To look at me you would never know I live with an eating disorder. Even typing the word feels wrong. A name that depicts images of skeletal figures and fashion models from the 70s and 80s, not a “regular”, “healthy-looking” person like me.
I am 36 years old, a mum of three girls, and I also run a business. My life is busy but good, and I have a small but close circle of friends who I trust. Anyone who knows me would say I’m probably one of the most positive people you’ll meet, and to the outside world that’s exactly what I am. Always the bubbly one, seeing the best in every situation and living life to the full. To an extent that is me, but there is also the other, not so great side of me. The anxious, unsociable, self-conscious, well hidden me. The worrying thing is no one knows that I feel like this. This is why I’m sharing my story. There must be thousands of others out there feeling the same way and no one would have a clue.
My childhood was a good one, a great family, nothing particularly bad to speak of. Usual sibling rivalry, parents falling out every few months but overall a good solid start in life. My problems started when my marriage started falling apart about five years ago. The feeling of helplessness was what started my eating disorder. I have a close family but none of them have any knowledge of my eating disorder. They have witnessed the tears and the anger, but I have always kept the bulimia a secret.
I remember the first day I made myself sick. It was a few months after my husband and I had separated and myself and the girls had moved into a new house. We were all quite happy there. It was a new beginning for us. I had dropped the girls to school. I sat in the car with a feeling of nothingness. No desire to do anything. Life felt so flat. The thought of going to work made me anxious. I work with children and I have to be happy, energetic, and that was last thing I felt like being at that moment.
I went home and ate and ate. It was not enjoyable in any way. I felt so sick. My head was pounding with sugar overload and I felt disgusting. That’s when I went to the bathroom and stuck my fingers down my throat for the first time. I felt so fat and greedy. I needed to undo this horrible situation.
That’s became the first of many binges. It was pretty bad for about a year. Sometimes I’d do it when the kids were in bed. Sometimes the kids would be downstairs watching a film and I’d be upstairs being sick in the toilet. “What are you doing, Mummy?” they’d say. “I’ll be down in a minute; I’m just on the toilet.” My eyes would be watering and my nose runny, so I’d have to fix myself up before I went back downstairs.
I think one of my lowest points was when we were in holiday in Spain. It was a lovely, all-inclusive hotel, and we were having a great time. I had let my hair down and was indulging in the desert buffet. Five minutes later I’m on my knees in the hotel toilets bringing it all back up again, whilst my five-year-old daughter is in the cubicle next door. What am I doing! On my birthday we went to Harvester. Afterwards – yep, you guessed it. On my knees in the toilets. I became an expert at being sick silently, tears running down my cheeks.
Things got better for a while – I joined a gym, I was dating again. Work was going well. Life was good, but then something would occasionally trigger it again and I would relapse. It wasn’t the ex husband anymore – it could be someone who I was dating not reply to my message. My most recent relapse was when we were forced to move house due to the landlord selling the property. It was (and still is) an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Looking back from a much better place, I can see that my eating disorder was triggered by loss of control. I was in a vulnerable and lonely place back then. He was divorcing me even though he was the one who treated me badly. He had met a new woman, he was having a new baby, he was getting married. All of these situations triggered my bulimia as I had absolutely no control over any of it.
Life is pretty good at the moment. Most of the time I’m in control of my eating disorder. I know it may never totally go away, but writing has helped me to express myself and understand my triggers.
I have never shared this with anyone, not even my family. I don’t want sympathy and, if I’m truly honest, I’m embarrassed about it. I hope that by sharing my story anonymously, others will not feel so alone.
Being a single parent in your 30s doesn’t make you any less vulnerable than younger people with eating disorders. It was never about being thin – it was about feeling anxious, lonely and scared.