This is my story and you cannot imagine how hard it is to share. But as I sit to write, I see this butterfly fluttering outside and maybe it is a sign. I thought, I have come a long way, why not share my story. It might just help somebody who needs to hear these words. I have been struggling with an eating disorder for many years. They diagnosed me with a combination of anorexia and bulimia. Oh great, why not a combo! For some reason I didn’t want to be labelled with bulimia. It bothered me more than anorexia. How sick this disease is!
My Mom always felt bad about herself, she was always on some kind of crazy diet. She had red hair and freckles and she was beautiful to me. As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t think she was beautiful. I was totally different than her. Mom used to pinch my cheeks so hard before pictures and then put butter on them, to make them shine. I had blonde hair, pale skin, and big eyes. I was teased and bullied as a kid. I think because I was so shy. My two sisters were older and I wanted to be just like them. I thought they were perfect. My one sister believed she was ugly. She always said she was ugly with no makeup on. I looked exactly like her, except I had blonde eyelashes and blonde eyebrows. In my head, I was extra ugly.
You could not go out without looking absolutely perfect. From hair to your clothes, nails, everything had to be perfect. A combination of low self-esteem and unique circumstances started my journey. At 16 years old, I felt overwhelmed with life and my jeans were tight. This was when a friend planted the seed to disordered eating behaviours. At the same time, my Dad lost his job and he was devastated, I was scared. We just bought a new home and he bought a new car. Financially things were uncertain.
My Dad found a job in Calgary and my parents were moving. I was to move with them. I was horrified. I grew up in a small town and I was not leaving. I had graduated from high school; I had my high school sweetheart and my friends. So my parents moved and I lived with my sister. That time was hard, because I missed my parents and I wanted everything back as it was. My Dad did everything to get me to move to Calgary. Guilt trip, pay for school, but I wouldn’t budge. Eventually, my parents moved back. I missed them so much. The only thing is that when I moved back in with my parents at 18 years, my freedom and independence that I once had with my sister, was gone. I started to grow apart from my boyfriend. I wanted to know what the world was all about. I had been with the same guy since I was 14. I wanted to know about life. He didn’t see it that way. I broke up with him and he stalked me to the point of holding me captive against my will and harming me. Everywhere I went he was there. I thought I could reason with him. I felt sorry for him and yet I did love him. I was confused and did not know what love was. He would not give up. Again I thought I could reason with him, but he wouldn’t listen. I was emotionally wounded and feared change.
During this chaos, I met a hockey player, he was beautiful and I couldn’t imagine he would be interested in me. Well he dumped me and he was the one that was going to be at the social events in my life at the time. I needed to look my best as I was alone. That’s when it all started, the disordered eating seed that had been planted at 16 years old by a friend, was now fertilized by the emotional turmoil in my life and took root. The compilation of my parents moving, my high school boyfriend fiasco, living with my sister away from my parents, the hockey player I gave myself to, I was alone and subjected myself to disordered eating. I needed to feel my life was within my control. If I was worth nothing else, I had to be skinny.
I then got into a daily routine that was so profoundly punishing that the details are not significant. Let’s just say I hurt myself through the gruelling demands of this disease. Mom always had supper waiting for me. I couldn’t let her know, so I would eat it to hide my secret. When I first started to lose weight, I got all these compliments. It was wonderful and for the first time I was noticed and felt worth. I felt that if I was not beautiful or smart, at least I was skinny. What a LIE!!!
I was emotionally dead inside, as the rigid life of disordered eating was like a prison. At one of my worst points, I met a guy that I thought was nice, so we started to date. Looking back, I should have known there was something wrong with him. When you have an eating disorder you don’t listen to your gut. I mean your brain is half working, how do you make any good decisions in your life when you are at your worst. So I denied what I felt and continued to remain in an unhealthy relationship.
In a psychology course at university my instructor brought up a thing called eating disorders. He mentioned Karen Carpenter who apparently had Anorexia and passed away from this disease. I didn’t know that there was a name that was attached to what I was doing. For the first time someone could understand me, I needed to see my professor, but how? Everybody knew everybody in this town. I thought he could help me. So I waited after class one night, and told him my situation. I actually started the conversation “I have a friend that needs help”. He gave me an appointment. He was great, he gave me hope.
The guy that I was dating wanted to go on a vacation to Vancouver. We stopped to see my sister in Kelowna. It was so beautiful, that we decided to move. A new beginning, my high school ex wouldn’t stalk me anymore and I could run away from all my problems. Yeah that’s the answer, let’s do it! What a crock!! Another big lie, avoid your life and it will go away. So I went back to my instructor and told him the good news. I was going to leave all my family, friends, full time job, and my hopes of getting a university degree. He didn’t recommend I move miles and miles away from my support system. Again, my eating disorder was making this decision, not me. I was running on no food and my brain was working at full capacity, right? NOT! My Mom, I don’t think she ever got over it. I wish I could tell her she was right about everything, but she is gone and I was so ill at the time I could not see what this decision would bring.
While moving to Kelowna, my boyfriend said that in BC women were taller, and thinner. He said that I wasn’t usually his type. He usually went for the tall, dark olive skinned, dark hair type. The only reason he went for me was because I had a huge heart. I just thought that was strange, we sort of got into a fight, and I wanted to turn around and go back home. But I didn’t, because I was afraid to stand up for myself and use my voice. I was afraid to face my life and my illness. That is a moment in life that I will never forget.
Getting a job in Kelowna in the1980’s was a huge problem. I never had a problem getting a job. Once we moved, my eating disorder was out of control. I was so homesick. At the time, there were no cell phones, internet or Facebook to keep you connected to your loved ones. When you called and talked to somebody on the phone, for an hour, it was at least $200 to $300. There were no telephone plans then. I just wanted to move home, back to my supports. But then everybody would know I was a failure and not perfect again. I believed this lie. I was afraid and turned to my eating disorder.
I was a bridesmaid for my girlfriends wedding. I was so thin that everybody thought I was dying of some disease. I took that as a compliment as this illness is so twisted it lied to me. My parents never liked my boyfriend. Once again, they were right. He was so controlling and verbally abusive. My sister put her foot down and took me to her family doctor. That family doctor referred me to a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist decided to put me in daycare. That is when you go to the hospital every day for 90 days. You get to go home at night. It was at this very old decrepit, spooky house. When I got there another patient met me. He took me to this room, where at least 20 people were all sitting in chairs in a circle. He said we all have to tell our story. You couldn’t talk, or ask questions when somebody shared their story. When the person was done telling their story, I was gobsmacked. For those of you who do not understand the term, shocked the frig out of my mind! The stories I heard, were so overwhelming. I wanted to take everybody home with me and take care of them. I was so depressed and overwhelmed. Every day, I had to listen to these horrendous stories when I myself had no healthy coping mechanisms to manage what I was hearing. It was 90 days of filling my head with stories that were so horrible I remember them to this day. When I was done, I couldn’t run away fast enough. I couldn’t take it. My eating disorder was out of control.
I couldn’t find a job. I tried every day. My boyfriend took my brand new car to his work and I walked everywhere. The verbal abuse was never ending. I had to have everything perfect before he came in the apartment or he would go off. Once he flew off the handle because all the hangers weren’t facing the same way. He never acted that way around friends. Sometimes, I thought maybe it was just me. I made him do the things he did to me. I had no voice, I couldn’t set boundaries with him, I was afraid. I needed this to work or I would be a failure and my parents would be right. I went back to the psychiatrist. He wanted to admit me. I didn’t want that, so he told me that unless I go in the hospital he wouldn’t see me. I was failing at getting help as well as everything else. I felt like a complete loser with no where to turn.
I finally found a job, at the hospital of all things. I then decided to go back to school. I wanted to become a nurse but instead went for dental assisting. I got straight A’s, but my eating disorder never stopped. The one good thing is that I met really good friends. These friends were pivotal in my life. They moved me out of the apartment I was living in with my boyfriend. Just like that. I was free. I started to feel a little better about myself. I started to get better. By no means was I stopping what I was doing. But the freedom from the daily abuse of this man was unbelievable. Being away from that abusive situation was something like a miracle. But I was not yet able to deal with the abusive situation with my eating disorder.
I needed a new psychiatrist. I went to one lady and she blamed it all on my Mom. I think I went to her for a year? I can’t remember anymore. I couldn’t take her blaming my Mom anymore, she was not helping me what so ever. I went to this one guy that wanted me to eat a hamburger, French fries and a milkshake and then sit with him for an hour. ARE YOU MAD! I didn’t go back. I then went to a Psychiatrist and, he was great, but he moved to Alberta. He referred me to a new psychiatrist, Dr. Schuster, but I didn’t pursue it. I was giving up. I have been on every type of antidepressant, ones that make you sleepy, ones that make you dopey, ones that help first and then don’t. I heard of a lady in Vernon (Christina), but I didn’t pursue that. I went to group therapy. It was good at the start, but then the counsellor quit so as a group we decided to keep the sessions going. It was awful! We made each other depressed. Then I went to Interior Health for sessions. It was with other girls that had eating disorders, it was okay, but then the funding got cut, so it ended. I started going to this one counsellor at her home, she was great and funny. She snorted when she laughed but then she moved away. I tried writing her, I really needed help, but I couldn’t find it.
I was starting to gain weight. I was happy for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I was not ecstatic, but just happy. I did cry many times in the change room when clothes didn’t fit. My girlfriend told me I could give my small clothes to her 9 year old daughter. This put things into perspective. I met my husband to be. He was great, funny, and different from anybody I thought I would be with. We laugh at the silliest things. He has my sense of humour, and he is my best friend. He thinks I am beautiful with no makeup. He loves me for me. Can you imagine? He didn’t get mad if I went out with my friends or if I wanted to see my family. How refreshing and this was for real!!
Finally, I decided to see Dr. Schuster. She is very intelligent and knows everything and anything about drugs. She is very patient and kind. I really do think that the right antidepressant helps out. I mean they were a life saver for me. I finally went to see Christina. I wish I would have gone sooner. I mean, I REALLY wish I would have gone sooner. She is wonderful. She never ever gives up on you. She counsels with caring and kindness in her heart. Some of the best advice was when she told me to try to imagine a five year old little girl. This little girl is sitting across from you and you tell this 5 year old little girl that “you are a ugly, fat, stupid little girl.” I said to Christina, I would never tell a little girl that. She said, “Remember when you want to say these bad things to yourself that you would never say that to a little girl or to anybody else for that matter.” Wow, that was powerful. So every time, I think to myself, you are so stupid, I remember her saying that and that beautiful 5 year old little girl.
Christina gives you timely reading material, focuses on nutrition and metabolic recovery, life strategies, how to set boundaries, eating for life. For example I now know how to fight a cold based on nutrients and how they support my immune system. When I didn’t know how to deal with a co-worker, she gives ideas or examples of how to cope and not become overwhelmed. Christina helps you deal with life situations, instead of falling back on your eating disorder. You learn how to regulate your emotions and concentrate on how to deal with feelings of sorrow, anger, stress, overwhelm and face these emotions are they arise step by step. You start to recognize your strengths, your abilities and you grow in so many ways and discover yourself. You allow yourself to feel love and belongingness.
It’s been over 30 years. I eat everything in moderation, I love dessert and I exercise for lifestyle. I don’t think about food, I don’t count calories, I don’t tell myself that horrible mantra. Yes, some days are better than others. Some days, are a challenge. I still have problems with self- esteem at times. I don’t always run around bouncy, happy and cheerful. But I do know that life is precious. Your life is very precious. Don’t let this disorder take years away from you. Try! Try! Try! Every single day, get out of bed and try. Oh and the best part. I don’t live with a weigh scale. I am telling everybody to throw it out. I never weigh myself. Ever!!! It’s so great. Even when I am at the doctor’s office, I make them weigh me backwards, so that I don’t see the number. I don’t want to know. Who cares! It is not going to control me. Besides, everyone knows when they have gained or lost weight. Plus, the more muscle you have the more you weigh, but the more muscle you have the stronger and more able you are to do whatever you want to do! Throw out any and all fashion magazines, or looking on the internet or TV for images that feed disordered eating. Quit going to the gym, or don’t go as often. Go for a walk and enjoy the beauty around you. I know you may be too sick to hear what I am saying. But just try.
Quit watching beautiful shows, you know the ones, where everybody is stick thin and gorgeous. They are all made up, not real in any way. Hang around with friends that are positive, that love you for who you are. Quit drinking and smoking, these are all part of eating disordered living. Try writing one thing you like about yourself once a day. Even if you can’t think of one thing, think of your toes, or your fingers, or belly button. Think of that beautiful 5 year old little girl. If you don’t like your counsellor or doctor, try somebody else. Keep trying different doctors, therapists, counsellors, until you get help that works for you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You deserve it! Listen to Christina, she won’t let you down, she knows what she is talking about. I have suffered the consequences of this disease by having a vocal cord that doesn’t work. I got throat surgery so that I have a voice. The surgeon told me it was associated with my purging all those years. I am thankful every day that it wasn’t cancer.
I now live a full life. I get together with my girlfriends and have coffee once a week. I would do anything and everything to have those 20 to 25 years back that I missed. I have missed out in so much. I would have gone home and helped my best friend when she was going through breast cancer. But I was ill. I would have gone home when my best friend’s husband asked me to come and help his wife out when she was having her first child and he was going to be away. But I was ill. I would spend time with my Mom and Dad. However, Mom passed away and I wish I could talk to her about everything and I see my Dad as much as I can. The biggest regret is not having children. It’s something I can’t express in words. I really would if I could, but I can’t, and there is nothing I can do but to look at today and keep moving ahead.
I have fought to regain my life back from disordered eating and won. Yes, there have been some casualties along the way. But, at this moment, I am listening to the birds, my dog is sleeping beside me and my husband just bought me a coffee from Starbucks and a chocolate treat. Life is good. I am blessed. I have my Husband, Dad, Family, Sisters, Nieces, Nephews and Grand Nieces and Grand Nephews. I have long time friends from Kelowna and I have a good job.
I am 51 years old, and I am writing my story so that you will never give up. That you will never ever give up. Don’t give up! Don’t lose one more moment of your life to this illness. Life is so precious and so are you.
Music by Kailee Duggan, Contact Email: Kaileed@live.ca