A veterinary surgeon has generously agreed to share her personal experiences of bulimia and the steps she took to recover, in the hope that it will encourage others to seek help:
I don’t wish to dwell too much on my own experiences of actually suffering from an eating disorder, because I want this article to be about recovery, the help I received through Vetlife Health Support and how we can help anyone still suffering. As a highly female dominated profession, comprised of high achieving personalities, it would seem likely that the profession is at a significant risk for eating disorders. Especially when combined with the isolation and pressures of university and then work. But no study has yet looked into this particular problem within the profession to gauge if this is in fact true.
Eating disorders are generally easier to hide than alcohol or drug abuse in a workplace setting because, although they affect individuals severely, the sufferer is not actually intoxicated or apparently unable to perform their duties unless severely physically impaired (eg severe anorexia).
Although people are likely to think of anorexia as the severe and life threatening form of the illness, the term in fact covers a much wider spectrum of problems, from anorexia to binge eating disorder to severe obesity to bulimia. I suffer from bulimia. I use the present tense because, although now in recovery, I must be constantly vigilant against the threat of relapse. Just as with alcoholism, I will never be “cured” of the problem, only ever recovering.
My own experience of bulimia was severe and life threatening. Despite being a normal weight and apparently getting on with my life, I was binging and vomiting constantly, making myself sick up to 15 times per day. I felt locked into the cycle, each day thinking tomorrow would be better. I lived like this for 13 years, despite seeking and receiving help from the medical profession on several occasions. However, any time that I tried to stop my erratic eating behaviour, I felt so bad that I couldn’t go on. I really believed that I couldn’t function without my bulimia.
Finally, because these diseases are progressive unless treated, I found that I couldn’t live either with or without the disease. Suicide seemed to be the only option I had to stop myself from the binging and vomiting. That is when I finally contacted Vetlife Health Support.
Through Vetlife Health Support, I was given a place in a treatment clinic with other addicts. There I learnt that eating disorders are forms of addictive disease which can be treated along similar lines to alcoholism and drug addiction. From there, my recovery began. But it took longer than the 5 weeks in treatment to learn how to deal with life without the “crutch” of my bulimia. The first 6 months were incredibly tough and it’s still tough at times now – five years into my recovery. But then again, life can be tough for all of us, and I have learnt a great deal about compassion for my fellow man through my experiences for which I am eternally grateful.
I’d like to say that recovery has been plain sailing, but it hasn’t, and still isn’t on occasion! Most of the time I enjoy a feeling of stability and purpose in my life but every now and again my “demons” get to me, and I start to worry about my weight, or crave foods that I don’t eat because they are a trigger for me. I also suffer from intermittent bouts of depression, and I worry a lot about doing a good job at work. But recovery has given me the tools and support network that I need to deal with these times. I now enjoy a quiet confidence that I do have a lot to contribute to my family and friends, my patients, clients and employer and also to the community. I no longer feel worthless as I once did and I shudder to think that I was so desperate a few years ago that I wanted to end it all.
I now have a rich and varied life, with ongoing support from Vetlife Health Support, my workplace, a wonderful boyfriend and my family and I am doing things with my life that I never thought would be possible. For this I am truly grateful.
I hope my story encourages anyone who is experiencing difficulties with food, whatever they may be, to contact Vetlife Health Support and get the help they need.