Bulimia, experience of recovery

Real life story:

 

I recovered from

 

bulimia

I am now a 29-year-old female, and am relatively fit and healthy. For nine years, though, I suffered from the insidious effects of bulimia, where sufferers binge on food and then forcibly throw it up again.

How it started
The whole thing started when I was about 14 or 15. Initially I became hyper-aware of what I ate. There were definite lists of “good” and “bad” foods, and I would try not to eat any of the bad ones. I had always been aware of my weight anyway (I wasn’t overweight), as my mother had always been quite good about reminding me about what was good nutrition and what wasn’t.

The real clincher came when I was looking after a neighbour’s house while they were away on holiday. During my time there, two triggers catapulted me into full-on bulimic mode: the first was trying on a new pair of school pants and having to buy a size 14, and the second was being rejected from a work experience placement that I had really wanted. I formed a physical link between the feelings of inadequacy in my head and the food that I “ate”. Initially I had to stick my fingers down my throat to purge myself, but after a year or two it was sufficient to simply bend over and the vomit would come.

Diagnosis
To cut a long story short, my parents soon noticed that I was getting thin, and made me go to the doctor. At seven stone (44.5kg) I was diagnosed as actually being anorexic, and with a dangerous electrolyte imbalance (the electrical impulses that power your heart need sodium and potassium etc, and this was being depleted by my actions).

The counselling didn’t really help a great deal. I was a straight A student and knew all the theory of good nutrition, depression etc — but I couldn’t shake this obsession with weighing myself (before puke, after puke, before drink, after drink, before passing a bowel motion, after passing a bowel motion, etc). My relationships deteriorated. My parents just didn’t know what to do — Dad would come into my room at night when he thought I was asleep and cry, praying aloud that I wouldn’t die. Mum alternated between imploring me to get better and trying to understand, to then getting extremely angry and screaming at me to stop stealing food and just get better. I lived in a state of constant emotional turmoil.

Anti-depressants were prescribed on and off. But what anti-depressants can’t change is the feelings of utter shame and guilt. Guilt for putting your loved ones through such “needless” torture, and shame because you are doing such crazy stuff to get away with throwing up all the time. I would throw up into filing cabinets, behind trees, over the garden wall — anywhere. How can you not feel ashamed at such degrading behaviour? I was always looking over my shoulder, feeling paranoid.

Remission
I would experience periods of remission, the most significant of them being just before I took my high school exams. This was largely connected to my first love, a South African guy who bowled me over and made me feel wonderful. For six months I was okay again, recovering and enjoying life — even when the relationship went the way of most teen relationships and we broke up. But after starting university I got worse again, mainly because I put on weight as a result of the student culture of binge drinking and then pigging out on umpteen cheese toasties upon our return at
4am.

I got ill again, and my student years continued like this, and I can’t even come to imagine how much money I spent on food, only to throw it up again. Now my parents weren’t there watching what was going on, my binges got “bigger” and “better”. They could go on for hours, and sometimes I would binge up to ten or fifteen times a day. I was always exhausted, always had a sore throat and smelly breath and was always reading recipe books, preparing for the next binge.

Prozac and suicide attempts
Everything came to a head in my final year at university. I had lived for a year in
France in my penultimate year and had got very thin. This, combined with the fact that I was stressed about my final exams and also depressed, meant that I couldn’t sustain what I was doing, and I sought help from a doctor. Again I was referred to an eating disorders unit, went to the university counselling service and was prescribed Prozac. While the counselling was fantastic, the Prozac was making me go nuts. Basically, bulimia depletes your serotonin levels and Prozac slows this depletion process, so bulimics are meant to take three times the normal dose. Within a couple of weeks I was suicidally ideated, but the doctor didn’t believe me, instead upping my dose to the higher level recommended for bulimia. It wasn’t long before two suicide attempts had been made.

When I was released from hospital the second time I threw away those pills. Although I had been depressed in some way for years, I had never wanted to kill myself and I knew this urge was not coming from me. It was only years later that I discovered a growing body of literature about the dangerous effects of Prozac in about five percent of users.

The beginning of the end
Somehow, with the help of my fantastic friends and family, I managed to get through those awful months. Some of my exams had to be deferred but the university was just excellent. And slowly, I got my act together until one day I decided that I was no longer going to vomit. I had a job lined up, I had a future and I just stopped. Just like that. Often it was hard but I did exercise, went for walks after dinner, got my friends to help, brushed my teeth, whatever. Finally this huge great cloud began to lift from my shoulders.

I will never regret those years. Sometimes I wonder what I could have achieved if all this energy hadn’t been going to waste, and there’s no doubt about it, I was emotionally screwed-up. But it has made me a good deal stronger now. I know that I got over this terrible illness by myself, and this thought makes me feel invincible sometimes. I have some fantastic, warm friendships that were cemented through helping me to get better and dry humour about my condition. And, you know, I managed to pack an awful lot into those years despite the debilitating bulimia. I got a degree, I lived in France, I worked in the Student’s Union as a sabbatical, I was an active member of clubs and societies, I travelled through South-east Asia and the States… The whole experience made me a much better person but, truthfully? Thank God it’s over.

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