Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The hidden effects of bulimia

I am going to admit something to you guys that I have only admitted to two of my immediate family members and no one else. I've kept this little secret to myself for two reasons; one because it doesn't look too good for me, and two because it looks like I'm trying to blame my problems on my baby sister.

If any of you read my piece on R U OK day for 2016 (you can find it here) you'll know that my little sister is currently living with my mum and I while she tries to recover from bulimia, PTSD, and now suspected Fibromyalgia. Her health problems and mental problems fill up her whole life, and as an extension they fill up our lives as we live with her. While I've always had an idea how hard bulimia was to overcome, I never suspected it could affect people not suffering from it quite like it does. That's the thing about mental disorders, they are insidious and sneaky and plague you in ways you never thought possible.

Which is why yesterday I had to Google the phrase "are eating disorders contagious". You see ever since Kimberley has come to live with us, I have developed a hatred for food. I hate the way it has become an obsession for my little sister, I hate how much of her day revolves around cooking and eating food, I hate that our kitchen is always full of dirty dishes because she got peckish yet again. At first I avoided cooking because it always meant having to wash a mountain of dishes just to get enough supplies to cook something for me. This really isn't a problem around here right now because Kimberley loves cooking, so she gladly picked up the slack that I dropped. Then I spent weeks listening to Kimberley talk about all the different restaurants she's been to, the meals she's cooked, the meals she wants to cook, the meals she managed to keep down, and the ones she didn't, and I got food fatigue. I was so tired of hearing about food, of talking about food, of watching someone be consumed by food that I began to hate the very fuel that is meant to keep my body going.

I stopped just avoiding cooking and began to start avoiding eating as well. Food held no joy for me anymore, and I lost my appetite almost entirely. I still managed to organise meals for Miss K, but I stopped eating with her. I would wait until she went to bed and eat a rice cake or a bag of Doritos instead of sitting down to a proper meal. Kimberley nagged me to eat more, and this just made me angry. How dare a person who can't even manage their own relationship with food lecture me on mine. This seemed to make my own issues magnify and when Miss K went for a holiday at her dad's house for a week I stopped caring for food entirely. I lived the entire week on yogurt for breakfast and rice cakes for dinner, with ice cream for dessert. It was a throwback to a time before I had Miss K when I would eat cereal for every meal and be happy doing so. I was almost happy when Miss K's dad told me she'd spent her last night at his house throwing up, because it meant I had to give her something very light for dinner her first night back, just in case she was still sick.

It slowly dawned on me that my behaviour was becoming problematic. I began to wonder why I had such an aversion to food now, when it used to be the only good thing in my life once upon a time. (That was in my late teens when emotional eating made me balloon out to a size 20.) I've never been one to diet, and while I've not always had the healthiest relationship with food, I've certainly become smarter about it ever since Miss K came along, and usually I try my hardest to eat a balanced diet. The thing is, I don't actually believe I have an eating disorder, what I have is a whole lot of anger. I am angry at food for the hold it has on my little sister. But I can't punish food for being such a toxic subject in my house, so like the true passive aggressive I am, I avoid it entirely. Is it healthy? No. Does it solve anything? Hell no.

There isn't a lot of attention paid online to the effects eating disorders have on the people surrounding the sufferer. It is always briefly acknowledged that yes, you will struggle as you try to help the person you love, and here are some of the things you may feel, however get over it princess because here is what you now need to do to help the person with an eating disorder. There is no article called "How to survive your sister's bulimia" which would really help me right now.

Now like I said at the beginning of this, the reason I haven't admitted this to anyone is because it sounds like I am blaming Kimberley for admitting she has a problem. Do I wish Kimberley hadn't reached out to us for help? No. Not at all. I'd rather have a sister who is alive and openly struggling than a sister who died because of a secret. As much as she bugs the hell out of me on a weekly basis, the alternative is far worse. What I really hope to achieve by sharing my dirty little secret with you is showing that helping someone get through something like this is bloody hard, and you will feel like shit sometimes. This is OK, and you can't feel guilty for having your own reactions to the situation you are living. There is help out there for families, you just won't find a lot of it on the internet. You will need to go to the professionals, and I am no different. For any one out there reading this who is currently hiding their own eating disorder, please understand that reaching out for help is the best thing you can do. The people you love would much rather help you bear your burdens and feel these feelings than be kept blissfully unaware and in the dark.

As for me, this is the part where I suck it up princess. It's not my job to fight with food, and doing so is counter-productive, so I need to stop taking my anger out on food and start dealing with my feelings like an adult. Realising what my problem was has helped, so it can only go up from here. (See? Adult!) Now if you'll excuse me Miss K has just informed me she is craving pumpkin rice and tortellini, so I have to go shopping and fill my pantry up with some real food. That is one of the downsides of her spending a whole week with Italians; her love of good cooking comes home with her.

If any of you have gone through, or are currently going through something similar, please drop me a comment down below, let me know how you're coping (or not coping as the case may be). I'd love to hear from you.

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