Operation You Make Me Sick

I spent a good hour on the phone this afternoon to an eating disorder charity, Beat. I initially rang them to ask one simple question- “If I begin eating again, will I gain weight?” The answer was, “Maybe to begin with you’ll gain a few pounds as your body adjusts”. Looking down at my bruised and scarred knuckles, I felt my stomach plummet into my shoes. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted.

My knuckles roughly look like this, on a scanner at least:


There’s a bruise there, under my forefinger, and those scratches and scars are due to abrasions from my teeth. My hands feel very rough as I scrub them often.

Time ticks on, and the elephant in the room is about to “Ta da!”

There is one thing I do every day that I never discuss.

I have a serious eating disorder. And I have to say something about it to a professional. So far, I have backed out of mentioning it. For a year and a half of being cared for by the community mental health team, I have mentioned it maybe twice, then immediately dismissed it. On Thursday, I have my first meeting with the team psychotherapists.

Oh, I know I have an eating disorder. Every body has an eating disorder. I don’t know very many people who don’t agonise over every scrap of food that goes into their mouth. Who don’t say, “I feel bad eating this” as they nibble a biscuit, who are afraid of putting sugar in their tea, who eat their lunches self consciously in suicidal offices, buying a salad, but they wanted a sandwich.

It’s all very cloak and dagger. I’ve come up with some ridiculous lies as to why I can’t eat that and why I need to throw up right now, so that when I return from the toilet (in public places, disabled toilets are a godsend) I can just smile apologetically and eat a mint rather than rub soap all up my arms and inside my fingers and chin, panicked about the smell. I’ve had so many mysterious tummy bugs, I can’t count them on one calloused hand. Rob found out recently that I had been lying to him.

He is worried about me. He is very worried about me. We have lots of pleading conversations in which I promise to try. I did not realise until recently that this had stopped being something I had a handle on. I have totally lost control. It is an automatic reflex. I don’t binge eat. In fact, when I do eat (and it is rarely), I eat very healthily. But even that is not good enough. I throw it up anyway. My trying lasted three horrible days. During those three days, I took laxatives. I have to get them from two different chemists after my usual place began asking questions. Why would I need two packs in three days?

It is panic. Pure panic when I eat. I feel it clogging up in my blood stream. I feel it attaching itself to my flesh, making me fatter. For about two months, I was on a meal replacement diet. I thought it would make me better. I thought it would be so controlled that my old habits would disappear. They didn’t. It has become so much worse.

I have lost weight- I am 8st 12lbs now, as opposed to the 12 stone I was at the beginning of the year. I know this because I have two sets of scales that I weight myself on at least seven times a day. I haven’t really been on that diet since April. On, then off, then on. Alternating between drinking shakes and then eating and throwing up. One is safe, the other is safer.

I love the fact that people tell me how nice I look. I hate the fact that I can see absolutely no difference in myself. Rob thinks that I never will. Another conquered thing, I thought, was body dysmorphic disorder. Because I wear less make up these days. Because I go out in daylight.

It is not.

I think about my appearance and my weight constantly. I am in a state of paranoia and panic twenty four hours a day. I can’t watch most films because the actresses are so much more beautiful than me. I can’t look some of my friends in the eye. I am back to self harming. I tremble as I pass people in the street, silently praying that they won’t remark on my appearance. I am The Monster. I will always be the monster. I am still torn up inside by self hatred that refuses to diminish. I could be the most successful writer in the universe and I don’t think one shred of it would shimmy way. It is as though it is threaded into my veins.

Of all the things I am ashamed of, I am most ashamed of this.

I’ve never considered my eating disorder to be serious. I’m not thin. I’m not even underweight. To me, that marked “serious”. Me, I’m fat. You’d never guess I had an eating disorder by looking at me. You’d probably assume that I ate to much. You’d probably assume that I was going back to my lair armed with donuts. I could go to a forum and talk there, but I’d feel like they could sense through the screen that I was fat, that I didn’t belong there.

The woman on the phone said, “It is serious. You are seriously ill”.

“No, I’m not. I’m not ill, it’s not serious. I’m not thin”.

“You are doing so much damage to your body. Damage you can’t see. You’re going to end up in hospital”.

I see the logic. I say I don’t know why I’m exhausted and can barely walk half a mile. But I know why. I know what I’m doing to myself.

I throw up about three times a day. I throw up normal amounts of food. I don’t binge.

The lining of my throat bleeds. It hurts to swallow.

My teeth are rotting out of my head.

I have so little energy. The lack of physical energy is at odds with my overt mental, slightly manic energy at the moment. It is killing me.

I can’t have sex. I don’t have the energy. I get exhausted after walking half a mile. I don’t have the energy.

I am having heart palpitations. I am getting breathless.

During the times I have tried to eat solids and not throw up, my body’s reflex was to gag, and I would throw up over myself.

I feel dizzy all the time.

I strongly suspect, and so does Rob, that I have developed anemia.

My rationale goes like this:

I don’t care. I’m fat.

But you’re going to end up sick.

I don’t care. I’m fat. If I stop doing this, I will become fatter.

And I hate myself for the fear that puts into me.

As if I need any more problems. I am already contending with manic depression.

The woman on the phone said I had an illness. I never considered that I did. Not bulimia.

She gave me the number of some places that could help me. I do not know if I’m ready.

I hate smelling of sick and I hate, more than anything, what it is doing to Rob. How we can’t enjoy anything because I am so paranoid about my looks. No lovely meals out because it’s a waste of money. I just throw it up. I like food. I want to enjoy food. I want to enjoy something in my life because manic depression has stripped me of that. It should not be minutes or hours, it should be days, weeks, months, years. I hate the sad look on Rob’s face when he realises that I have only been lifted for a moment, and there is hideousness swirling in my head.

My first therapy meeting is on Thursday, after a year and half of saying nothing.

I have to say something. And I am terrified.

What if she looks at me and thinks I’m lying? I’m fat.

What is she thinks I’m vain? I’m ugly.

What if she thinks I’m an attention seeker? I am covered in self harm scars.

It is trivial, it is vain.

Hannah brings it up, I dismiss it. I am scared. It means admitting to it in front of another human being. And it means I will not be allowed to continue anymore. It means that someone else is in control. And that is already the case, with the medications, the psychiatrists, not being able to drink, having to sleep. My whole life is ticked and measured week by week. The pressure to be well, to get better, to be insightful and helpful when sometimes all I want to do is retire to self abandonment, it is incredible and it is constant.

This is all so frightening to me.

But I’m looking at my knuckles again. I have no choice. There are so many mental mechanisms that are trying to kill me. And I know, deep down, this is one of them. I just can’t have another conversation with Rob where he pleads with me, and where I do nothing, where I confess that he can do nothing.

I have to do something about this.

24 Responses

  1. I know this is scary for you. I can see that you don’t want to lose control over this. But you are clearly coming to the realisation yourself that you have to do something about your eating disorder. My mum was bulimic when I was growing up, and I have learned that you won’t be able to overcome the illness until you are ready to.

    Just talk about it with a professional. Do something, even if it’s really scary. You can overcome this.

  2. Oops, didn’t mean to put all that in italics!

  3. I’m a new reader. Semi-new lurker.

    Do it for Rob, if you can’t do it for yourself. Do it for him. This is what I tell myself when I don’t/can’t do things. I must do it for my “significant other” because he believes that I will get better and that I have the power to get better and that I am deserving of this “getting better”… because… well… he’s here. He’s with me going through the worst with me and he refuses to leave. So, I must… I must do it. If not for me, for him.

    You know?

    Keep writing, please. You are an inspiration.

  4. I believe you can only do it when you’re ready and its got to be for you.

    I know how scary it is, I’m kinda in a similar situation altho I did get rid of the pro ana community lol


  5. You’ve just taken a big step in writing this. You’ve admitted it.

    Take your writing with you. If you find yourself unable to share just hand them a copy of this. They will see your honesty and will do what they can to help.

    Get Rob to go with you? Would that help?

    You will be able to do it. Try not to be ashamed. Good luck!!

  6. When I went to the doctor last week I was 18 stone, and she asked me if I was bulimic. Being thin doesn’t mean that it’s serious.
    I really hope that you’ll be able to talk about it, and get some help. I’ve said it a million times, if you need a chat or a hug, you know how to get hold of me. And you’ll definately feel thin next to me! 😉

    P.s. you look brilliant!

  7. “Another conquered thing, I thought, was body dysmorphic disorder. Because I wear less make up these days. Because I go out in daylight.”

    Maybe you have conquered a part of BDD. Which is a good thing, no matter if you’re completely over it or not.

    And I am sure that as you managed to lose weight you will be able to deal with this problem as well.

  8. Heya
    I am so amazed at how brave you are, to be living with everything you are already and now to have managed to speak up about this. From speaking to doctors about my own mental health issues, I know how hard it can be to speak up but you have done that, and that’s the first step – and a huge step at that!

    I have huge problems talking to therapists and doctors about my issues, but it is the right thing to do. You can write about it here so that is a start, if you feel you really can’t speak as much as you need to about this then show them what you have written, write down what you need to say. Just do what you can. Doctors and mental health professionals know that these things are hard to discuss and should understand how hard this can be. I know its a cliche but do your best, say what you can. Well done for making the first step towards resolving this! Be proud of yourself!

  9. Seaneen, this is the bravest post I’ve read in ages. The fact that you’ve put it out there speaks volumes. Everyone on here’s behind you 100%, but you and only you can do it – for you x

  10. Hi, I could have written this myself. Up until last November i had been bulimic for 20 years, using up to 32 laxatives a day, crapping out “normal” amounts of food since i never binged. Then my eating disorder caught up with my body and had me in hospital with my heart beating wrong. Initally i thought it was palpitations, but day four of these “funny beats” i was weak, breathless, tired and i felt sick, i called the ambulance. I was taken in, hooked straight up to a drip and had wires all over me. The bottom 2 chambers of my heart were beating faster than the top (due to laxative abuse!).

    I’ve NEVER been thin, i’ve always been a “normal” weight and like you watching attractive women on TV, seeing my good looking friends…it is very hard ’cause i will NEVER look that good. I’ve hated myself for a long long time now and although the trip to A & E has stopped my bulimia, it hasn’t stopped the loathing that i have for myself.

    Since stopping the pills and eating “normally” i haven’t gained weight, i lost it!!!! I dropped about 4lb, but then, i got worried about losing it so i ate shit and put it back on.

    What you are doing, helping yourself is a really good thing. I wish you well 🙂

  11. Of all the posts I have read recently – and there have been many – this is by far the most honest, and alas the one where the voice sounds both glassy and thin yet defiant.

    I would like to think that you can at times be headstrong, now would be a good time. Surround yourself with supportive people- Rob, Hannah, friends, family, assorted blogging mentalists.

    You are, without doubt, strong enough to make the step on Thursday. Thoughts are with you – let us know how you get on. Take care love.

  12. First, tons of *hugs* – bulimia is a really, really nasty illness to be saddled with, let alone on top of manic depression. And you’ve been incredibly brave to talk about it here, I’m not saying that to make you feel better, I know it’s a lot harder to talk about an eating disorder than say, depression.

    Have you been to the Something Fishy eating disorders peer support site? I think it’s http://www.something-fishy.org (can’t remember if the hyphen is there or not. I went there ages ago looking for information as I had met so many people in eating disorders in hospital and I wanted to know more).

    You don’t deserve to have an illness dishing out this harsh treatment to you. You deserve better.*hugs* again.

  13. Anaemia isn’t pretty. I get sudden bouts of it every so often, where I become pale and lifeless, have no power to move or breath to speak. It will really mess you up if you don’t figure out what’s causing it and get it treated.

    Eating disorders are a really inefficient way of maintaining your desired body shape. Even ‘Hardcore Anorexics’ can’t maintain restricting behaviour because they reach a stage where they either die or end up sectioned.

    Sure, you might gain weight if you take up different eating habits, but over the long term, you WILL be thinner, healthier, and not have to work hard to maintain a desired weight – they’ve done studies into this. Those who yo-yo between dieting/restricting, binging and ‘normality’ eventually end up larger. You want the hard facts, and that is it. If you don’t want to be fat, get some help. Because purging is just putting a sticking plaster over a gushing wound – might stop it in the short run, but not in the long run. How long have you been bulimic? And how successful has that been?

    The smell of the vomit isn’t plesent, or the realisation that you’re bringing up blood. But that isn’t anything compared to the sort of colon problems you’ll get from laxative abuse and the heart problems you’ll get from purging.

    … and then we have a vicious circle – you already know that medications cause weight-gain. You purge because you’re fat, you get health problems, you take meds which make you gain weight…. and then you purge because you’re fat.

    You’ve got a chance right now, to talk about all of this, to get some help. And if they think you’re fat, ugly and an attention seeker, at least you’ve tried. Sure, it might make you feel like shit if you try and fail, but you’ve already encounted similar crappy situations, what’s the harm in trying another? It seems you’ve already prepared yourself for the worst.

  14. I can’t add anything further to what everyone else has already said apart from this – you worry that you not being thin will not mean you being taken seriously, but what about all the other physical symptoms you have described? Being thin is not proof of an eating disorder, but your teeth coming out, a sore, bleeding throat, your breathlessness, the palpitations, the state of your knuckles – they ARE. I do not think it will come down to you needing to prove yourself as having an eating disorder, I think it will be a matter of you finally admitting to it, *fully* admitting to it and you will get the help you need. But if you need proof then you are
    (barely) walking proof. Do not keep ignoring it because you *will* end up in hospital. I know it would break Luke’s heart to see something like that happen to me, so I’m sure it would do the same to Rob. Like someone else has said, if you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for him.

    Also, I understand your attitude about relinquishing yet more control to ‘them’ it’s something that aggravates me a lot. But at the same time, how much control do you really have now. I don’t think you are clouded by this enough to believe it is you in control of this illness and not the other way round. It has to be *you* who takes the step to get help, and as far as I can see it, it’s *you* that’s in control if you do that.

    Good luck Seaneen. You’ve done something very brave, not so much in admitting this on here, but in admitting it to yourself. I know all to well how easy it is to believe the lies you tell everyone else when you say them often enough.

  15. You are very brave, once you tell them on Thursday they will be able to help you, because you do need help, it IS a serious illness, one which I suffered with through adolescence, I had a year of therapy and writing in my ‘food diary’. It is a form of control that we put ourselves through when we feel we are out of control in other parts of our lives…………I hope it goes well for you, be strong, you will be/feel much better once you get help!

  16. Hannah is not going to think you’re faking, you spanner. It’s time to try something for this and that’s all I can tell you. Be brave, sweetheart, don’t back out.

    And anyway, if it is handing control over, at least it’s handing control to people who want to make your life long and hopefully happy vs. a disorder that wants – frankly – to kill you. You are no longer in control of it at all, it’s time to speak out.

    Well done for writing this, I’m proud of you.

  17. It’s good to see you are getting help for this disorder. Bipolar brings about funny things in us. Keep this appointment, sounds like you really need it. If you don’t do something about it you will never get better. You have taken the first important step in making the appointment. You have identified with the problem.

  18. Seaneen, I truly think you’re regaining control by tackling this issue, rather than rescinding it.

    It’s scary to tackle a problem like this head on. Use the help that people like Hannah and her colleagues can offer, they’ve got some experience of seeing other people resolve these deeply personal issues. You’re still in control but you can let them guide you.

    Once you get a handle on the eating disorder, you’ll be able to share a meal with friends or with Rob and not have the experience sabotaged by worry and guilt. It’ll be one less thing making you ill.

    I’ve said before that visually, in the photographs you post, you’re an attractive woman. I believe that people love you, and that their love isn’t conditional on your weight or your appearance. You’re an intrinsically worthwhile and valuable person. You enrich other people’s lives.

    You need to take ownership of some positive beliefs about yourself and then treat your physical body with the respect you deserve.

    That’s the goal at least, but I don’t know the method. I hope it’s ok to state the goal nevertheless. You’re in touch with professional people who can help so use their skills and work with them.

    I think that sorting out the eating disorder and tackling the beliefs that underly it is going to be very important to you and I wish you every success as you persue that.

  19. I want to say something, but I don’t know what. I’m very aware I don’t know you, but I do know at least some part of the hellish place you describe here. I hope the meeting on Thursday goes well, and I’m sure none of the professionals will think you are vain/lying/attention-seeking etc – though I suspect it’s more important you stop accusing yourself of these things – the shame makes it harder and harder to change things because it all just feeds on itself.

  20. Again, like others, I can’t really add anything except for thoughts and good wishes.

  21. im not sure what to tell you but well done for getting help. i ment to get help months ago but i still havent because a big part of me still doesnt want help and im so scared of people won’t believing me because im not a stick insect

  22. Thank you for all your comments and good wishes.

  23. Attention seeker? You’ve gone to alot of trouble to keep it a secret for an attention seeker. Seems to me attention would be the last thing you would want if you have been keeping it a secret for so long. Maybe you won’t end up in hospital because of it, but you’ll never live the life which you deserve to live. Treatment is REALLY hard work, but so so worth it. Your life could be completely different by Christmas, by the New Year you could be free. That moment of clarity when you realise how much food controls you is horrendus, but good on you for accepting it, and trying to change things. You could just bury your head in the sand and get on with existing, but i think from all the other things which you are fighting, you are more than strong enough to do this too.

  24. Seaneen,

    I also think this post is very brave. Eating disorders are not about vanity and they are certainly not trivial. You mention that the eating behaviours make you feel ‘safe’ – unfortunately, I can relate.

    I hope you can be honest with your therapist. It does get easier, I promise. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you deserve to get help for this.

    P.S. I got rid of my scales in 2004. Best thing I ever did.

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