Tag Archives: bulimia

Well Hello, September

So, it’s been a while since I wrote. Things have happened. People have come and gone. I’m almost through my final placement, therefore almost a Fully Fledged Social Worker (TM). I’m shit scared, feel like I don’t know anything, hate that feeling. I must know everything and have all the answers ready all the time must be perfect always…Oh hey, Negative Voice. I’m actually going really well in the placement and hitting all the benchmarks easily and getting really good feedback from clients and co-workers and teachers, and part of me knows this- a small part of me, somewhere inside me- and the rest of me is like oh fuck maybe today will be the day when they all realise I’m a massive fuck up and they’re going to kick me out. 

Whooo! Anxiety! Fun times!

And I eat and eat and eat and make myself sick and wipe my face down with acidic toner that stings as it mixes with my tears. I say, no never again, never again, and within hours I’m there, but not really there, floating outside myself, watching myself as I do it all over again. Again.  And I wake up crying in the middle of the night, can’t breathe, my chest is tight. And the hours pass and the light comes through the window and (most days) I force myself out of bed to keep up the act.

How are you going?, they ask, not really wanting to know.  Tired, I say. Always tired.

It’s not all bad. If I can manage to stop and breathe, I realise that I am OK. The world is not as bad as my head would have me believe, am not as bad as she would have me belive. Things are getting done. Friendships are being nourished, plans are being made, the degree is so close to completion I can almost touch it.

Just gotta keep going.

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Protected: Late Night Anxiety Rant

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Do It For Your Teeth

Been a bit quiet here lately as I have been up to my eyeballs in study (and of course, the epic procrastination that comes alongside it). But something important, painful and potentially life-shattering has been on my mind and I feel the need to blog about it.

I’m talking about my teeth.

Bulimia has absolutely screwed my teeth. In childhood, I had a decent set, with maybe one or two fillings. That was lucky because we were fairly stretched financially and dental care is expensive (as I would later discover). I began binging and purging when I was 11, and for a couple of years my teeth at least appeared to hold out. I was a good little bulimic and did all the preventative work I could- not brushing after vomiting, rinsing with water/ baking soda, chewing lots of gum. But I didn’t do the one thing that would totally protect my teeth, that is, I didn’t stop vomiting.

A few things contributed to this. Firstly, I thought I was invincible. Or more accurately, I was severely depressed and my teeth were very low on the priority list. I was suicidal and thought I would be dead long before any real dental problems got to me. Self-care- including looking after my teeth- was a foreign concept. Also, I was in constant pain- cramps, dehydration headaches, shakes and dizziness and seizures. I honestly didn’t notice the toothaches or gum pain. And I don’t think any physical pain in the world would have convinced me to stop vomiting- purging was my emotional crutch and I needed it so badly, I didn’t care what physical pain or damage it did, I couldn’t give it up.

Fast forward to 2010. I’m 21, starting to open up ever so slightly to the idea of recovery. I’ve attempted suicide, survived it and made the decision to live. I’m also- for the first time- footing my own dental bills. It’s the first time I’ve ever had excruciating, can’t-think-because-it-hurts-so-badly tooth and gum pain. All the years of purging, poor diet and calcium deficiency have well and truly caught up with me. I don’t know where I’ll find the money, but I’m in fucking awful pain and I can’t bear it, so off I go to the dentist.

She takes 30 seconds to work it out, sends the nurse out of the room and says, ‘You’re bulimic.’ A statement, not a question. I’m shocked that she can tell so quickly, but no point lying about it, so I nod. No healthy Australian woman in their 20s has teeth this decayed, she says. Fuuuuck, I think. Fuuuuuck, yells the ED voice in my head. My teeth have been worn away by stomach acid, leaving the nerve exposed (that’s the excruciating tooth pain). My gums have receded (that’s the gum pain). My teeth are weak, brittle and have heaps of holes in them. I need a root canal, crowns, fillings. No false teeth- yet. Did I mention I was only 21 at this point? I thought false teeth were for old people!

I’ve spent about $3000 on my teeth over the past 3 years. I’m a student and community worker who earns about about $15,000 a year. I don’t have much spare money and when it comes my way,  I don’t particularly delight in donating it to my dentist’s mortgage fund! The hardest thing to swallow is the knowledge that this is essentially like throwing money into a bottomless pit. For as long as I keep purging, I am going to have severe dental problems and huge physical and financial costs.

I’m trying, really really trying, to purge less. This year has been the first in nearly a decade where I’ve gone weeks without vomiting, and I’m really proud of that. But reality bites: you only get one body, and you only get one set of teeth. Last week a bit of a back molar chipped off and literally crumbled in my hand. My gum pain has been getting progressively worse and a niggle in the back of my head will eventually force me back to the dentist, no doubt to face another big bill.

So I guess my point is, as much as a reminder to myself as to any other eating disorder sufferers and survivors, that recovery is bloody hard but it’s worth it, for so many reasons. Not least of all, your teeth. Please, DO IT FOR YOUR TEETH.

Note: I was going to put a picture of some ‘bulimic teeth’ alongside this post but it’s gruesome viewing. Google it, and know that even if you can’t see inside your own mouth, your dentist can. And they will call you on your illness, and you will pay for it.  

EDIT, 15th April: So I wrote this on the 10th, and then two days later (12th/ Thursday), one of my teeth broke while I chewing sugar-free gum. GUM, for fuck’s sake. Not even anything fun! The tooth was so weak it crumbled in my hand. It’s got a temporary filling in it (thank you, Dental Hospital, the last remaining low-cost dental care in this state) but it needs a root canal and crown. So, yeah, message received loud and clear: bulimia fucks your teeth.

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If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

Still struggling to pull out of the past few days of big binges and extremely negative thoughts. It would be so easy to slip back into living like this every day, retreat inwards, harm myself, spiral deeper and deeper into depression and isolation. Bulimia is oddly enticing for something so horrible- because to feel horrible is familiar, you know? It’s the idea of feeling even mildly OK that is new and scary and making me freak out right now.

For most of today, I stayed in my room and was bombarded by the negative voice. You’re fat. You’re disgusting. Nobody likes you. What a waste of space. Why are you still alive? I didn’t eat anything and that turned the head noise down ever so slightly. I felt lightheaded and dizzy and sleepy, all of which were preferable to feeling full. But I also couldn’t do anything.  And that made me feel a million times worse- I really was wasting time and space, useless, lazy.

So I forced myself to get up, get dressed and honour my commitment to play netball with the women’s team that I am a member of. We had a game at 7, training beforehand at 6, and I had to literally put one foot in front of the other until I made it there. The train ride was torturous- too big, too fat, too visible, clothes are too tight and show too much skin and fat, taking up too much space. My head was SCREAMING at me. Blasted music through headphones to try and drown it out. Head down. Don’t look at my reflection in the window. One foot in front of the other.

I made it. I participated, I trained, I played. I made conversation and came across (hopefully) as a fairly normal human being, despite what was going on in my head. And I felt better afterwards than I had all day. Endorphins are bloody great, a far better natural high than the vague, dizzy feeling of starving.

I’m so glad I managed to push through and achieve this one thing today. It’s not a big deal, but it’s no small deal, either. It’s one more step towards living a real life, a life full of the people and activities I enjoy and value, rather than being a slave to the negative voice.

And all it requires is to keep going, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

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Beautiful You 5: a vision of the future

I haven’t written in a few days. I’ve been binging and listening to my negative head-voice, instead. Surprise! It’s made me feel pretty awful. When the binging takes hold I tend to get stuck in my head, not want to go out, not want to talk to anyone, not be seen in public. It takes a lot of energy to resist the voice that’s going, ‘Just kill yourself, you useless piece of shit.’ So doing a practice like this one- imaging my future and how I’d like it to look- had to be put on hold for a bit, until I was able to look out the window, take a deep breath and gather up enough stregnth to give it a go.

These are the things I want for my future:

I want to contribute to positive change in our world. It sounds a bit wanky and ‘privileged white do-gooder’ ish, but it’s true. By utter chance, I belong to the tiny minority of people on this earth who have access to education, housing, healthcare, social support and a neutral justice system- I want to make the most of these privileges. It’s part of why I am studying social work, why I volunteer time and other resources to activism, why I stay engaged with local and international politics- because I see it as my ‘rent for living on this planet’. (That’s part of a quote from Alice Walker, by the way).

I want to spend less time obsessing about food, eating and weight. All of the time I spend up there in my negative headspace is time that could be spent doing something else- something for me or something for others. Food has become the main way that I nurture myself, but also a huge source of tension, isolation and punishment. I don’t want to look back in old age and think, ‘Well, I didn’t achieve much, but heck, I know the calorific value of every food on the planet, and I’m ace at throwing stuff up without making a sound!’. What a huge waste that would be.

I want to nurture and support people. This is connected to the previous two points. Once people get past how I present physically, they usually come to describe me as warm, generous, compassionate, empathetic, strong-willed, protective. On my good days, I can see past my body and recognise these traits in myself, too. I want to use these attributes in my personal and professional life. I really want to be a parent/ carer at some stage in my life- through birth, fostering, adoption or a mix of these. I’m very aware though that in order for any of the above to happen, I’ve got to get a handle on my own shit first- including learning how to nurture and support myself in non-harmful ways.

Those are the big things that come up when I think ‘future’. I feel more on track than I used to about achieving these goals, and I know this because my responses to ‘hiccups’ along the recovery/ acceptance journey have changed. For example, I used to binge and sink into a thought process of ‘I’m doomed. This is always going to happen. I’m never going to get better, don’t deserve help, may as well keep doing it, all the quicker to harm/kill myself.’ These days- like the recent past few days I mentioned up top- it’s m,ore along the lines of ‘OK, you slipped up and it feels awful. But it will NOT always feel this way. There are other things in your life and the world besides the eating disorder. You’re gonna get through this.’ To which my inevitable grumpy reply is, ‘But wheeeeeen? Why can’t everything be wonderful NOW?’

Patience, grasshopper. One day at a time.

In 2012, I am doing a daily practice in self acceptance, guided by Rosie Molinary’s book ‘Beautiful You: A Daily Guide To Radical Self Acceptance’  Click through to her website to learn more about the book and join in yourself.  


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Beautiful You #4: Body Image

Warning: See that word-cloud image above? It gives an indication of what this post focuses on. There’s a bit of swearing, too. Don’t read on if it’s going to be harmful to you. 

23/1

I feel like this post might just turn into a continuation of yesterday’s rant on how (fucking terrible) I feel about myself and my body. I will try and answer all the elements of Rosie’s question though, which are: how has body image impacted your daily life and outlook? Challenges and triumphs in body image over time? What have you denied/ allowed yourself because of your perception of your appearance? How has your personality been affected? What have you gained or lost?

Geez, settle in comfortably folks, this could be a long one!

25/1

So, as I wrote in the previous post, my sense of self is almost entirely eclipsed by my sense of my body. And I absolutely loathe my body. We weren’t the greatest of pals before the entry of bulimia, and after 10+ years of a seemingly endless binge/purge/starve cycle we’re even less keen on each other now. The ways in which binging and purging physically screw with your body are widely documented- go do a google if you’re curious, please DO NOT engage in participatory action research!- but as a long-term bulimic I think the biggest fuck-up for me is that it has frozen my metabolism. So my head is constantly screaming, ‘You must lose weight, RIGHT NOW, you fat piece of shit!’ but my body is physically incapable of it, and is in fact prone to stacking on weight in case I betray it again and starve/purge (which, being bulimic, I do, frequently).

This is ironic, because like many eating-disordered folks I was initially sucked in by the massive, rapid weight loss that restriction and binge/purging produced. I had about 8 months in my early teens where I lived on Coke Zero, chewing gum, air and the occasional binge/purge episode. I was delirious with hunger and exhaustion (remember, early teenage years are when body is supposed to be growing, plus I was playing heaps of sport, hence was always wrecked with tiredness) but I loved feeling this way. It was like a high and it was all-consuming (pun intended). Home life was pretty awful and being able to escape into this world felt, at the time, like the best gift I’d ever received. And- for the first time ever- my body fitted into social standards of desirability. I had reached the holy grail: I was thin. 

Not that I could ever see it, of course. Bulimia fucks with your body perception like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I would grab at my skin and cry and scream with frustration at how fat I was, for hours. There are few photos of this time- I couldn’t stand being in photos- but those that there are show a normal/slim-ish girl, not the disgusting obese monster I saw in the mirror whenever I looked at myself. I got around in massive baggy jeans and jumpers, anything that I thought might hide the fat shame of my body. I would constantly grab at my bones- wrist bones, collarbones, hips- as if to seek reassurance that they were still there. I must have looked like a freak, certainly I felt like one.

Spolier: it didn’t last. I still struggle with this. What do you fucking mean, the body needs fuel and will go to extreme lengths to get it? What do you mean, I would gain back all the weight I lost, and more, even though I was now purging multiple times a day. I was (am?) SO ANGRY that this ‘magic’ that I had discovered stopped working, turned on me, and made me more hideous than I had ever been, with the added ‘bonus’ of a mental illness firmly lodged in my brain. RIPPED OFF.

And so it is from this place- of long term bulimia, yo-yo dieting, weight loss and weight gain, and of the elusive starvation-induced high that I can never seem to recreate nowadays no matter how much I purge- that my current body image comes from. I have such strong feels of betrayal and disgust toward my body that I want to hurt it. It’s a daily struggle not to. I don’t want to feel this way but I also feel like I have no control over it. I wrote a few posts back about the things I value and the way I want to live- well, I feel so far removed from that, so obsessed with all this body shit, and that makes me feel even worse about myself, and the cycle just rolls along, stronger than ever.

I am trying- really really really trying- to break the cycle. Bulimia is the challenge, and the triumphs are every small victory I have in dismantling the power it holds over my life. Victories like being able to eat in front of others, or in public- I can do that now, most days. Victories like donating clothes that are too small for me, instead of holding onto them for ‘when I get thin again’, like not watching ‘reality’ weight loss shows because I know they will trigger destructive thoughts and actions.

I had a pretty major victory last year when I allowed myself to be photographed for a feature article in The Age (daily broadsheet newspaper in Melbourne) about a project I was working on, developing inclusive sexuality education resources for secondary schools. I was able to get past the fact that people would see me, see my fat body and potentially judge it, because I was passionate about the work and believed in its power to make a difference in young people’s lives. That decision- to put my values and passions ahead of the internal eating-disorder voice- was one of the most rewarding and empowering things I’ve ever done. Fucking scary, of course. But- the article came out in print and online, and few people ever mentioned the photo, because the work was more important. One small step for Catherine…!

I’m still not at peace with my body. I still feel awful, ranging from disgust to despair to suicidal, when I look in mirrors or at photos. Because of how my body looks, I don’t consider myself worthy of loving or relationships and as a result I often feel very lonely. I endure people judging me by my weight, offering unsolicited advice, taunts and abuse. Every time I eat, I have to contend with a voice in my head that says I don’t deserve to, that I should starve, that I should vomit. Sometimes I manage to ignore that voice, sometimes I give in to it. I live in a body that I neglected for ten years and am now trying to reclaim, and it’s hard work.

But you know what? I am wired for hard work. I have survived to this point, and I have achieved a lot, almost in spite of myself. I have excelled academically, won awards and scholarships, done great work as an advocate and educator, moved out of home and lived independently. I have kept going when almost every part of me wanted to give up or give in. The whole time I have been battling my body, I have simultaneously nurtured my authentic self. Just imagine what I will be able to achieve when I can reclaim my body and unite both these aspects of myself. Bring it ON.

………………

26/1 Note: This post was a long and difficult one to write, taking shape over many days. My decision to include the last paragraph came only after thinking hard about what it is I want achieve through these practices. I realised I already have substantial strength and determination and that rather than channelling them into destructive weight obsessions, I need to use these qualities to move me towards body & self acceptance.

In 2012, I am doing a daily practice in self acceptance, guided by Rosie Molinary’s book ‘Beautiful You: A Daily Guide To Radical Self Acceptance’  Click through to her website to learn more about the book and join in yourself.  

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