As I made my way down the foot path of Waterloo East to take the train to Tunbridge Wells back in June, I couldn’t help feel that familiar memory. A sickness in the pit of my stomach, a fear of the darkness, yet a freeing sensation and a reminder of how much I’ve changed as a person in the past six years.
This was my route home from Central London to Greenwich. The first place I lived when I moved to London in 2001, and the period where my bulimia was at its peak.
My insecurities began at an early age at my local dance theatre school. As a sensitive young girl, I was often bombarded with comments on my figure that developed early for my age. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be cast aside at auditions because I was classed as “overweight.” Looking back at pictures, I was NOT overweight, but in a body conscious hobby, these comments planted a seed in my young mind and were detrimental to my health and wellbeing. Years later, in my teens, I developed bulimia.
I began to binge and purge when I was doing my GCSEs, around the time that my parents split up, perhaps as a way of dealing with the pressures of exams, self-image, and my parent’s separation.
I don’t even fully remember my first purging session, but my bulimia soon became a daily habit that increased to multiple purging sessions each day. When I moved to London in my early 20s, my eating disorder got more dangerous. I had met someone I worked with and had fallen in love. It was one of my biggest reason for moving into London, alongside my passion for singing in bands.
I meet this guy at the point of losing a large amount of weight through my newfound and very destructive binging and purging sessions, and he was the first guy who had ever really made a play for me.
By this point, I was a very insecure 21-year-old who hadn’t experienced much love, was struggling with confidence, and an eating disorder on top of that. He was also self-destructive, dealing with his own issues that fed into my insecurities. Although painful at the time, my torturous on and off experience with him gave me a certain strength that has made me the person I am today.
Getting on stage was also a love-hate thing for me at that point. Alongside my day job, I was writing, recording and performing with bands. I wanted to “make it”, but never felt like I was worthy of a career in the industry. In my mind, I always felt like the “fat girl”. In hindsight, I was eager to prove myself. Almost validating and searching for the love I felt I lacked. When I look back, the only love I was lacking was self-love.
Food, at that point, was like a friend to me, feeding my loneliness and lack of self-worth with comfort, but leaving me hopeless, numb and out of control.
I burst a blood vessel in my throat during this period. You’d think that would have scared me into remission! It did for a bit, but I began to purge again when all had healed.
And by no means did this cycle always happen out of insecurity or loneliness. Strangely, if I wanted a treat, or I was especially happy, I’d do the same thing as some reward that would make me feel amazing for about half an hour until I purged again. It was a strange pattern I couldn’t break. I guess bulimia gave me a coping mechanism.
Over those years, my family paid for treatments including Reiki, reflexology, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and counselling. I also went through a bout of outpatient therapy, and throughout was prescribed antidepressants to manage depression. But for many years, as much as I want to say these things helped me, with some giving me coping mechanisms and a support system, it wasn’t until I decided to heal that I began to recover.
When I hit my early 30s, I realised I was making my way through life feeling drained and exhausted. The heart palpitations after purging, my mind continuously focussing on food and wanting to look a certain way. I was missing out on what life had to offer me, and I didn’t want to be in that dark place any longer. I didn’t want food to rule me, and I became sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
And that was it. I instinctively knew I needed it to stop. So, I decided to leave the band I was in to recover and ease some pressure. Beat was also pivotal in providing lots of vital information on the road to recovery, as I began to research and re-educate myself on how to nourish my body and mind again, this time without restriction.
Although I had a rocky road to recovery initially, the biggest lesson I learned was to give myself a break. I was always so hard on myself that if I ate something deemed “naughty” I would binge, purge, and fear I’d gain weight or I’d failed on my road to recovery. When I began to educate myself on eating a balanced diet, allowing treats occasionally and letting myself enjoy them, I began to free myself from the restrictive barriers I put up when it came to food. Challenging myself to socialise again was also key. To surround myself with like-minded people helped boost my confidence again.
I realise that anyone suffering from an eating disorder will have their own journey to recovery and that various extents of these serious diseases and underlying issues will impact individuals differently on the road of recovery. But, I want sufferers and carers to know there is hope. With the right support and education from charities like Beat, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
That day back in June, as I made my journey to Tunbridge Wells to become a Beat ambassador was hugely pivotal for me. The train speeding through Greenwich where I lived in such a dark place in my life felt emotional. I couldn’t help feel nervous, but proud of myself and all I’ve achieved to get to the point in my life. I’m thrilled I now have the opportunity to give others the hope and support they need in their own recovery.
You have to learn how to live again and, like with any lessons, you often have to fail to learn the best way or the right way...
In the past I’ve wanted to hide the eating disorders that are part of my history, but I want to shout from the rooftops: I'm proud of how far I had come!
I want to shed some light on diet culture and what it drove me to do to myself for eight years. I will never get those eight years back, but what I do know is that I will never put myself through all the self-inflicted pain it took in order to look a certain way.