Age at interview: 21
Brief Outline: Emily has experienced bulimia since she was 11 and she was diagnosed with depression in her late teens. With the help of her GP and antidepressants she has learnt to deal with negative thoughts around eating, food and body image and is now recovering.
Background: Emily is 21 and a University student. She is single and lives in halls of residence. White British.
More about me...
Emily first started making herself sick after eating around the age of 11. At the time it was a way for her to have something to herself, to keep from other people, and was not about losing weight. Later on Emily came to realise that the problems she was experiencing at home probably also contributed to developing bulimia.
Emily describes that making herself sick became “a habitual thing” and gradually linked to body image. At 17, Emily decided to confide in a trusted teacher. She was very understanding and encouraged Emily to tell her closest friend. Emily was impressed how supportive her friend was and explains how good it was to have someone to talk to about her bulimia.
The teacher also advised Emily to visit the school counsellor and her GP which she did. However Emily found the counsellor was more equipped to address issues such as bullying and so could not help. The GP also had little knowledge about eating disorders and just gave Emily some phone numbers to call which turned out to be urgent services for people with severe anorexia.
When Emily started university she sought help from her new GP. She was offered a place to take part in cognitive behavioural trials but due to impracticalities of the study, Emily decided not to take part. The consultant she saw a couple of times suggested Emily might have depression, in turn contributing to bulimia. First Emily thought it was “a ridiculous” suggestion as she had always considered herself a positive and happy person. However when considering the symptoms she soon realised they applied to her and she was diagnosed with clinical depression.
After initial hesitations, Emily has got help from antidepressants and she also visits her GP every few weeks. Feeling better generally has in turned helped with bulimia.
Emily says it’s “amazing how much life can change” and how she never thought she could overcome “this insurmountable mountain”. Now, despite her bad days, thinking about food, eating or body image is not a “constant tally” of worry on her mind anymore. Emily says she can now see a happy future.
After years of keeping bulimia a secret from everyone, Emily started to think about seeking help....
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I think I’d seen kind of some of my friends and people around me struggling with like, they had different issues that they struggled with like teenage issues, things, and they kind of told us about it and seeing them confide in us, like, it, I do have close friends but I’d never really kind of fully confided in someone and it was just kind of a new thing to me like seeing someone say, “I’m really, really struggling with this, just,” like holding their hands up and being like, “I need some help.” That was like a really big thing to me and just seeing that it could change their lives. I kind of I just remember hearing them say that and thinking, “What, what if I did that? What if,” I’d never even considered getting help before then or considered that I could get better or anything.
I kind of started entertaining the idea like, what, what if I said to someone oh, I’m really struggling with this, and maybe I could get better. Or maybe I could get to a stage where I don’t constantly worry about my weight, and I don’t constantly look at other people and wish I was like them. Or I don’t constantly, because it’s not a pleasant thing to have, like it’s not a nice thing to go through and to have always there.
Like I kind of thought well that would be, yeah that would strange maybe, then I’d like, I’d kind of get it, kind of like mulled it over in the back of my mind, well not really consciously and I’d kind of known this teacher, like got on well with her and like known that she’d be really good kind of pastorally helping people, so she was always like made it very clear that anything we had we could go to her with. And I kind of thought well I might as well, it’s not like me telling this, I’ve got anything to lose by me telling this teacher. It’s not like, she’s not like a parent or anything, she can’t like kick me out of the house or fall out with me. Like anything like that, there’s nothing to lose so why don’t I just grit my teeth, and you know go in there and talk about it and see if something positive does come from it. Great. If not then well that’s just, that’s that yeah I just kind of.
It was like, although I really, part of me really didn’t, never wanted to talk about them things, even that day when I went to her, knowing that I was going to for the first time talk about it, and it was a good feeling, it was like something was changing and I was finally kind of, it was quite exciting knowing that like this massive issue was suddenly, like it was like life changing things were about to happen and I was doing it. It was me; it was like got it in my own hands and said, “No, I’m going to do something about this”. It was quite an empowering feeling.
Emily confided in a teacher that she’d been bingeing and purging for 5 years. After years of not...
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So I went to a teacher at school who like I kind of knew I could trust and, like she was youngish and like fairly easy to relate to, and she was really, really good like, because I was 17, she really wanted me to tell my parents, but because I was 17 like if you’re, I think it’s if you’re less than 16 she would have been able to, but because I was 17 like she didn’t have, like I was too old for her to break the confidentiality or something.
So like she told me to, but I still didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents, but she made me tell my closest friend at school. Like I was, so the day like I went to see the teacher and like talked about it for the first time ever, even though it had been part of my daily life for five six years, like I, just kind of sat there and saying it out loud for the first time ever, when it was obviously a big part of me. It was so strange, and, talked to her about it and about how I feel about it, and like the first thing she made me do, she made me get my best friend at the time to like arrange to meet both her and my best friend the next day. And so we could both tell my best friend together. And I was like, “I don’t, I can’t do it Miss, I can’t do it. Honestly” and she was like, “Please just trust me, like this will make you, I can’t make you tell your parents, but and this honestly it will make a difference.” I was like, “I just can’t have anyone knowing.”
But, she was like, she got me and my best friend there the next day and like my best friend was obviously really concerned and wondering what was going on, and I was like , and the teacher said to me, “Do you want to, do you want to tell her?” And, and I was like, “I can’t do it. I can’t, I can’t,” and I was like nearly in tears and so my teacher said, “Well basically Emily been having trouble with this. Like making herself sick after eating and she doesn’t want to tell you because she doesn’t want to worry you,” but blah blah blah, and like kind of broke it to my friend that way.
And like that, that night we went back and like walked and my friend was like, “Oh, I’m just, I can’t believe I didn’t know. And like of course I don’t think any less of you.” That was one thing, I was like, “I don’t want you to think I’m,” because I know it’s, I know it’s like something that I shouldn’t do. It’s obviously from, but my friend was just like, “I don’t think any less of you, I don’t, I’m just worried about you, and I just want to help.”
And it was surprising when I spoke to her just how easy it was to just talk about it as though it was an everyday something else, and like ever since then, for the past like four years like, she’s been there every step of the way, and it’s just become another thing that we can talk about quite happily. I wouldn’t want to keep anything from her about it, and like that was the first a step. That was definitely like the best thing that the teacher could have done, it really, really helped me.
Emily still struggles, but recovery to her means not being consumed by trying to be a different...
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I don’t feel like, I sometimes still worry about weight, but I don’t feel like constantly. Like I eat normally, and I can eat normally and not make myself sick. Like it’s not, it’s not that much of a, I don’t feel caught in it anymore. I don’t feel like every single moment of my life is kind of geared towards trying to be skinnier and be a different person.
So I’m happy. I’ve kind of managed to make, make the connect... like I still struggle with like confidence in like feeling fatter than everyone else and things like that but I’ve managed to make the connection between both that being skinny won’t make me happy and that like having this eating disorder won’t make me skinny. And I don’t feel like I have to, yeah I don’t feel like I have to make myself sick in order to be skinny. And I don’t feel like I have to make myself sick in order to push people away anymore.
Like I still struggle with an eating disorder but it’s nowhere near the trap that I was caught in and I do think that it can, and like probably will carry on getting better and just generally about life I feel a lot better now they’ve… like, through helping, me trying to get help for my eating disorder I was diagnosed with depression and that’s, like I feel quite lucky that that’s happened and like finding that there was a link between them and it’s an illness and it’s not my fault, and things like that. It really, yeah it helped me, it’s not just something that’s wrong with me and my problem, and for me being weak and silly and you know I struggle with these things, so, it’s good.
Emily describes the cycle of bingeing and purging and the emotions that kept the cycle going.
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It would be like a mental tally in my mind what I’d eaten throughout the day, and if say for instance I had something that I class as bad like a chocolate bar or something, then, and I didn’t make myself sick, then that would kind of weigh on my mind for the rest of the time and I’d go through the rest of the day feeling really rubbish about myself and thinking…
And sometimes it’ll be a case of like “Oh well I’ve had a rubbish day now anyway like going to, it’s, I’ve done really badly I might as well eat whatever I want because it’s not… so then I’d eat a lot of really bad things for me, and then it would be inevitable that I’d make myself sick anyway. So it was kind of, like it would get worse like that. But if, yeah, so it was a constant weighing on your mind that you’d eaten something bad and if, knowing that if you’re, if I made myself sick then I wouldn’t have that weighing on my mind. It was like it never happened, so I got to kind of enjoy eating whatever it was but I now don’t even have to have the bad consequences of it. So it was, it’s like in a warped kind of way I made it into a kind of a win win situation in my head. Like I didn’t see anything wrong with it, I kind of thought it was you know a good thing to be doing, or not a good thing but it made sense to be doing and.
Yeah like immediately beforehand it would just be like I couldn’t think of anything else but like I knew I just had to do it, there was, it was like I had no choice, so I just felt so like fat and disgusting and like just un… it was just unbearable and like yeah unbearably kind of greedy, and like overindulgent and things. So I’d be like well if I make myself sick then it won’t like, I won’t feel like this anymore, I’ll, I’ll have the opportunity of getting skinnier and you know it won’t happen again. I won’t do something that stupid, like eat that much again. That was like, I’ll just get this, get this one out of the way and then I’ll start again, I won’t do this again.
And then I’d make myself sick and then I’d like, it would immediately be off my mind, like immediately like a relief, like I wouldn’t, I didn’t have all this fatty horrible food inside me and I wasn’t like, okay I’d messed up and not eaten the right things and I, like I’d done wrong by eating lots of really bad fatty things, but at least I didn’t have to kind of pay the consequences for it. And I didn’t have to yeah I didn’t have to have all these extra calories inside me, they were now forgotten about, they were out of the way. They weren’t in me anymore so I can now go on and, and like build and have it, and just eat good things for now and it would be better, and I’d be skinny and life would be brilliant.
But yeah, so after the feeling, like relief and like it was out of the way and it would, things would get better, like inevitably if you eat something else bad or that you class as bad you know that last time you felt so much better after making yourself sick and you felt like you didn’t have to worry about it. So you eat something and then the worry’s there again.
Emily described how proud and strong you can feel by coming through an eating disorder.
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And there’s so many, like so many people’s experiences of eating disorders are like, they range from so many different things, and like it’s just, it’s just hard to try and, the majority of the world just will completely, it’s only a few kind of misconceptions that are held, but the majority of the world will completely accept eating disorders. And it is possible to get over them. It’s possible for life to be good again.
And you can be happy in yourself and you can, you know you can completely work your way through it, and it might be tough, but it’s definitely worth, it’s like if it’s tough at times at least you’re challenging it and at least you’re making yourself better, and life will, you’ll just be so proud of yourself for having come out of the other side. And you’ll feel like such a better off person for having gone through this, and gone through the suffering and you’ll just be so strong at the end of it. And do have the confidence to take the steps to make yourself better, because you’re fully capable of getting better. And you’ve got it within yourself to get better, and it like one day, it definitely can happen.
Emily felt it was “ridiculous” she was diagnosed with depression but it made sense once her...
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So they talked about depression and diagnosed, diagnosed you with clinical depression. Did that come as a surprise or…?
Yeah like the first time he mentioned that, the doctor that diagnosed me was such an expert in his field and so he’s kind of you know across the country he’s renowned and know about eating orders and depression.
So talking to him about it, and like the first time he said it to me, he said it as, “Oh,” well, no I got referred to him and my doctor that I had at the time was like, “Oh maybe it would be a good idea, like talking to you your mood seems a bit low at, like I don’t want to say anything but maybe it would be a good idea if we refer you to this certain doctor who deals with depression. And he could try and see if you are depressed, or if we’d say that you’re clinically depressed, or he’ll maybe diagnose you.
And I remember coming out that appointment and just thinking, “Oh she, she’s being ridiculous, I’m not depressed like, me having depression, I’m far too like, even though I struggle with this eating disorder and do have kind of a lot of unhappy things in my life, I still try and be optimistic about things and try, you know try and be friendly to people and things like that. I just thought no, depressed, depressed people, I’d just be like sat in a room all day and like, and that, that, it’s just not me. It’s just not my personality to be, to be depressed. So like I just thought, “No like but that’s ridiculous.”
And then I went to talk to him, and he kind of explained some of the symptoms of depression. And the more he talked about it, the more it fitted with my life and the more I kind of thought, “Oh yeah maybe. Oh, that’s,” and then like, so we had one appointment and it was like a couple of weeks until the next one. And over that couple of weeks I kind of thought about things and like some of the things where it is like you just struggle to get up in the morning, and just sad, inexplicably sad a lot of the time.
Some of those things are like really related to me, and I’d kind of thought maybe that’s just because I’m struggling with life at uni, or, that’s because that’s just the way I am. That’s just the way I feel like, like life had become really difficult for me to get, like make myself get up and I’d kind of lost interest in a lot of friendships and people, like I’d just kind of, if I was, I’ve always been quite like sociable and enjoyed people’s company, but it got to the stage where quite a lot of the time if I was in people’s company I’d just want to leave and come and sit in my room, even if it was like, even if that wasn’t particularly enjoyable, I’d just want to kind of block the world out, and not have to leave and kind of did become really isolated and sad and then when he said depression it kind of all started clicking into place and I thought oh that would explain a lot of things.
And he said there is often a big link between depression and eating disorders. I’d never heard that before or knew it but he said if we, if you want to do this research trial to help your eating disorder, it’s not going to work unless we tackle the depression first.