Living in a Grey World

Living in a Grey World

The following post, “Living in a Grey World” is an essay I contributed to the website Stigma Fighters, a non-profit mental health organization dedicated to helping real people with mental illness, back in April.  I was approached by SF because of my posts addressing my struggles with anxiety, emotional eating, and bulimia nervosa.  I think it’s crucial that people struggling with mental illness speak out and let others hear their voices and stories.  I wanted to share my story with my readers.

The first time I ever purged was in the bathroom of a Friendly’s restaurant at the age of 15. I had just finished eating a Colossal Burger, french fries, and chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and gummy bears.  You may be thinking, “after eating that combination of food no wonder you felt sick!” — This was true.  It was a lot of food, but it wasn’t the food that made me sick; it was how I felt about what I had eaten that was making me sick to my stomach.

After I had been finished regurgitating the $16.00 lunch my mother and father had bought me, I felt this immediate calm rush over me.  This feeling of peace which felt like a hug or a heated blanket, it was that comforting.

I thought, “I feel better. I’m okay.”

I felt better than before I had eaten.  It’s as if I had never eaten.

This “event” (as I will refer to it) started a fifteen-year battle, which I still must contend with every day.

See, back then I thought of bulimia as a skill, and for me, it was.   I could eat all the time, and all I had to do was make myself “get rid of it.”

I felt powerful.

However, even way back then, I knew that this wasn’t something I should do all the time.

I said to myself, “I’ll only use it on weekends.”

“I’ll only use it at holidays.”

However, this “control” I was so pleased about — being able to “get rid of” food I would overeat — started shifting into every weekend and then, unfortunately, over time, every day.

After I had graduated from high school, I moved out to Denver from New Hampshire to live with my best friend.

It was my first time living on my own.  I was 2000 miles away from my family.  It was at this point in my life, where I was purging up to five times a day.

However, I wasn’t overeating every day.  No.  I was purging after the consumption of reasonable amounts of food.  I couldn’t stand the way anything felt in my stomach.  The instant I would feel food or liquid in my belly, I would immediately start to panic.  I could feel myself expanding.  I thought I looked fatter.  My jeans were tight around my waist.  This feeling couldn’t be just in my head; I could physically feel my body reacted whenever I ate.

I couldn’t rest until  I could “get rid of” what I had consumed.  If I didn’t evacuate my system, fast, this feeling would overwhelm me.

To the people around me, I looked healthy.  I wasn’t underweight.  At times I was slightly overweight.  However, people started to notice that I wasn’t myself.  I was much more anxious and much less happy.  I made comments about my weight 24/7.  I made comments about what everybody else was eating.  As you can imagine, the relationship I had with my best friend became very shaky.  In fact, we spent over two years not speaking to one another as a result of the person I had become.

I started therapy to work on my bulimia and emotional eating issues and got to a point for a while when I wasn’t purging at all.  However, to make up for the lack of control I had with the food I was eating, I decided to take up an excessive amount of exercise.

I would run five miles to work, be on my feet all day long, and then run the five miles home and then some.  Every day.  I thought that it was healthy for me.  I mean, I was exercising, right?  Surely cardio is better than sticking your fingers down your throat multiple times a day.

However, my exercise obsession soon caught up with me.  I would give myself heat stroke, flu-like symptoms from dehydration, and my hair started to get coarse and thin.  My therapist told me that I was replacing one compulsive behavior for another and that we should start paying closer attention to my “triggers.”

I thought, “Lady, I don’t have any triggers other than the fact that I have to eat and I hate the way it makes me feel!

I kept food journals.  I wrote down what I had to eat.  I wrote down how I felt before and after I ate.  I documented the times I exercised and purged.  I visited a nutritionist.  I visited a psychiatrist.  I tried anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and meditation.

I still obsessed over food and felt it’s complete control over me.

After I had graduated from college, I moved to New York.  I moved in with a boyfriend who was a secret alcoholic and 14 years my senior.  I was a secret emotional eater and bulimic and 24 years old.  You can only guess what this choice did for my eating disorder issues, I’m sure.

At first, as with any relationship, things were great.  We were in love, and things were perfect (well, as perfect as they could be).  I got a job, settled into life, and tried to keep a balanced diet and exercise.  I kept my bulimia issues a secret.  I would get up in the middle of the night to eat hidden food and then would purge in the bathroom.  I would binge eat on my lunch break and purge in the bathroom in the warehouse where nobody could hear me.  I guess in those days I thought, “as long as nobody knows I’m doing this and get away with it, I’m not doing anything wrong.”

What wonderful logic, huh?

If a bulimic person binges and purges when no one’s around, did it happen?  If only it were that easy to ignore.

As two people living with addictive personalities will clash, my boyfriend at the time and I started to bring out the worst in each other.  I drove him to drink, and he drove me to bulimia.  It was an awful cycle.   It was at this point that I officially switched from binging and purging and moved into emotional eating.

I didn’t care about having friends or doing anything with my life.  I just cared about making myself numb by eating all the time.  When I went to the doctors for a yearly pap smear, they weighed me.  I weighed over 150 pounds.  I had never weighed that much in my life.  As a 5 foot tall girl, this was considerably overweight for my frame.  I became emotional.  It was as if it was the first time I had felt anything for months, but it wasn’t a good feeling.

I decided I had to do something.  I knew I was unhappy.  And I knew that what I was doing to myself was much bigger than what I could understand.  I decided to go back to a therapist, but this time I was going to be selective.  I couldn’t pick a decent boyfriend.  I couldn’t control myself with food.  However, I could control who I chose to help me get myself back.

My therapist’s specialties were eating disorders and anxiety; the two things from which I was suffering.  I never understood how much anxiety I had until I worked with her. I also never understood that it was the root of my problem.  Therapy helped me to understand the patterns of my behavior and how my underlying anxiety contributed to my disordered eating.

For once in my life, I felt like I was capable of understanding my behavior.

I learned that the cycle I was trapping myself in was something I could gain control over.

A couple of times, like during the recession when I couldn’t find a steady job and while my father was dying from cancer, I did relapse.

After I lost my father in 2011, I decided to change my life and take hold of my health.

I became a fitness instructor, certified personal trainer, and certified nutrition specialist.  I educated myself about exercise and food and how to use the two in a respectful and balanced manner.  I also started a blog, so I could talk about my passion for wellness and living a happy life.

In November, I married the love of my life, and in March I moved to Scotland to live with him.

My logic is no longer about all or nothing, black or white, and yes or no decisions.

I live in a grey world, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

I’m linking up with Amanda at Running with Spoons for Thursdays are for Thinking Out Loud.

Do you feel that mental illness is seen as a stigma?  For more information on Stigma Fighters and their mission click here.

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Spread the good word!

21 Comments

  1. July 9, 2015 / 1:45 pm

    Wow. It takes a lot for someone to be this upfront and honest and to face their past by putting their story up like this. I’m glad there is a happy ending to it. But for those who haven’t reached that happy ending yet, I’ve no doubt it will provide comfort and inspiration too, for them to carry on, like you did, and to face whatever eating orders they may be facing.

    As usual Erin, I was gripped from start to finish. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you write so well, so honestly and from the heart. You definitely have a book in you. And possibly more than one book……… 🙂

    • July 9, 2015 / 1:51 pm

      You’re so very kind, Neil! Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to read my story (well, stories!) This comment has truly made my day! 🙂

  2. July 9, 2015 / 1:46 pm

    Amazing post; thank you for sharing you story! There is still SO much stigma around mental health! I am a therapist working with elementary school kids, and its amazing how many parents won’t accept that their kids (or themselves) need help. I’m so glad that you were able to find someone to help you and are now doing so well:)

    • July 9, 2015 / 1:55 pm

      Thank you, Lisa! You’re doing a very admirable thing working with kids as a therapist, and yes, you’re right about the stigma being so strong. I really hope that some day (soon!) people can stop feeling like these issues are something to be ashamed of and speak out to compassionate ears.

  3. July 9, 2015 / 2:40 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your struggle with us. You are so strong and inspiring. We all have battles that we struggle with, and I cna only imagine how many people are relieved reading this because they are going through the same things and need to hear that there is hope. I have struggled with over eating and emotional eating, and every day it is definitely a battle. Before I got pregnant, I would spend 2 hours at the gym before work doing cardio to offset whatever junk I wanted to eat. Having my son and allowing myself to eat what my body wanted while I was pregnant definitely brought a new light to my struggle. Keep on working, you’re stronger than your struggles!

    • July 9, 2015 / 2:46 pm

      Thank you so much, Morgan! I am so appreciative that you took the time to read my story and show your support. I am glad to hear that having your son helped you to begin to heal your issues with overexercising and emotional eating. It gives me hope, because I hope to have a child soon too, and I do often think of how much more challenging that can be for those of us recovering from our issues. It gives me comfort that you found a balance while you were pregnant. Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  4. July 9, 2015 / 2:59 pm

    Erin- I have so much empathy. I have never had long term issues with Bulimia, however I was purging for awhile and I have had my issues with over exercising. I deeply understand the emotional issues around feeling out of of control and trying to control everything. I came to understand that self love is something that takes effort every single day of my life. I can never just let myself go, because if I do, I spiral down into that same dark place. Oh Erin, I just love you- I want to reach through this screen and give you a hug, have a good cry and then burst into laughter at how hilariously dark life is. You live such a rich life, never easy, but complex and deep– just love you sweet girl. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • July 9, 2015 / 3:09 pm

      Lisa, your very kind words have moved me to tears! Our issues are very similar, and it’s something that any of us who have suffered from this affliction can always relate to, unfortunately. You’re also very VERY accurate to say you can’t just let yourself go, and that’s not about control, it’s about knowing your life has to stay away from that dark of a place — and it’s something you have to fight for. We’re fighters and not just for ourselves, but for other people who are struggling too. It isn’t easy for people who are not touched by this issue to understand how truly difficult it can be, so, I hope, by also sharing my story I have helped fight for others too. I just love you too, Lisa! A million thanks for your support! <3

  5. July 9, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Your honesty and openness are amazing, and I’m so glad to hear that your story had a happy ending <3 Having struggled with my own eating disorder, I know how big of an inspiration it can be to hear from others who have gone through the same thing and come out the other end, and you never know who your story could reach and help 🙂

    • July 9, 2015 / 3:15 pm

      Thank you, Amanda. I’m glad you’ve been able to come to terms with your eating disorder as well. Having an amazing community of people who also blog about health, fitness, and living a balanced life has been really great for keeping me focused. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts, and also, for letting us all think out loud! <3

  6. July 9, 2015 / 3:14 pm

    I’ve been so looking forward to this post! I think no matter what anyone struggles with, we can all relate to your post in some aspect or another. It’s that distorted way we think sometimes that either comes out in bulimia or anxiety or phobias, or anything else under the sun. We all struggle with something. Thanks for sharing your struggle and how you are learning to manage it! Let’s KILL the STIGMA!

    • July 9, 2015 / 3:20 pm

      The STIGMA must go! You’re so right, Suzy — in one way or another we are all struggling with something, and sometimes those somethings hold us back from living a healthy life. I absolutely love Stigma Fighter’s blog and mission, there are some really wonderful contributors on there and the stories range from mild anxiety to living with schizophrenia. Our struggles shape us, but they don’t define us. <3

  7. July 9, 2015 / 6:46 pm

    Your honesty, openess, it’s amazing. Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my Dad tragically and suddenly (like 20 min after making plans for later that day in 2010 and it changed everything about me. 5 years later, I am finally fighting for my life, my health and all that I used to be.

    • July 9, 2015 / 6:50 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Jen. I can totally relate to how you feel, because losing my dad has been the most painful experiences of my life, but also the one that has forced me to grow so much. I hope that you continue to fight for yourself and know that there are so many people who understand and have been through this, so no matter what, you’re not alone. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond to my story. <3

  8. July 9, 2015 / 6:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing Erin! I relate all too well since the feelings around any type of addiction are always the same. I’m really glad that you are on the right track and moving forward. Thanks for sharing more of your story so I could learn more about you!

    • July 9, 2015 / 6:52 pm

      It was long overdue to share, Erin. Honestly, I had it scheduled last week and still though, “ugh I’m not ready, am I?” — but I’m so happy that I have put it all out there. Honestly, your courage to share your story has been a big inspiration to me. It takes people being courageous in their own situation to bring that out in others. Thank you for your kind words and inspiration! <3

  9. July 10, 2015 / 12:59 am

    Such a beautiful article. You are so brave for writing this and helping others at the same time. The more people talk about the more people can get help! Great job and thank you!

    • July 10, 2015 / 6:31 am

      Thank you, Julie. I think it’s important to share our stories. I hesitated for a long time, but I’m glad that I finally posted my story. I am so thankful for all the kind comments and words of encouragement. <3

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