Photo by Maddie Smiley
For me, a good day is tracking each calorie I consume on the app MyFitnessPal, making it to the gym, drinking plenty of water and maybe even having my jeans fit a little too loosely – and being proud of it.
But on my bad days, I would be found gagging myself over the toilet seat, trying to be silent, while purging the one salad I ate that day. I would sit up on the plush rug in my parent’s bathroom and wipe the corners of my mouth as tears stream out of my eyes. Sometimes I think of how silly I was when I thought one finger would do the trick; obviously you needed three jammed down your throat to get the job done.
Bulimia is a difficult thing to explain. Nobody really grasps the idea of making myself throw up. They say, “Just stop doing it! You’re perfect!
But I’m not. I’m chubby in my hips, my jaw line blends into my neck and my legs touch. So no, it’s not that easy, a compliment doesn’t compensate the need to throw up. The idea constantly nags me like an itch. My mind craves the burning sensation until I find the opportunity to sneak away. It was never something I wanted to do for attention, though for many people, mental disorders carry that stigma. Never was it something I wanted people to know about – God, it’s disgusting.
After over a year of confrontations from friends and a heart-wrenching confession to my parents, I’ve learned bulimia is not something that can go unacknowledged. It was putting my life at precarious and threatening stakes. Throwing up has small risks like yellow teeth, bad breath and raw throat. It can even lead to permanently messing up your digestive system or offsetting your electrolyte count which can cause heart failure. Bulimia is repulsive and that’s why I’m pushing myself towards the best, healthiest version of “me” that I can be.
Just a few months ago, about four months in, I was at one of my lowest points of the disorder. I didn’t eat much but when I did, after every bite I would sneak away to a bathroom. But now I am growing, and learning to love myself piece by piece. Slowly but surely, I’ve gotten back on top of things with eating healthy, working out and loving the way I look. I’m starting to get to a point where I can feel better than I have in months.
For now, I am starting to feel more confident with my body and the process it has taken me to get here. I no longer scratch at my collar bones hoping for them to become prominent from eating less, or readjust my shirt to hide my stomach after a big dinner. I love the feeling of accomplishment and strength that overcomes me after what I consider a “good day.” But the feeling could flip on a dime.
Every good day comes with what seems like twice as many bad days. And a good day can easily spiral into a bad one after I’ve had one too many of even my favorite foods, which slowly started fading into “just another bundle of calories” – desserts, mom’s tacos, even tortilla chips.
And I can’t control, or know, what to expect each day when I wake up. Every morning I’m unsure of what to expect for the day. It’s a tough struggle, and I take each day one by one, gratefully.
The disorder started out as a choice at first. I would slip away to the bathroom at Spin, knowing how easy it would be to get rid of the pizza I had just enjoyed. Knowing how satisfied I would feel with a light stomach while everybody else was miserably full of delicious pizza. Knowing I was in control of my body.
But I was sadly mistaken on what “control” meant. Having a disorder is the complete opposite. I lost all control and let my impulsive decisions and self-consciousness take over.
Maybe I made the trip to the bathroom because I couldn’t go to the gym that day to burn the calories I had consumed. Or maybe I did it because I saw a flock of girls with non-touching, cellulite free legs, with tiny, flat stomachs and waists and arms that didn’t squish out as they rested them on their desks.
I didn’t know why I wasn’t like the perfect girls I saw at school, in social media, everywhere. I worked out, I ate healthy foods. And when I didn’t, I made sure to throw it all up.
I didn’t accept myself for the way I looked: everybody surrounding me just seemed so much better. I knew many of their perfect qualities that I envied were things that weren’t easy to change. My nose was my crooked, chubby nose. I can’t afford ridiculous plastic surgery. My toes were my strangely long toes, not much fixing can be done there. Even the strength of my flimsy nails that are always chipping off is a tough thing to find a quick fix for. This led to me to try changing myself in cheap ways that were easy and fast, and I would eventually learn to perfect the art of throwing up.
When I first started making myself throw up, I didn’t intend for it to get to the point where I would finish a meal and automatically feeling food linger in my throat – ready to purge it back out. I didn’t mean for it to get to where looking in a mirror or even feeling the slightest bit bloated meant a trip to the bathroom. I never intended to obsess over my weight. I didn’t realize it could become such a consuming task the way it has come to be to this day. Bulimia isn’t something I want to live with, but it’s not something I can’t just wave off either.
Each day I wake up with determination to fight the urge. But no matter how long I’m pushing myself to have a good day, there comes a certain point where sharing a bag of Santita’s tortilla chips with somebody is too many carbs to handle. Or Panda Express after a three-day salad cleanse is a sin. As soon as it goes down, each bite of chicken revolts me. My skin crawls with disgust at the thought of it in my body. I hate these moments but they are the reason I know I need to keep fighting.
For most people, the scent of vomit may remind them of when they went to Worlds of Fun and sat front row on the Mamba and the little kid behind them ate too much cotton candy. Or maybe even a high school party where some kid got too drunk and spent the night on the bathroom floor.
For me, it’s not an uncommon scent. When I wipe my nose in class I can smell it on my hands so over time I’ve learned to easily block out. I always have mini Bath and Body hand sanitizers and roll-on perfumes in each of my purses, my lunchbox and my backpack.
It terrifies me to read stories about girls who have to deal with bulimia well into their adult lives. Some of them have faced the everyday struggles for seven years and counting. The disorder is not something that is easily fixed by a few therapy sessions.
I go in and out of phases of intense self love and hate. I never plan on having lows or bad times but depending on how I’ve been feeling or eating lately the bad cycle starts over. Nine out of ten days I recognize that I need to eat healthy and eat enough to start feeling full, but I’m always aware that the one bad day is always a possibility. My ability to accept that has helped me challenge myself in a healthy way.
Even if I feel the most scorching desire to secure myself over the toilet for half an hour, I refrain. I do anything to keep my mind off of it, from perusing Twitter to desperately texting my friends for help. My acceptance of this fact has helped force myself against challenges. Although I still face the constant struggle, I’ve learned the rewards that come from being healthy are priceless compared to the stakes I put myself at when I make myself throw up.
Eating well and working out means a lot of dedication and commitment. It’s not easy to get up at 5 a.m. on a school day and head out to the gym. In this circumstance though, the pros outweigh the cons.
So, for now, I will take each day one by one. Focus on putting an end to the constant cycle of struggle and make it one infinite path of positive opportunities. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but one day I will have the good days outweigh the bad. That I know