Monday, 2 February 2015
In my last post I asked you to be brave, just a little bit. I think it's only fair that I take a brave step, too. So here goes.
I have been writing this blog for about three years and speaking openly about my experiences with depression and anxiety for a lot longer than that. I have shared much with you. Some things I hold back and keep for myself. But there is something that I want to share because it's time that I stop feeling badly about it.
In the depths of my depression, in the darkest of times, I was bulimic. I have only told my doctor this, and perhaps one or two other people. I feel no shame about depression and anxiety but I have felt shame about bulimia. It's been my dirty little secret. It's time to let go of that.
So why now? Why have I chosen to disclose this in such a public way? Partly because it does feel a bit hypocritical to be encouraging others to share and let go of self-stigma when I am holding onto some, myself. And partly because eating disorders are such a horrible thing. Someone made a joke to me about wanting to be bulimic. It sat so wrong with me and in the three weeks since, I have thought about it almost every day. I guess today is the day that I decided that joke really wasn't OK.
I grew up without a weight problem and with a mother who never dieted. We ate healthily as a family. I never felt insecure about my body or how I looked and I never felt any pressure from my mother or father to be anyone that I wasn't. I was lucky. I am telling you this because my experience with bulimia had nothing to do with insecurities about my physical appearance. It started as a way to try and control my stress and anxiety.
I was coming out of my first major depressive episode and, still not mentally well, I took the first of two consecutive jobs in which I was miserable. It was a perfect storm: lack of training, horrible management (which led to self-doubt and lowered self-esteem), high stress, and a miss-match in terms of values. These elements all added up to a new kind of misery. In addition to the onset of anxiety, I developed a reliance on food to soothe. Almost every night after work I would eat too much and then cause myself to throw up. I knew it was incredibly unhealthy yet I couldn't stop. The act of purging felt awful in the moment yet oddly calming afterwards. And then I immediately felt remorse, guilt and shame. The next day the cycle of misery, stress, shame, and guilt would start all over again.
There are no quick fixes in life. That is something that I have learned through many years and numerous ups and down with mental illness. My experience with bulimia, thankfully, lasted only about three years, off and on. It finally left when I started working at an amazing company, the one that I still work at today. For the last eight years I haven't experienced bulimia but I do still turn to food for comfort; however, certainly not to the dangerous extent that I did.
Life is a journey, as they say, and I am a work in progress. I try to view my life experiences as opportunities to grow, to share, and to help those who are on a similar path. It is National Eating Disorder Week in Canada. I am far from an expert on eating disorders but I do know that they can be devastating and deadly. I also know that they are not a weakness, rather an illness. And illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
This post is dedicated to my Partners for Mental Health colleagues, Casey and Aidan. Thank you for being braver than me at half my age (!) and inspiring me on a daily basis. And to those of you who I challenged to be brave and who were (and are), thank you for encouraging me to push the boundaries of my own comfort zone!
P.S. For more information about eating disorders please visit the National Eating Disorder InformationCentre
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