One of the sneaky things my brain does is convince myself that I’m not sick enough at the first sign of getting help.
It’s Christmas evening and I’m lying on my couch watching Klaus and picking at a salad. Despite being invited by friends to join them in their intimate holiday gathering, I’m feeling a little anxious and have elected to spend the day in the company of my cats and my family via FaceTime. Honestly, there are worse ways to spend a solo holiday.
One of the reasons I’m feeling alright is that just two days ago, I created a GoFundMe page to help fund my bulimia treatment after being told that the cost of admission to the facility alone would be more than I’d had in the bank in years — even BEFORE the pandemic. To my shock, we raised $5,000 in less than 24 hours. “Overwhelmed with gratitude” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.
However, there is a gnawing anxiety getting in the way of my joy. It wasn’t long after the donations started trickling in before I was having intrusive thoughts saying things like “You just did this for attention”, “You’re 28 and have to ask people for money? What a loser”, and my personal favorite: “You’re not even that skinny — people probably think you’re faking it”.
Let’s let that last one sink in for a second.
Now, we’ve known for awhile that a person’s weight is not necessarily an indicator of the severity of their eating disorder. In fact, this 2019 study shows that the patients with the most aggressive forms of the illness often had greater BMIs upon intake than others who weighed less.
Despite this knowledge, there is still an unspoken bias against normal or overweight ED sufferers. There is a sense that they haven’t worked hard enough, or followed the rules, or lost enough weight. (This is despite research that previously overweight people with EDs, who might look normal at their sickest, are sometimes more at risk for sudden health problems because of the rate at which they initially lose weight.)
And it’s not just other people with eating disorders making these judgements. The healthcare system is also to blame, to an extent. Although there have been progressive strides made, such as the relatively recent addition of Binge Eating Disorder (BED) to the DSM5, the fact that a person’s BMI is still used to diagnose patients with an ED indicates that we have a ways to go until we drop the stigmas associated with not looking “sick enough”.
I know more about eating disorders than the average person, having been battling its forms for over 14 years. I also like to think that I’m logical and analytical. Therefore, I know IN MY HEAD that just because I weigh X lbs more now than I did at my lowest adult weight, my bulimia is still critical enough to warrant residential treatment.
But tell that to my bulimia.
Some of these people haven’t seen you in awhile. If they knew that you’d gained so much weight, they wouldn’t give you money for treatment.
You’re a fraud because you have a butt.
You’re going to get to treatment and be the biggest person there. Everyone will judge you. How can you be expected to recover in an atmosphere like that?
You’re going to waste your friends’ money. They’re misguided to believe in you.
The only way you’ll be worthy of treatment is by losing as much weight as you possibly can before you’re admitted.
The guilt spiral is merciless. I feel guilty for needing help, which turns into guilt for being a fraud, which turns into guilt for failing to recognize my sickness, which turns into guilt for my lack of self awareness. Am I fake for thinking this, or am I thinking this because I’m fake?
It was in one of these guilt spirals that I pumped the brakes, so to speak. Haven’t I been here before? One of the sneaky things my brain does is convince myself that I’m not sick enough at the first sign of getting help. This has the effect of fanning the flames of my vice, rendering the help ineffective.
I’ve been doing this for years. It’s why it took me so long to get sober — would a person with a problem be able to turn down another beer? OBVIOUSLY I don’t have a problem. Unsurprisingly, this way of thinking inevitably leads to a few days of improvement followed by a massive relapse. Rinse and repeat.
Why is it that I feel the overwhelming urge to get sicker the moment the prospect of recovery enters the picture?
I foolishly thought that raising the funds and getting into treatment would motivate me to form healthier habits. Instead, the opposite seems to be true. Since meeting my GoFundMe goal, I’ve continued to lose weight at an even faster pace than before. It’s akin to an alcoholic who decides to go on one last bender before checking into rehab.
You’ll never get to eat these binge foods again once you’re recovered. Might as well have a little fun before signing your soul away to the doctors.
The fact that I’m still thinking this way is a clear indicator that not only do I need treatment for the behaviors associated with my bulimia, but that I need to seriously correct my way of thinking when it comes to recovery. People who are truly recovered from eating disorders don’t restrict certain previously forbidden foods. Instead, they’re able to enjoy them periodically in moderation. WILD.
The thought of eating a trigger food without it escalating into a binge is inconceivable to me right now. And that’s why, FINALLY, I’m beginning to accept that I need to do some serious work reframing my relationship with food. It’s going to take a long time, and I’m not looking forward to the prospect of gaining weight. But I owe it to the wonderful people who have invested to my recovery. More importantly, I owe it to myself.
So yes, I am sick. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.