“I battled bulimia for 6 years. This is my story.”
Words by Brooke Littlewood.
I’m disappointed in how you look and you should be too,” the words of my then-stepmother hit me like a tonne of bricks.
I was 13 years old, and had my whole life ahead of me, but already my prospects for the future were filled with fear and doubt.
As the taunts and verbal abuse continued, my insecurities heightened and my self confidence spiralled downwards, plummeting into a world of darkness.
“You used to be pretty, you used to be skinny, you’ve really let yourself go.”
“You lazy, fat pig.”
It came to the point where I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore because I despised what was looking back at me- my face, my hair, my body-everything. It made me sick. In a diary entry on June 9, 2006 I wrote, “I wish I was beautiful and that my face and everything was perfect. I’m sick of being ugly.”
I was just 14.
It’s amazing how powerful a string of words can be, and how much it can affect/change someone’s life. For me this was only the beginning of an six-year emotional rollercoaster, a bumpy ride filled with sadness, pain and heartache.
Initially I started taking diuretics in an attempt to lose weight, but before long the seeds of bulimia were sewn and I turned to binging and purging.
My eating disorder gave me a sense of control in life, it became part of my daily routine that I didn’t have to think twice about. Nobody knew what I was doing, and I liked it that way. It was my little secret.
“You’ve lost weight, you look great,” people would tell me, completely unaware of my inner demons. I was depressed, and anxious; I would cry for no reason, my moods were out of control.
On a binge I would eat anything and everything in sight and if I didn’t purge afterwards I felt ashamed and disgusted to the point that I would freak out. I was so ‘used’ to purging I didn’t have to force myself to do it, it just came naturally.
Sometimes, I would drive to the middle of nowhere to purge just so I could keep my secret hidden.
My behaviour was affecting my relationships with family and friends, as well as my schooling. I lost interest in hobbies I once loved and wouldn’t even go swimming in the summer because I was too self conscious of my body. Instead I’d choose to sit and watch my friends from the side.
There were times I just wanted to die because I felt like I served no purpose in life, and everyone would better off without me around. In my eyes I was a failure, a disappointment, a waste of space.
Desperate to continue losing weight, I put myself on a meal replacement shake diet, along with excessive exercise, which ultimately resulted in me collapsing and being hospitalised.
I was constantly seeing the nurse at school because I was so tired I couldn’t stay awake in class.
It’s as simple as this: Food is the fuel our bodies need to keep running, and mine wasn’t receiving enough to do so.
It wasn’t long before my classmates noticed something wasn’t right, as did my Mum.
She was heartbroken. I, on the other hand, was angry and in denial. Angry that I was no longer in control and angry that people had found out. I was adamant that going to see a doctor or counsellor was unnecessary. In my mind, there was nothing wrong with me.
That’s when I was admitted to the Eating Disorder Unit at The Flinders Medical Centre… against my own will.
I was embarrassed, because eating disorders, like many mental illnesses, come with stereotypes. And one of those stereotypes is that to have an eating disorder you have to be “skinny”.
I now know this is most definitely not the case, especially with bulimia.
Most people suffering with bulimia are an average/normal size, or their weight “yo-yos”.
I had people telling me to “get over it” and others say there was “nothing wrong” with me because “I wasn’t skinny”. Apparently I did it “for attention”- but the people who said that had no idea.
While the two-week program at FMC put a lot of things into perspective for me, it was only a “quick-fix”, and once I was out in the real world I relapsed and was back to my old ways.
To me this was just something else I failed at, once again I was a letdown.
At this stage the severity of my disorder had reached new heights, and as well as suffering mentally, I was suffering physically. I thought bulimia had given me control, but really I was spiralling out of control and my eating disorder had consumed me.
My fingernails were snapping, and my hair was so brittle and fine it was falling out.
“I’m fine,” I assured Mum one day, but she could see through all of my lies. It was in that moment that I decided if I wasn’t going to do it for myself, I was going to recover for my family.
So I stopped. I ignored the reflux and the “urge to binge and purge”, and I found other ways to keep my mind clear of negativity.
And I managed to live a happy and healthy life – free from bulimia – for the better part of two years. In this time I had finished school and gained a full-time job with my local newspaper as a cadet-journalist (my dream career).
And it was just as I thought I was well on the road to recovery I relapsed again.
Personal issues were plaguing my life, I was broken, and I tried to mask it all with alcohol. I would drink to forget everything and not feel anymore. I also started taking a prescription weight-loss drug Duromine, and my anxiety was so bad I even had panic attacks when I was by myself in crowded places.
The difference? This time I wasn’t ready to let bulimia defeat me. I was readmitted to Flinders’ again. Twice. But I was desperate to recover, and I was going to make it happen.
I realised that despite having my “dream job”, a roof over my head, and loving and supportive friends and family, I wasn’t happy and I decided something had to change. So as soon a I received my qualification as a journalist, I packed up my bags and started saving for my move to London.
Moving overseas was the best decision I could have made, and I write this having not relapsed for over a year.
Bulimia had control over my life for too long. It doesn’t anymore, nor will I allow it to ever again.
While I’ll probably never be 100% happy with the way I look I’ve learned to accept it. I love my life and the people I share it with, and I like to live it to the absolute fullest. My 6-year-long battle taught me that people who bring you down DO NOT deserve to be in your life and you SHOULD NOT give them any power over your emotions or actions.
They aren’t worth it, I can see that now but unfortunately I learned the hard way! If I leave you with anything, it’s that life is too short to be anything but happy.
I’m lucky I made it out of this battle alive, and saw light in what I thought was a world of darkness.
And I can’t thank my friends and family enough for their support, without them I don’t know where I’d be today.
Brooke Littlewood (you can call her Brooks) is a writer from South Australia. She likes to put cheese on everything, and is a bit of a reality TV fanatic (right there wit u gal!).
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