A lot of people who’ve clicked into this post will likely have had no idea that I ever struggled with an eating disorder.
It used to be something I discussed fairly frequently and openly on this blog – back in the day, but it became something that plagued my waking thoughts less and less and so naturally, I just stopped bringing it up as much.
So… Where to start?
I was fourteen the first time I made myself sick.
And probably twenty-seven the last time I made myself sick.
And twenty-eight the last time I thought about making myself sick.
Because that’s the thing with something like bulimia – even if you have won the battle and it no longer haunts you by the minute, the voice of temptation is always waiting around the next corner ready to jump out and overwhelm you.
So, while I have considered myself recovered now for the best part of a decade (give or take the odd fleeting relapse), I am not sure it is something that will ever completely free itself from the deep, dark corners of my brain.
And I am OK with that.
I can live with it. I can nod a quick hello to it like a neighbour in the street, without inviting it into my home. If that even makes sense.
I used bulimia for many things – as a way to binge eat and fill an emotional emptiness, to gain a sense of control over my life at a time when it felt like I had none, as an attempt to lose weight, as a cry for attention, and as a way to release some of the pent up anger and sadness sitting within me.
It became a go-to coping mechanism whenever I was in need.
Some kid on the school field call you fat? Just go throw up.
Your ex-boyfriend dancing with someone else in a club? Just go throw up.
Been chucked out of your mum’s house? Just go throw up.
Making myself sick was my safety net, an invisible best friend in a world that, at the time, was incredibly lonely.
I had never meant to get hooked or to rely on it as heavily as I did. And it’s wild to think how quickly something can escalate from being a hobby to being a habit to being an addiction.
I remember feeling a sense of pride when I could tick off how many days in a row I’d forced my fingers down my throat, a sense of achievement at just how long I’d kept it up for.
It was a weird clash of feeling like FUCK, THIS IS BAD, I SHOULD STOP, THIS IS GETTING OUT OF CONTROL and LOOK AT ME GO, LOOK, LOOK, I’M ACTUALLY GOOD AT SOMETHING!
I had this weird fantasy in my head that one day the world would find out and I would be overwhelmed with love and support and kindess. That people would rush to my side and do anything to see me healthy again, happy again, that people would care.
But it never quite worked out like that.
Because as most of us know, society is still quite scared by mental illnesses.
People don’t know what to say or do, and so quite often, they say nothing instead. I guess for fear of making it worse.
Eating disorders are extra tricky because so much emphasis is placed on the weight-loss element, when actually, much of the disease stems from v v v complex emotional issues rather than just ‘LOL I AM FAT’.
And with bulimia, most people struggle to get their head around it because surely no-one enjoys throwing up?
There is nothing glamorous or aspirational (if a mental illness can be either) about smelling like sick, of rotting see-through teeth, of scabby fingers and knuckles, of bloodshot eyes, of tired skin.
And so whilst a few people confronted me over the years (and one ex-boyfriend literally frogmarched me to my GP’s office), the only real thing that helped me was me.
This gal sitting here in her pants and an oversized bright pink cardigan, Hannah Gale.
I realise it’s not particularly helpful to tell you that I just grew out of it. But I kinda did. It’s like I eventually realised that actually, I was more than bulimia, I didn’t want that to be the biggest thing about me.
I wrote a list in my diary of all the reasons bulimia was dumb – the idea of it effecting my fertility being the thing that haunted me the most, and I referred to it whenever I was feeling particularly low or vulnerable.
But more than anything, the very thing that has saved me the most, has been gaining control over my own life. And I guess that’s something which comes with age and independence.
Having that control to create a life environment that prioritises safety and stability, has helped me fight the triggers that led me to bulimia in the first place.
I have created my own home, my own job, my own family. I have made myself an adult life with as few of the things that make me question my sanity, and myself, as possible.
And in doing so, I have saved myself.
I guess what I am trying to say is that you cannot wait for anyone to lift you out of your darkness, you have to choose to start lifting yourself out of it.
And so to anyone struggling, just know that you are brilliant and brave and beautiful and just know that there is an escape from the madness.
It may not be overnight, and the temptations might not ever go away, but there is some peace and some sunshine waiting for you.
You got this.