Hey my lovelies,
Long-time no blog post I know. I’ve got about 5 drafts of posts I’ve been working on, many things I want to say, and at times not the words to say them all. But we’ll get there. Promise.
As usual I’ve broken my blogging break to write about mental health, which is something I feel more verbose about than any other topic. I’ve blogged a lot about mental health issues in the past (you can check out the relevant posts here, here, here and here), raising awareness of issues and trying to beat the stigma around mental health. In short to start, and be part of, an ongoing conversation which affects every single one of us.
*TRIGGER WARNING: The majority of the blog post contains reasonably detailed discussion of bulimia, self-harm, and eating disorders which some may find triggering*
During the time since Observations of a Fictional Girl came into being as a blog I have shared part of my personal experiences with mental health problems in my life so far – focusing primarily on depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts – but have not really to great extent shared my experience with body image and eating disorders which have also played a part – particularly bulimia.
Therefore, since this week marks Eating Disorders Awareness week (22nd – 28th February) I feel it is fitting to briefly attempt to share my story in regards to this topic. Not to gather attention, or gloat at my recovery, but to mark the experience of suffering from an eating disorder as one that you are not alone in. Alongside attempting to raise awareness that we all struggle with body image – whether by personal or social factors, or both – and that many people out there also suffer with eating disorders and a daily barrage on the mind.
Eating disorders and mental health are intrinsically linked for me – it is both a mental and physical experience.
Back in 2009/10 I was journeying through the grips of depression, regularly self-harming, and feeling exceedingly drawn to suicidal acts. This is a void which is difficult for me to remember, and hard to depict as the further I get from that period of my life the less it feels like it was real. It feels like it happened to someone else. But it didn’t. This is my life.
That was only one part of it. In the midst of all of that I was seeking for other ways to cope with the intensity, range, and also, at times, lack of emotions I was feeling. I struggled with self-harm, particularly the visibility of it, but felt like I needed it. At one point when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by it all I began to release my self-negativity in another alternative physical avenue: bulimia.
Simplistically bulimia is normally regarded as the opposite of anorexia which is an eating disorder which means you deny yourself food, bulimia often involves eating the food and then physically making your body reject that food through forcing yourself to be sick.
For me suffering from much pain and confusion in my mind about myself and the world, bulimia seemed to present another opportunity to appear ‘normal’, ‘safe’, by eating with my family and friends, and avoiding concern… but then taking care of things later.
It was another ‘release’, another form of self-torture like that self-harm provided for me at the time.
Whilst my body was littered with a light puckering of scars already that it seemed pointless to me to be taking care of it through eating normally.
To be honest everything seemed pointless back then. Very few actions had ‘rational’ thought or meaning behind it. Even now writing this post it still feels like I am trying to rationalise, to create reasons and meaning for experiences where I have no satisfying one to provide.
I will not drag you through dwelling on the gory details of my purges, of late night bathroom trips, and a period of my life where an overuse of mouthwash was the norm; because if I’m honest these details are not ones I tend to focus on or fully ever forget. They just are.
Just as I will not fully be able to erase images of scars that are no longer there, fully remove the associations of showers with self-harming, or completely feel comfortable about taking pills, so too will I not be able to forget the sensations of a bulimic life. These physical memories are part of me, but they are not all of me. So I shall not give them the outpouring of description they crave.
Whilst it is uncomfortable for me to talk/write about this it is important I try. For pain to mean something.
I want to be part of that still small voice that says to you:
You are not alone.
I’ve been there.
You can do this.
You will get there.
You are loved and beautiful.
We cannot/do not want to always listen to this voice inside of us. But that does not make its’ message any less true.
Mental illness, whether connected to our eating habits or not, disorder our lives and our thinking. We can no longer see ourselves clearly or the world around us. Therefore, these tiny glimpses that other people see you differently to how you do, that you are strong, and that your present is not your eternal future can sustain you even when tunnel vision sets in. This voice seeks to bring order back to chaos.
That is why raising awareness of eating disorders, and mental health issues in general are so important. It simultaneously beats stigma, shows people that they are not alone, and can provide much-needed strength/hope.
Whilst my experience of bulimia did not rule my life as much as I know it can become the overriding aspect in many others it does not mean it did not have an effect on how I see myself. Yes, suicide and self-harm were the focus of my overall experience of depression, and bulimia got brought into the background of causation around it all. Even from the moment I had to declare it on my referral form for CAMHS I hadn’t even really considered it as something to worry about. It was just part of my disordered ‘normal’.
Bulimia faded as self-harm flared up again and that became the urge I really had to fight. Bulimia was beaten but struggling with body image lingered. I still have issues with mental health and food as my relationship with it can tend towards a protest. Of denying myself food will fix things, telling myself that ‘it’s not physically as damaging as making myself sick, or self-harming’. Or eating for comfort. This is the aftershocks of my depressive state still talking, an underlying coping method of pain still being reached for when things become disordered or difficult. Yet even this is exceptionally irregular now as I know my own triggers and have an excellent support network. This is only my experience, and yours may be completely different. However, you are equally as a wonderful a human being, and this moment in your life will not always define you.
Despite how beneficial counselling was for me in terms of depression and self-harm, I still wonder if part of these sessions had focused more on discussing the emotions behind my bulimia I would have had a more positive body image sooner. Or was this all intrinsically tied up with the way I saw myself and low self-esteem even prior to the start of my depression? It probably was if I’m honest.
Body image like mental health is something we all have and should take time to look after and talk about.
I’ve slowly started over the years following my depression to get to a place where I feel more often confident in my own skin. Where I can see myself in the mirror and appreciate, not criticise what I see. This is not an everyday constant of positivity. It fluctuates with breakups (there was a stage where I had to cover up mirrors in my room which provoked questions and loving comments from my mum – thanks mum!), job rejections, over-eating, gym sessions, and many other aspects of life. Like moods image changes, but this current semi-contentment I have was hard fought for. Survival occurs daily and this little glass container of worth is protected fiercely. Sometimes by others when I feel like I can’t find the retorts to my mental jibing, you all keep me going when I stumble.
I’ve beaten bulimia, and I am working on believing a positive body image (not an unrealistic one).
You all can too.
Speaking up and speaking about issues that are rooted in secrecy and silence are how we can start to make a difference. So thank you for reading and taking the time to think about the effect eating disorders and body image can have on people’s lives.
To find out more about Eating Disorder Awareness week please visit this site.
I'll leave you with this wonderful quote from the amazing Maya Angelou.
Song of the Post: My Body - Young The Giant