consciously make a decision to after eating – it’s not that straightforward.
Has your condition led to other illnesses?
I have diagnoses of depression and anxiety- but I’m unsure as to which illness led onto the others. I’m almost certain they’re inter-linked but I don’t know which one came first. I’ve met some wonderful people through my treatment and peer support group, one of whom describes having an eating disorder as “being down with the mentalitus” and I really love that! The categorisation of mental illnesses are hard to chronologically put in order, but they’re definitely linked.
Do you know anyone who has the same condition and if not has that been hard to know that no one you know has it?
I didn’t know anyone with it, which made it so hard coming out and speaking about it. I felt so isolated and lonely trying to grasp the whole concept of bulimia. However since I posted on my blog about it, a couple of old school friends have reached out to me about their struggles with the illness. To me that really highlights the importance of talking, and as hard as speaking about my bulimia is, it’s things like that, that spur me on even more, as I hate knowing that there’s other people out there who feel as isolated as I did. Since I’ve started treatment (and actually engaged with it this time!), I’ve met quite a few people with my condition and it’s been so heart-warming to know I’m not the only one in this shitty little boat!
What would your advice be to anyone who is dealing with an invisible illness?
Be compassionate to yourself! There’s a lady in one of my group therapy sessions who, every week, speaks about the importance of self-compassion. For weeks I let it go over my head thinking it was another fad about piecing yourself back together, until I got so desperate I tried it, and I haven’t looked back since! You need to remember that you didn’t CHOOSE to have an invisible illness, that was just the card you were dealt by life, and even on the days you feel like you’re unable to cope, you can. Be compassionate to yourself, don’t take yourself off any medication your illness requires you to be on without having talked it through with your treatment team first, and drop any guilt or shameful emotions surrounding your battle.
What would your advice be to people who are trying to help someone with an invisible illness?
You’re perfectly entitled to feel overwhelmed by emotions too- supporting someone with an invisible illness can be very draining so never override your own emotions because you’ll be no good to anyone if you allow your wellbeing to drop due to being unsure how to cope.
Patience is key – the hard part about invisible illnesses is that the sufferer may appear to be fine when really they’re struggling more than they have in a long time. The main thing is to let the person with the invisible illness know that you have their back, and do your research on the illness to avoid presenting them with common misconceptions.
Thank you to Charly for letting me share her invisible illness story. Remember that talking about your struggles is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of power! There will always be someone who is going through a similar struggle to you, so don’t ever feel like you need to fight on your own!
I hope this blog post has influenced you to speak up about your illness, and seek help if you’re struggling to!
Thank you for reading,