I sat in the doctor’s consulting room, not knowing where to start sharing my problems of the past 18 years. The spectacled, middle-aged male MD gazed across his desk.
At age 29, I was at the lowest of lows. Rock bottom. I could not see any way out of this dark hole. I had tried, a million times, and failed. A phone call, at my sister’s insistence, had led to me sitting here, revealing my inner battle to a doctor for the first time. The doctor would surely confirm my worst fear: I was weak. Or was there another explanation why I ate non-stop one day and starved the next? Could I be helped or should I be strong enough to help myself?
Tentatively, I began to describe how food had dominated and tormented my mind since I was a kid. The doctor looked grave and said: “You should have asked for help years ago.”
He said my brain had a gap or deficiency, which affected mood, memory, self-esteem and so on. Possibly, a lack of oxygen to my brain had occurred shortly before I was born but he concluded: “The type of person this happens to is usually excellent in every other respect.” This was reassuring! He prescribed pills to compensate for my deficiency and said: “You will be a new person.” He asked to see my husband on the next visit, saying: “He will have conditioned himself to bearing up with the way you are.” I was to return in a fortnight. I’d do whatever the doctor said. To be carefree and fun loving would be truly wonderful.
Alas, recovery from Bulimia Nervosa was not that easy. This was the 1970s, and the illness had yet to be given a name.
Two weeks later, I was feeling no better but the doctor persevered: “Because you have suffered (this chemical deficiency) for many years you are a chronic case and will require pills for six months or longer.”
He assured my husband: “Soon you will have your fun-loving June back.” Suffering side effects from the medication, a new me was hard to imagine, but I looked forward to it.
A month passed. Recovery did not leave first base. The doctor prescribed more pills, all to no avail.
Unable to Eat Three Meals a Day
To feel better I counted my blessings, which included four healthy children and a loving husband and a beautiful home. But acknowledging this increased my frustration because I could see no reason for the depression, bingeing and starving episodes. Why oh why could I not eat three meals a day?
I hated myself for bursting into tears in front of the children. Their frightened and fearful faces struck at my heart. I wanted to see them grow up. I had to seek more help.
My 30th birthday was looming and my husband was tired of me moping about – he didn’t seem a degree brighter either, but maybe I’d made him that way.
One day I actually ate as a normal person might, eating three square meals, a snack and with a treat for dessert. ‘This seems so easy, I can do it,’ I thought, but on the second day I binged until I felt utterly sick and fell asleep before getting the children their supper. Now I was being a negligent mother.
Guilt gave me strength to return to the doctor. This time I said I was sure my troubles stemmed from childhood. Whatever they were, they manifested in food, which had become a constant, unrelenting torment. I was tired of being ‘obsessed’, tired of my mind being knotted, my nerves brittle, trapped and ready to snap.
The doctor said: “Obviously, the medication has been treating only the effects of your problem, not the problem itself”. He referred me to a clinical psychologist, who diagnosed severe hypoglycemia and prescribed a special diet, together with huge doses of vitamins and minerals. I began to yawn incessantly and wanted to curl up and sleep. If only I could disappear for eight weeks and come back, normal! Work was a struggle and I doubted the diet and 12 tablets daily were any help.
Several years passed. Working as a newspaper journalist enabled me to cling to a thread of true self. At least that tiny part of me, the part that loved writing, was okay. It was my lifeline. But the untreated Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa worsened, as did the chronic anxiety and depression.
Another near death experience compelled me to return to the doctor one more time, desperate, pleading for help.
“I know a psychiatrist who may understand,” he said. Six months passed, waiting for the appointment. The day came. I feared the psychiatrist would say there was nothing wrong, and would confirm once and for all that I was incredibly weak. However, within minutes of meeting, I knew he would help me.
Twenty-two years after developing Anorexia Nervosa, followed by Bulimia Nervosa, my recovery journey began.
To be continued…
This post also appears on the National Eating Disorders Association website.