First off, I should probably put a warning on this post. If you’ve ever had problems with an eating disorder, you might find this post triggering. Proceed with caution.
For reasons I’m not going into, out of respect for my family, addiction’s been on my mind recently. The other thing that prompted this post is the fact that I’ve recently been having difficulty breathing, and my chest hurts. After going on Google, I figured out I’d pulled my chest muscles from purging, and that was what was causing the pain.
I have an obsessive personality. I obsess over people, books, manga, bands. My obsession with Space is one I need to keep a careful check on, as it’s caused me a lot of anxiety lately. I sometimes wonder if having an obsessive personality might overlap with an addictive personality; there’s the same kind of all-or-nothing quality in both cases. I have to go to as many Space gigs as I can and buy as much stuff by them as I can and back when I was a kid, I’d buy every magazine they were in that I could get my hands on, and I was in the fan club, and there were other, more embarrassing aspects of it that I won’t go into here. In the same way, when I’ve gone through phases of being obsessed with my body, I’ve counted calories and gone to the gym and pushed myself till I hurt. Even yesterday, I felt like a failure because I was only in there for 20 minutes and I had to get off the bike because my arms and legs were literally shaking. The last time I went, I was in pain for days.
I had a phase around 2004 where I was barely eating. I’d have an apple for lunch and things like two sausages on a plate of spinach for dinner, and I’d give up sweet things. That all stopped, luckily for my mum – who was worried about me – when I went back to uni. I was thin for a year, then I got put on Citalopram and my weight shot up. Looking at old pictures of myself made me want to cry. I missed being thin. I had to tell myself that being fat and relatively stable was better than being thin and cutting all the time and wanting to die, but when Mum was having a go at me over my weight, and when I looked in the mirror at the mikveh when I converted to Judaism and was ashamed of my gut, I wondered if coming off the pills might be an idea.
Food and I have a complicated relationship. I am a comfort eater. When I am stressed or unhappy, I comfort eat. When I’m going through a particular bad patch, I binge and purge. I have been doing this on and off for about half my life – I remember throwing up in the sink in my room. I can’t even remember what started it. I did it at school, I definitely remember that.
It only takes one chocolate bar, one biscuit, one packet of crisps on a bad day. You think, “I’ll just eat this thing.” Then you think, “Another one won’t hurt.” Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole pack. You feel disgusted at yourself. You run to the toilet, fill a glass with water to help, shove your fingers down your throat, and vomit and vomit until your stomach starts to hurt and only bile is coming up. Alternatively, you’re out with mates, and they’re having pudding, so you do as well, and then you immediately start to feel guilty and it’s toilet time again, and you wonder if your friends know what you’re doing.
I know vomiting doesn’t help. Believe me, I know. I’ve started to suffer the side effects. Besides chest pains, after purging I get an irritating cough – apparently ‘bulimics’ cough’ is a thing – a sore throat, and damaged teeth. That’s not to mention the watering eyes and bad breath, and having to clean my toilet, wipe down walls, wash my hands, check that there is no telltale puke in my hair or on my hands or face or clothes. Bulimia is not pretty or glamorous. It is, frankly, pretty disgusting.
I tried Slimming World. It barely worked. I may go back on if and when I have enough money and willpower, but it is going to take a hell of a lot. When you’re stuck in bad eating habits, it is hard to get out. Add to that a chronic condition that makes exercise potentially debilitating, and you’re fucked. I sometimes wonder if addictive personalities run in the family. I’m not the first person in my family to have had an eating disorder, or at least symptoms of one. There have been alcoholics in my family. I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming an alcoholic; I don’t drink these days due to my meds, which makes Space gigs awkward (at the last one, I came very close to having a full-blown anxiety attack in front of Franny Griffiths), and I’m not a big fan of alcohol anyway. I’ve done drugs, and although I did enjoy MDMA, I never got addicted to it (the novelty would have worn off, for one thing). My addiction, let’s be honest, is food. I am overweight, in a society that hates fat people, and I am stuck in a horrible behaviour pattern and I want to get out of it, believe me. Sometimes you think, “I’m going to change, I’m going to give this up and I’m going to eat this instead and do yay amount of exercise,” and for a few days it lasts and then you have a bad day at work or you’re PMS-ing and it’s back to square one. Again, and again, and again.
As I type this, my lunch is in the oven – it’s a salmon steak, a couple of potato waffles, and I’ve got some homemade salsa in the fridge made of avocados and red onion and tomatoes. I know I will keep it down. I tend not to vomit that kind of thing. Even I have my limits.