Story of a Teenage Anorexic Part 2: Bulimia

Whether you’re just tuning in or just read Part 1 of this installment, thank you for reading. I fully realize that the subject of eating disorders is one of the toughest topics out there, but that is why it is so important to talk about it. 

I’m staring at the contents of the toilet bowl with tears of shock and self-loathing rolling down my cheeks. It is hard for me not to feel disappointed in myself. I had just thrown away the last three years of recovery. My efforts to educate others about the dangers and life long consequences of eating disorders disappeared in a matter of minutes all because I couldn’t even make myself throw up properly.

“Fine.” I thought to myself. “Throwing up is not the only way to get it out (the ambiguous “it” being the food). Vomit ruins your tooth enamel and makes your teeth yellow anyway.” I wiped the tears from my cheeks as I helped myself off of the bathroom floor and took two laxatives. This would become part of my daily routine for the next couple of months.

I had my first battle with an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, when I was fifteen and sixteen. Though it is a contributing factor, most eating disorders are not actually about being societally perceived as beautiful and thin. There are underlying problems that hide under the guise of physical emaciation. In 2012 and 2013, I was experiencing a lack of control in all aspects of my life. In terms of relationships, my ballet teacher was narcissistic and emotionally abusive and I was attempting to break ties with her, and the relationship between my mother and I was in shambles, partially due to her dislike of ballet. On a personal level, I was unhappy with my performance in ballet and in life because I felt like I was constantly disappointing my mom. I had nothing that was mine, but controlling my diet was the one thing that I could do. I concentrated daily on what I would not eat that day rather than on normal things like ballet or being a sophomore in high school. I ate as little as I could without my parents’ wrath coming down on me at home. My mom would send me to school with food, and I would throw it away as soon as her car was out of sight. I wouldn’t go to lunch at school, and all I ate during the day was sugar-free protein bars and gum. I was under the impression that I had kept my disordered eating habits a secret, but everyone was noticing the change in me physically, and I had completely withdrawn socially. After multiple students reporting my behavior out of concern to school administrators and two interventions from my Biology/Chemistry teacher and the school guidance counselor, I was still not ready to admit I had a problem let alone stop. Although ballet contributed to my anorectic behavior in the beginning, it was what ultimately saved me. When I could no longer get through a ballet class, I knew that I was sick. Ironically, the actions I took to help me gain control of my life made me lose control, and I became a slave to my eating disorder.

I want to stress that this type of behavior is not maintainable. It was killing me slowly, and every day that I engaged in disordered eating I was putting my body and health at risk. No one has ever asked me what it feels like. Maybe, it is viewed as too personal of a question, but I think that societally we barely educate about the dangers of eating disorders and that isn’t enough. Why do we teach children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, but we don’t address the power that everyone has within them to destroy themselves without a substance? To me, anorexia nervosa felt like I was high on my own brain chemistry. For the first time in my life, the incessant chatter and static in my mind stopped, and everything was quiet and calm. Because I was malnourished, all of my bodily functions slowed down so all I could focus on was meal planning, how little I could eat in order to survive, furthering my disorder, and being as secretive as possible. I don’t remember most of my sophomore year of high school because I wasn’t taking in enough nutrients to lay down memory. No matter what season, I was always freezing because I had no body fat to insulate me. Despite the odds, I was able to develop healthfully, but I can’t say the same for many people with anorexia nervosa.

The proudest journey of my life was recovering from anorexia nervosa. It was something that I did for myself, I allowed myself to be proud of what I had achieved. I knew from the start of my recovery from anorexia nervosa that formal treatment wouldn’t be an option for me. In order to get well in any situation, formal or otherwise, I had to want to heal. My parents frowned upon rehabilitation or therapy, and if truly done properly, full recovery would involve my entire family. Similar to addiction, by not intervening in my disordered eating, my parents enabled it to continue, which contributed to my disease. I thought that anorexia nervosa was the fight of my life and that it would be the biggest adversity that I would ever face. I stopped being mindful about my health every day. That was naïve, and it was that naiveté that left me vulnerable to a second eating disorder. When I relapsed into bulimia nervosa, I was so embarrassed and ashamed. In social circles at home, I had become the poster child for “do it yourself recovery,” and I felt that is where I earned many of my peer’s and their families’ respect. Because I relapsed and lost respect for myself, I thought others would too. I didn’t believe that if I recovered once I could do it again.    

Fast forward to fall of 2015, my freshman year of college at the University of Utah. Not only was I adjusting to a new environment in every aspect of my life, but I had been in and out of the hospital with complications from a sinus infection, and my grandmother unexpectedly passed away. Overall, I was not coping with all the changes and the grief well, which brings us to the pivotal moment on the floor in front of the toilet bowl and the start of my laxative abuse.

Bulimia nervosa felt very different from anorexia nervosa. I knew it was wrong for me to take those pills, but I really didn’t care. I was angry at the world for the loss I was experiencing. Physically, I felt very light, but it never alleviated the emotional distress I was feeling. I was much more aware of where I stood emotionally and physically than I was when I was anorexic because I was actually getting some nutrients from what I was eating and expelling it as quickly as possible. The compulsion to binge eat was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. I knew I was not hungry and that I didn’t want that food, but it was like I had no control over my hands as they’d reach for more food even when I told them to stop. Part of my brain was screaming,

“Stop it. That will make you fat. You don’t want to be fat, do you? Your ballet career will be ruined before it even starts. You’re pathetic. No wonder you’re a disappointment to everyone.” Meanwhile, the other part of my brain is saying, “This will make you feel better. Don’t sweat it. Just eat whatever you want then get rid of it. No big deal. You like food. You like this food. Eat. Eat. Eat.” The latter part of my brain won, and that was so embarrassing and shameful to me. But still, the cycle continued, and the damage to my health has been more permanent this time.

Pushing myself to recover from bulimia nervosa was much harder than my first recovery from anorexia nervosa. From all of my activism and already being experienced in the area, I knew how to fall back into old habits and every single way to make myself sicker. Laxative abuse felt very passive to me. Unlike anorexia, I didn’t have to worry about what I was eating necessarily because I knew in the back of my mind that I had taken two pills that morning. I could go about my day as usual with my secret weapon in my back pocket. When I went home to Colorado for the Christmas holiday, I was an absolute wreck both physically and emotionally. In nothing short of a miracle, I decided to leave the pills in Utah, but I didn’t even attempt to hide what I was doing from my parents. Again, I was threatened with rehab, and in all honesty, maybe I should have gone, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my entire life on hold.   

I have been criticized in the past for laying all of this personal experience on the line for people to read, and it isn’t easy for me to talk in great detail about my experience. That being said, I believe in full recovery, for both others and myself and I want to raise awareness and advocate for education based on my personal battle. My near death experiences with eating disorders in my adolescence called my attention to the lack of discussion surrounding eating disorders and the dire need to talk about it. As with any serious issue, I believe the discussion about eating disorders starts at home. Just like the talk about the birds and the bees, parents should speak with their children about what actual eating disorders consist of, different body types, body satisfaction or dissatisfaction, healthy eating, exercise, and how to help and support a friend. If a parent establishes an open line of communication about the subject at an early age with their child, they will create a safe environment for children to voice their concerns with their parents both in the present and the future. Schools should then reinforce those principles within the student body and provide resources at school. Because “the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death”, eating disorder education should be a priority for educators nationwide (NEDA, 2016).  

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa don’t define me or any other survivor. However, eating disorders are not something that someone simply “does”; they are diseases that people have. My disordered eating turned me into a person I didn’t like, and it took a toll on my family and personal relationships. If sharing my story saves even one person from the pain that I suffered not once but twice or lets them know that they don’t have to be in for the “long haul”, then I’m more than willing to add my voice to the thousands of others that should speak up.

If anyone you know, including yourself, is struggling with an eating disorder please reach out to me, SPEAK, or one of the resources listed below. You have the power to affect change in your life. All you have to do is speak up!   

 

Christina Bargelt

President of Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge or SPEAK University of Utah

[email protected]

 

Women’s Resource Center

A. Ray Olpin Union

200 S. Central Campus Dr

Room 411

Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Phone: 801-581-8030

Hours:

Monday - Friday 8:00am–5:00pm

Closed Tuesday 9:00am–11:00am

 

University of Utah Counseling Center

Student Services Building, Rm 426

Phone: 801-581-6826

Hours:

Monday-Friday, 8am - 5pm