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My Struggle with Bulimia This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Being supervised by my 13-year-old sister is weird. It’s even weirder that she’s watching me go to the bathroom. Well, okay, she’s actually just waiting outside the stall. But I knew she would follow me, I knew she would wash her hands, and I knew she would linger. When I open the door, she’s just standing there casually. “What are you doing?” I ask, even though I know.

“Just waiting for you.”

“Oh, okay.” And I’m not supposed to be mad, even though the situation is awkward and I can’t get any privacy when I’m using the bathroom. Of course, this only happens when I go after lunch.

Rewind to late May: I’m so near death that I can brush it with my eyelashes. My boyfriend, Jon, and I are competing to lose weight and I can’t shake off his saying, “It’s okay if you don’t lose as much weight as me, Lindsay. After all, I’m a guy.” I don’t like losing anything except weight, 20 pounds of which disappears in a month and a half. But 10 pounds is all it took for me to forget about beating Jon and winning the $200 bet.

Hey, I look good; I look damn good. I should keep this up. I’m convinced, though, that it isn’t enough to just keep exercising and scraping by on water, hard-boiled egg whites, and salad (which is actually just lettuce and tomatoes – no dressing, croutons, or even corn because of the carbs). If I want to be tinier with every glance in the mirror, I’ll need a better strategy. So I become a double-barreled bulimic; I’m the purging type and the non-purging type. Purging is just a nicer way of saying “self-induced vomiting.” It isn’t pleasant but people are convinced that I eat. Non-purging, also called exercise bulimia, is when I sweat off what little I’ve eaten and more. One website calls it “secretly vomiting,” but I think of it as added insurance.

I recommend bulimia for anyone self-deluded enough to ignore feeling terrible all the time: “This bottle of aspirin must be full of placebos because my headaches won’t go away. The doctor is insane; I’m not running too much, and my knee and hip pains can’t be early signs of arthritis. My esophagus isn’t corroded. My voice isn’t raspy. I can keep getting away with this. It’ll be worth it. I feel fine. I’m not bulimic.”

Then I’m wailing my confession to Jon about having bulimia and how much work it is to hide and how scared I am about not getting my period this month, and I hate myself for developing bulimia in the first place, and I’m sorry but I need to back out of our competition. He says that’s fine. We’ll fix it together. Plus, he misses pizza.

For the next month, I eat only with Jon so he can be sure I relearn to eat healthfully. At first I feel like a criminal exercising only once a day and eating food I can taste, but my complaints are short-lived.

It’s the end of July and I’m driving with my friend Kelli. She knows I helped stuff that guy’s mailbox with defective donuts from the Krispy Kreme dumpster. I’m the only person she told when she backed into a car. Secrets are only fun if you have a best friend to share them with.

There’s a lull in the conversation before she says, “You never told me who won that thing between you and Jon.”

The saltiness of my fingertips floods my tongue and tickles my throat. “I called it off.”

“Really? Why?”

Lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, lie, don’t lie, don’t lie. Why would you lie to your best friend? “Because I became bulimic.”

“Oh, Lindsay.” She turns her head from the road and looks at me. I’ve never heard Kelli say my name in that disappointed tone before.

“I’m okay now. Really. Jon and I worked through it and I’m fine.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I believe you.” Good. There are times when you should be honest. This wasn’t one of them.

Kelli comes by the next afternoon. She starts sobbing when she sees me. She says that she cried all day yesterday while researching bulimia and calling eating disorder hotlines. She doesn’t understand why I have a negative body image. She insists that I don’t need to lose weight. She is scared for me.

Didn’t I tell her that I was fine? Why didn’t she believe me?

“Lindsay, you have to tell your parents.”

WHAT? “What? Why?! It isn’t a problem anymore. I don’t want them to worry over something that’s in the past.”

“I know, but they need to know.”

“No. No, they don’t, actually.”

“Lindsay, if you don’t tell them, I will. If something happens to you and they find out I knew, I won’t be able to live with that.” Since when is this about you, Kelli? “I’ll give you time to tell them. If you don’t do it within that time frame, I’ll tell them. But, I’ll warn you before I do it.”

You’ll warn me? Are you trying to strike a deal with me? I knew I should have lied.

“I’m doing this for your own good, Lindsay. You’re my best friend and I care about you.” I don’t feel myself hug her back. If you really cared, you’d let it go.

Kelli never brings up the subject again. I forget about this incident and figure she has too. The “your time is up so I’m telling on you” ultimatum disintegrates into an empty threat. I go back to school in September and don’t come home until October ends. I lost a few pounds by eating healthier and my family is happy for me. On the way to the airport, my dad says, “You look great, honey, really, you do. This probably isn’t the best time to bring it up … but you didn’t lose weight by being bulimic, did you?”

Oh my God. “She TOLD you?!”

“Lindsay, don’t be mad. She was really scared to tell.”

I’m not mad at Kelli, I’m furious. “When?”

“Right before you guys left for school. She called and said she had something important to tell us. Your mom and I went to her house. She was sitting in the living room with her parents and crying because she wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing. She didn’t want to lose your friendship.”

I’m thankful when they let me walk through security with sunglasses on. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving anymore.

*
*
*


My parents have argued in the garage for years because they don’t think my sister and I can hear them in there. They forget that my bedroom is directly above the garage.

“It’s your fault Lindsay turned bulimic! You always pushed her too hard! It didn’t matter if she was valedictorian or tennis team captain or a concert pianist, she was never good enough for you.” “At least I wasn’t babying her all the time! I just wanted my daughter to grow up strong. It was your coddling that made her cave in like that!”

*
*
*


Even though I’m finished with bulimia, it isn’t finished with me. A common side effect is gastroesophageal reflux, where my gag reflex fires involuntarily and my stomach contents come up. This looks incredibly suspicious to people who know I have a history with bulimia.

I’m looking at Christmas ornaments with my dad and sister a few days later. I can’t decide if this one is a gingerbread man or a really tan starfish when my stomach tightens. This is the worst, because my stomach is empty of anything except acid. I imagine this is what it would be like to iron the inside of my throat with a pair of flaming soccer cleats.

I’m bent over like I’m trying to cough my throat out onto the floor (which I wouldn’t have minded) as the scorching gets worse. I’m pretty sure everyone in the store is staring so I scramble outside. I’m trying to calm down by taking deep breaths but the frozen air ironically makes the burning worse, so I attempt to casually stroll into a nearby restaurant and ask in a horribly raw voice for a glass of water. The girl smiles because she thinks I’m a chain smoker and fills a cup and I thank her while trying to control myself because I’d gladly drink all 32 ounces in one gulp. My throat cools but is still itchy.

My dad and sister are asking what happened and I say I coughed up acid, so we get ice cream to neutralize it. I claw maniacally at a frozen cylinder of Phish Food with a flimsy plastic spork the whole way home, where I finally microwave the block into submission. I’m halfway done when my stomach protests the unexpected influx of food by sending the ice cream back up (at least it doesn’t burn) and I’m running again, this time to the nearest toilet.

Winter break becomes a laborious game of avoiding anything that could make me look like I’m still bulimic. I don’t eat too much because I’ll vomit. I don’t eat too little because I’ll seem anorexic. I’m afraid of soda because burping can trigger refluxes. I snack on Tums between meals. My workouts are light so I won’t lose weight. You’d think even if my parents didn’t know I used to be bulimic, they would still be suspicious.

Kelli and I exchange Christmas gifts one night. I haven’t told her I know she snitched on me, but she probably has figured it out since I’ve barely spoken to her for the past two months. As she turns to leave, she asks, “Are we okay?”

No. “Yeah.” I want to tell her I’ve lost my parents’ trust, that she’s lost mine. That I will never believe anything she says again.

*
*
*


I’m more frustrated than grateful that everyone is too concerned to trust me. I ask my dad why no one believes me when I say I’m not bulimic. He says they do – they’re just making sure I’m okay. So no one believes me.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




Join the Discussion

This article has 184 comments. Post your own now!

Ellie_Michelle said...
Apr. 16, 2010 at 8:47 pm
I really like this article.  It's so well written.  Thanks for writing it! :)
 
hot57 said...
Apr. 15, 2010 at 10:11 am
well i feel bad that tha thappened to you
 
horsie_luver said...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 11:07 pm
That is such an amazing piece. I feel for you. I hope that never happens to anyone who reads this article.
 
BoingBoing33 said...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Wow.

This is dang real life! There are so many out there who actually feel this way, and it's so awful. Sometimes I am even afraid that I will get it one day, because I really want to become a model, but sometimes see myself with something extra on the sides. Your story is so well written, and everybody should read it. I am really sorry, and I hope that everything will be better for you!

 
BaiLiHua This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 20, 2010 at 8:12 am
A strong piece - it's torture, isn't it? I hope things get better for you, because it's absolutely horrible to go through this.
 
polyprincess16 said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm
i can relate with Kelli, bc my friend used to be bulimic, and i was so scared for her. i think its hard for both parties bc you don't know what to do or how to really and truely help.
 
Letchworthlover:] replied...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm
my friend was... a cutter. and i told on her. she will never forgive me. but i thought i was doing somthing benificial for her sake. but it wasnt. she got worse. and i still blame my self for it. it will get better i hope, with time. but for now all i can do is help her anyway. its an aweful thing. and i know it first hand. all u can hope for is time, and that the time will heal every little cut.
 
liger211 replied...
Apr. 20, 2010 at 6:04 pm
i used to cut myself, and i wish someone would have told an adult for me. i believe you did the right thing! and i know someday she will forgive you. and thank you for caring enough to tell someone for help=)
 
polyprincess16 replied...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm
i feel for you too, letchworthlover. another one of my close friends was a cutter and had really bad depression. im glad that you told, because i never did tell and now she's moved away so all i can do is pray for her. its really hard to have a friend who does these things to themselves. no one deserves to feel like that about themselves, and no friend deserves the constant worry and fear for their friends. i guess we just have to take what God gives us and pray for His Guidance and support. i p... (more »)
 
Carriemcdoog said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm
This piece is AH-MAH-ZING!!!! You need to publish this! OMG!!!
 
trestonsgirl said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 7:28 pm
omg my ex-bestfriend came to me last year and said she was bulemic and she was scared abd wanted help.i told my mom (shes a nurse) and we went to the counselor about it,they got her help and within a couple of months she was much much better.im glad ur better and i know how Kelli felt.i also respect u for submitting this piece that probably took alot.God bless you.
 
absentmindedwriter said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 6:40 pm
It's really amazing of you to share your story with the world...a family member was recently diagnosed with anorexia, and no one knows what it's like to see someone go through that. I really respect you. :)
 
jules16 said...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 11:22 am
this is really good. I have struggled with the same things and i know how it feels. My bestfriend knows not to tell anyone, because you should be able to admit things like that on your own terms. Im sure she was just trying to help, but that seems selfish.
Stay healthy.
 
Ellie_Michelle replied...
Apr. 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm
It's not selfish.  It could save a life.  I'm not trying to judge, sorry if it sounded like it!! :)  
 
WritingMarie said...
Mar. 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm
This story is inspiring. I understand how you feel when you say no one believes that you are not what they think you are. :) It's going to be okay.
 
adristar96 said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 5:25 pm
this is a very inspiring story. I also believe that your friend shouldn't be penalized for what she did. I believe you when you say your not bulimic anymore and your a great writer. good luck!!
 
KirstenO said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 11:40 am
I find it inspiring that you have decided to share your story. I too struggle with my ED daily - I have been in treatment twice over the past two years and have had it for three years now. My only concern is that it makes eating disorders seem like a choice for an extreme diet.
It isn't.
It's so much more than that, stemming from depression, anxiety, etc.
For anyone struggling, it's important to NOT self-treat this illness (for that's what it is: an illne... (more »)
 
that1random said...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm
That was amazing! it really is written so well, and it's so true how an eating disorder affects your whole life, even after you recver.
 
Kayt P. said...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm
this is excellent. i believe the most important part, though, is that you included the aftermath. it seems like many people might assume with eating disorders that it may just come to be "oh, it's over, it's done today, i finished my rehab" or whatever, but it really affects the rest of your life.
 
NotThatGirl said...
Dec. 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm
That was really interesting to hear. I know what it's like to feel the pressure to be thin- but I'm over that now too. I've tried being bulimic before, but it just didn't work for me. I hope that you can look past this episode in your life because I've realized that I'm happier now that I don't care as much what I look like, and people like me better too.
 
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