My battle with bulimia started at the age of 12 but with the gift of hindsight I have discovered my battles with binging and body image started before then. I come from a family of very slim people. Despite a height range, the build is the same. Wide shoulders, slender bodies. At 20 years old and nearly four years into recovery, I can finally see that I'm built just the same. At 8 years old I thought exactly the opposite. I felt like the odd one out. I felt large. As I grew, my desire to be smaller grew too. Doing exercise in my room on the carpet or bed, I was so proud of myself. It seemed to give me some meaning, all this exercise, but I was still eating a lot.
Despite our natural slim builds, we're a family of foodies. We eat a lot. We gift each other food, we welcome each other with food, we spend time together over food, we send each other home with food. I never learnt to stop. I'd see other family members accept the food, eat a portion and stop, but I couldn't stop.
By age 12 I was just too conscious of food. It was causing me issues. That was when bulimia crept in. It seemed like the best of both worlds. I would sit and indulge in all of my favourite foods in one amazingly large binge and then be done with it, almost like it never happened. I thought I could finally become the ideal pretty and skinny girl that everyone around me seemed to praise.
At 15, my two seemingly perfect worlds began to unravel. I started fainting frequently and at random as well as having panic attacks on holiday, at school and on the bus. I was scared. I was so scared. The control I had spent so long perfecting was slipping through my fingers. My teachers figured it out and I hated knowing I was being watched. I tried to tell my family and they didn't understand. In fact my mother laughed in my face when I broke down crying and told her what I was going through. As my heart broke, my aunt added that seeking help in the form of counselling was the wrong thing to do. Counselling was not something people of colour do. I wasn’t to engage in it. Despite counselling being set up for me through my school, I didn’t go because I thought I was betraying my family. Years later I realised I had only betrayed myself. I lost a lot of friends and I felt alone and angry and completely helpless.
The day before my 17th birthday I just couldn't take anymore. I swore to myself that that would be it. In terms of purging, it was. I am eternally proud of myself for that decision. Regardless of the shame, embarrassment and desertion I had felt as a result of my eating disorder, I was going to stand up for myself and make a change.
The binging on the other hand, I just couldn't get a hold of. I'd find myself slipping back into bad habits for months. Today, I still struggle with binging. Old habits die hard. Binging is a safety net for me in so many ways. Being the only child of the most hard working single mother I know, food kept me company when things got a bit quiet. When my father failed to turn up, I ate. When he did turn up, we ate and we ate a lot. Food has been my best friend for over a decade but in recent months I've been trying out being my own best friend.
I see a counsellor now and it has changed my life. For months, I would research counsellors but be too ashamed to call them. I struggled with talking about my situation, convinced more people would laugh at me. Even when people didn’t laugh to my face I was convinced they would laugh behind my back. Everyone I did know with a counsellor did happen to be white. For so long I thought maybe my aunt had been right: that I shouldn’t seek help for what I was going through. I had to fight against that sentiment: if mental health had been an open, free topic of conversation around me, maybe I wouldn’t have waited so long.
So many times I have had to tell myself to do the exact opposite of what those around me suggested. I had to fight the stigma and judgement of my own family. Through making those decisions, I found change. I have been on a journey with my health for so long and I've just taken a new turn towards a healthier and happier me and honestly, I like it. No one else should have to experience the shame and stigma that stopped me from getting help.