Trigger warning: this post discusses mental health and eating disorder behavior, specifically bulimia. If that’s not for you, come back for the next one!
Note: as many of my readers already know, I write my personal experiences from a humorous lens. This does not mean that I do not take the following issues seriously. That is just my method of expression.
May is coming to a close, which means it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is actually one I’ve been sitting on since February. I have mentioned in the past that some of my posts just turn into random streams of consciousness. This was one of those posts. I wrote this post during Eating Disorder Awareness week and never published it. After making some edits, I have decided that, in the words of Rafiki from The Lion King, It is Time.
As is my way, I still plug in sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. Enjoy! Or not. I’m not your boss, just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman…I mean blogger.
Today’s beverage: coffee, black…aka 75% of my bloodstream
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was in middle school when I decided that I was obese. No one ever called me fat. Because I wasn’t, and also that would just be rude. I mean, I even had a 6-pack, something that I managed to define as a personality trait and have been desperately clinging to ever since.
I distinctly remember the summer going in to 8th grade, being up at camp (Lakehouse if you will. Apparently, “camp” is a regional term, and all through college my teammates thought my parents owned a summer camp, which is comical) and trying to see how little I could eat and still get through the day. Fortunately, my mom shut that down real fast. Thanks momma bear.
After expressing concern about not being as thin as some of the girls on one of my soccer teams, my dad tried to impart some wisdom on me.
You see, I take after my dad. We are a short people with long torsos and muscular legs. In my early adult life, this spurred the “hip to tit ratio,” where me and my tall friends would line up our hip bones and point to the nips, determining that our torsos were indeed the same length. It’s an accurate form of measurement, I swear. It’s science.
But I digress.
Back to the wisdom.
“You’re an athlete. Athletes aren’t supposed to be skinny.”
Bless. His. Stubby-Legged. Soul.
At the time, this was devastating to me because all I’d ever wanted to be was skinny.
Here’s the thing: he’s right! The wording could use some polishing, but this is a sentiment that should be shouted from the rooftops on a daily basis. Come at my dad and you are gonna catch these hands.
At that point I was always on 2 or 3 soccer teams, and I was also an Irish dancer. I briefly dabbled in gymnastics, but since I can’t even touch my toes, that was a no-go. There was no world in which I wasn’t going to be muscular, and he was constantly trying his damndest to remind me of that and to help me realize that it was a good thing.
Switching from soccer to running created a whole set of new insecurities, like the transition from baggy soccer shorts to “bun-huggers”. I was “recruited” by the cross country coach at my high school during my freshman year of JV soccer. Part of this was because my brother was an incredible runner. The other part was that my biggest assets to the soccer team were that I could beat the opposing team to the ball, and I could run the length of the field all day long without getting tired. I knew this. Teams I played against in club leagues over the years knew that despite being less technically skilled, I could shut a player out of the game. It once resulted in me getting slapped in the face by a very talented and very frustrated player.
Anyway, off I went to the world of distance running. And I loved it. I still do. But nothing is perfect, and I have covered this topic in detail in my post “A forgone conclusion.“
In college, I struggled with reminders (99% of which were in my own head) that I wasn’t “built like distance runner,” which is something I strived for. I felt like a failure. One night in a bar, a drunk townie told us he was going to guess what our track events were. This resulted in a heated argument with a drunken asshole in which I felt I had to prove I was a runner because in his opinion, I was too big. Specifically, my legs were too big. The kicker is that he was still saying I was clearly an athlete, just not a distance runner, but I felt the need to argue until he accepted that I was like the rest of my team.
Fast forward a few years, and I still have my beloved 6-pack, but in my mind, the scale reflected failure: a weight gain of 5 pounds. Unfortunately for me, I base my “ideal weight” on what I was when I was 18, despite being…not 18. In my mind, there’s no reason that should change since my height hasn’t changed. I mean, I was older, no longer racing competitively, going to school, and working multiple jobs, but yeah, let’s just continue to base everything on me still being 5’2″. Real smart, Brigid. To be clear, I’m aware that this makes zero logical sense. The facepalm is real.
Right out of college I started training for my first marathon instead of taking a break after 8 years of racing my way through high school and college. I also got in to a bit of an unhealthy relationship. You could say I was crushing it.
I love running and I love racing, but when I was told by my then-boyfriend that he would no longer date me if I ever stopped training, it felt mandatory. At the time, I accepted his reasoning that he wanted to be proud of me and that he wanted to date someone who understood his lifestyle as a runner.
That relationship ended, and I jumped right in to another one, also a runner. So close Brigid, so close. I was looking for someone to coach me, and I went to him…because he was a local coach! He said he would, but he also told me that as long as he was my coach, the subject of my weight would always be on the table. He convinced me that every pound I lost could mean one second faster around the track.
I over trained. I got injured. I was a burden to his training. Running lost a lot of its appeal. That relationship also lost its appeal to me so I ended via text message between beers from a bar in Florida while my friend stepped away to use the bathroom. Girl Boss!!
Life after grad school and toxic boys hasn’t been all roses though. After to moving to a new city and making new friends, I stopped working out as much and drinking more, which honestly I feel like just goes with the territory, and I’m good with it. New city, new people, new bars. Also, “stopped working out as much” only entailed a drop from 75 mile weeks to 50-60 mile weeks.
My mid-twenties became a turning point. Despite dealing with mild, undiagnosed anxiety and depression for years, this is when things took a nosedive. My anxiety has always manifested itself as nausea. As a result, I fell back on a behavior I taught myself in college for dealing with feeling sick. In my senior year of college, whenever I was hung over, I’d make myself throw because it would settle my stomach, and then I would go eat brunch and go about my Sunday, calling alumni and asking them to give all their money to the school…like as a job, not some weird hobby of mine. Despite the constant protests of my roommate, I rationalized the puking by saying that I was doing it so I could feel better and eat something and get on with my day. She vehemently disagreed, but *shrug* .
So fast forward to age 24. I would eat a meal, a perfectly reasonably sized meal, feel nauseous, and throw up. The thing is, I couldn’t have really been that sick, since I was the one making myself throw up. I also didn’t connect that the nausea was my anxiety around food and weight.
It wasn’t a secret from anyone, really. But you can make anything make sense if you bend the facts. I mean, have you ever used the internet? You can also make a situation sound less serious if you laugh it off, a skill I’ve fine tuned, to toot my own horn. If someone mentioned “bulimia” I would deny it because I wasn’t binging. I would argue that the food just wasn’t sitting well. It was just a “perk” that I saw results on the scale that made me happy (problematic, I know). I got back down to my ideal weight. I was also seeing blood every time I threw up.
This all stopped for a bit after I got mono. I lost a ton of weight because I was sick, and so I was happy with the number on my scale.
When my anxiety hit its peak a few years ago, I realized the same action could put an end to a panic attack. The smallest things could send me into a tailspin. At my peak of 3 panic attacks a day, I was purging pretty much everything I ate.
At the encouragement of my lovely mom, I finally went to my doctor for help. Unfortunately, the medication I was put on was not right for me, and I was not prepared for the side effects. My anxiety went through the roof, I lost my appetite to the point that I was forcing myself just to get through 400-500 calories a day. Oh, and I was still exercising. And I was still, somehow, purging. I wasn’t sleeping. I lost over 10 pounds in the course of a week, and then I lost my fucking mind.
I went from CPEP, to a partial inpatient program (self-dubbed the Island of Misfit Toys), to finding my own therapist and prescriber. Along the way, whenever I described what was going on, people kept asking me if I counted things. I could not figure out what they were getting at. Am I being casted for Sesame Street? Am I Mr. Owl?
Then I got my diagnoses: GAD and Depression (no surprise there) and OCD. I was so confused. In my mind, OCD was cleaning everything and turning the lights on and off. My electric bill clearly shows that my light switches have never seen the “off” position.
OCD definition from psychiatry.org: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).
I slipped under the radar because I didn’t see my compulsions as compulsions.
I slipped under the radar because most of us only have surface level definitions of mental health.
We’ve all heard it. Most of us have even been guilty of it.
“Oh I keep my house clean. I’m OCD.”
“I like to write in pencil, because I’m OCD.”
Nah, you’re just tidy.
Anywhoooo back to me.
I started new meds, and my mental health improved in the sense that I wasn’t checking myself back in to CPEP and the purging subsided. But then new side effects of the meds hit, and I started gaining weight. During this time, I had accepted that I needed to put my fitness on the back burner (to an extent) in order to recover some of my mental and physical health, but I was still working out and eating the same, so the change shouldn’t have been as drastic as it was.
I gained 20 pounds, and I hated myself. In my mind, I was a failure. I argued to get my meds changed, because while I wasn’t having panic attacks, the weight gain sent my mental health back down the tubes like one of those water slides that ends in a giant toilet bowl before it spits you out into the pool.
I started purging again. And it became the first time I ever admitted out loud that while the vomiting was still mainly a compulsion to stop panic, I was also purging to lose weight. This got me a med change, and that’s honestly the only reason I said anything. I needed to lose weight.
I started losing weight, and I started training for a marathon. Not only that, I set out for a PR. Makes sense, right? My last marathon had been like 3 years prior and I had barely run in the last year.
Not surprisingly, training didn’t go well. Feeling like I was failing brought panic and purging back to my life. I stopped training and things got better, and I stopped purging. Then they got worse, and better, and worse, and so on.
Mental health isn’t linear. It is a constant battle between your emotional and logical mind. And sometimes I think people fail to realize that. I have times that I feel great, and I have times that I feel like shit is hitting the fan and spraying back into my face. (pretty image, right? I have a real way with words, I know).
Mental Health is also not one-sided. Yes, my purging is (albeit negative) coping mechanism for stress, it is also at times a function of bulimia. There are so many moving parts, and all of those parts need to be addressed.
So that’s my story, or at least part of my story. This post is already long enough. As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I have been reflecting on the fact that understanding that you’re not alone in your problems takes a huge burden off your shoulders. Mental illness comes with a stigma that is problematic and undeserved, but the more we talk about it and bring it into the light, the less frightening it becomes. So this is me, shining a little light on the subject. Hope ya don’t mind!
In lieu of my usual sign-off, visit I’m leaving you with the link for the National Alliance on Mental Illness
Home | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
And don’t worry, next post we will be back to our usual programming. As a preview, here’s a working title: I don’t need a man; I just need pockets.
I do have a man, though, and I love him, and I’m keeping him. But like, functional pockets would be cool.