My battle with bulimia

My beautiful friend Ivana (@iwilukacova) opened up about her struggles of living with an eating disorder and how she made a progress to overcome it. Since she is working towards becoming a qualified psychologist I thought she’d be the perfect person to talk about this topic. It is the bravest and most inspiring thing, but if it is a sensitive area or you think it might trigger you, please pick another blog post to read. ❤️ #yourstory

Bulimia is often defined as ‘an emotional disorder characterised by a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by fasting or self-induced vomiting or purging.’ (Google definition). To me, bulimia was the most debilitating, adrenaline-inducing, unjustifiably cruel experience I could have ever gone through.

As someone who is of a completely different build to all the usual idealisations of women, I’ve always struggled with body image. I’ve always felt bigger, wider and as something ‘less’ compared to those around me. I was 15 when I first made myself sick after eating. It started of as something that would happen multiple times a week, nothing ‘too serious’. This soon intensified, and by the time I was 17 I would excuse myself within 10 minutes of eating at family events, whether at a restaurant, a visit or at home, and stick a finger (or alternatively a toothbrush) down my throat. It became a force of habit, a routine of a vicious cycle that I was completely unwilling to break away from. My eating disorder trapped me inside a cage that was full of vomiting, mirror observations, measuring the circumference of my arms as well as my thigh gap. And when I say measuring, I mean physically, with a tape measure.

Many people, no matter how close to the sufferer, don’t see what bulimia really looks like. They see under-eye bags which are blamed on stress, work load or simply genetics. They may also see extreme tiredness and lack of energy. But these things are not spotted until it’s too late, too far into it. Firstly, they see a quick weight-loss, something often complimented by everyone around. They see a big smile and happiness, which is an effect of complete and utter denial by the sufferer. They also see the person eating, and sometimes eating A LOT. How could anything be wrong?

The things you don’t see? 4 injections & 6 tooth-fillings in one appointment because dental hygiene is often most affected, due to the acid in vomit. 3 hour naps and 12 hour night sleeps (total of 15 hours out of 24) due to the lack of energy, because your body quite literally has nothing to gain energy from. The mental image of you thigh gap disappearing after every meal, even a light snack, when the reality is you’ve gone down 3 dress sizes and lost around 9 inches around your thighs alone. Joint pain, fastened heart beat, breathlessness after just walking from one room to another, bad skin.

Having studied Psychology for the last 6 years (college, undergraduate and postgraduate level), I have learnt a lot about eating disorders; the possible biological bases of it, the role genetics may play, comorbidity, the road leading up to it, symptoms, classifications, therapy and medication options, support and care needed throughout recovery. And even though my ED developed and worsened throughout my education, none of it enlightened me to get better. None of it made me better, helped me recover, even helped me acknowledge my journey with bulimia. None of the information helped ME personally – I knew all of it, I learnt how to help someone suffering with this particular ED, it taught me how to spot signs and how to suggest help / refer someone to get help. But that did not mean anything to me personally. My ignorance was truly a bliss for me. Bad days turned into worse days, and good days eventually became bad too.

Eventually, things got better for me with the right support system around me. Education and communication were key to my recovery. Not ‘formal’ education mentioned above, education about MY needs, MY problems, MY mental health and MY distorted images. It’s been almost 7 years, and if I am being perfectly honest, there is no such thing as a 100%, full recovery. Eating disorders, just like majority of other mental health problems, are not like the flu or a cold. You cannot just take medicine for a few days and expect it’ll go away for good. It’s a long battle, a battle that persists for long after you think you’re well and better. It’s an everyday battle. Even after almost 7 years, I have low days where I don’t want to eat at all, or want to make myself sick after every single thing I eat and drink. It wasn’t until very recently (last 2/3 months) that I even acknowledged my eating disorder has a name, and started referring to it as what it really was / is.

But when those bad days come, I think about everything. I mostly think about why I decided to let go of it and try to get better – not because of people who love me, or because I love people around me, but because I chose to love myself. It’s all for me.

There is no shame in struggling, everyone does from time to time. Some maybe less than others, some more than others, but we all have journeys that are unexpected and take us by surprise, journeys that are good but also journeys that are bad and require a little (or a LOT) of help from others around us. It took me a LONG time to see and accept that, and I think I sometimes still doubt it. But deep down I know it’s true.

I still fight my battle with bulimia every single day, and I know that I will continue to fight this battle for the rest of my life – and that’s okay. All the bad days and all the good days amount to an extraordinary experience, not necessarily bad, not necessarily good. But it’s an extraordinary experience nevertheless. In Slovakia we have a saying, and it goes something like ‘God would never put anything in your way that you cannot handle’, and I do think that my journey has made me stronger to an extent. But I also know I still have a long way to go.

If you are struggling, just know that there are people out there who want to help you, and who will. And that includes yourself – sometimes admitting to having a problem is the biggest step in the beginning of recovery. Don’t ever forget that you’re not alone, even if you feel at the lowest point of your life. You’re worthy of love – love from others but mainly love towards yourself, from yourself.

Some online resources that can help if you’re struggling / have struggled with an ED;

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/eating-problems/useful-contacts/

https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/other-services/Eating%20disorder%20support/LocationSearch/341

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