My Battle with Bulimia in College
I wanted to lose a little weight, and college seemed like a good opportunity to reinvent myself in every way possible – including my body size. What I don’t know is why I had such a dire need to shrink my physical self when I was not overweight to begin with.
I wanted to shed more than weight, perhaps. Maybe I wanted to shed the skin of my past, my failures, my guilt and shame, my memories of having grown up in an alcoholic home. This is what therapists have suggested, and I guess I don’t have much of an argument against their theory.
I figured I would get to school and start running more, be a little more careful about what I ate, and channel my anxiety into a crusade against the dreaded “freshman fifteen.” Once I was living in the dorms, I quickly fell in with a group of girls who shared my weight loss goal, and they introduced me to their secret weapon: purging. What caught me off guard was the shamelessness of it, and the fact that they often engaged in this self-destructive behavior together.
I began to lose weight, which pleased me, but more than that, I belonged. It felt like I was part of a secret sorority. A family, even. A club wherein the secret handshake was swollen cheeks and tooth marks on the backs of our hands. We sought one another out, we took one another in, and together, we grew sicker.
I became obsessed with food. I was unable to focus in my classes because my head was full of calorie calculations and lists of things I would eat next, the order in which I would eat them to make throwing them up easier, plotting my route on campus so that it always included bathrooms where I was most likely to be able to purge either alone or in the company of others who shared my secret obsession.
My grades suffered. My friendships, other than those with my fellow bulimic students, floundered. My academic goals and priorities swirled down the toilet along with my undigested meals.
By the end of my freshman year, I was skinny. Mission accomplished. But, I was also cold, weak, irritable, unable to concentrate, unable to sleep, and failing several classes.
I never did finish those classes. Instead, I ended up in the hospital with a near fatal serum potassium level. I was told my heart could have stopped. And, after I was somewhat stabilized, I was transferred to a residential treatment center.
Treatment felt like college all over again; there were classes and there was homework and there were a lot of other girls my age. Not all of them were bulimic, but a number of them were. They found me right away, recognizing my chipmunk cheeks and the tooth marks on the back of my hand.