By Lindsay Tang
“Even though I’m finished with bulimia, it isn’t finished with me. I quit my bulimic habits over a year ago, but the health and social problems that came with my eating disorder still haunt me today”.
Being supervised by my thirteen-year old sister is weird because Im one and a half times her age. Its weirder that shes supervising me going to the bathroom. Well, ok, shes actually just waiting outside the stall. But I knew she would follow me, I knew she would wash her hands, and I knew she would linger. So I use the bathroom, open the door, and shes just standing there casually. What are you doing? I ask, even though I know.
Just waiting for you.
Oh. Ok. And Im not supposed to be mad at all, even though the situation is awkward and I cant get any privacy when Im just using the bathroom. It irritates me that this doesnt happen when I go before lunch.
Rewind to late May when Im so near death, I can brush it with my eyelashes. Jon and I are competing to lose weight and I cant shake off his Its ok if you dont lose as much weight as me, Lindsay; after all, Im a guy statement. I dont like losing anything except for weight, twenty pounds of which disappears in a month and a half. But ten pounds in, its not about beating Jons ass and winning the $200 bet anymore. I stop wanting to look thinner. I start needing to look thinner.
I could look so amazing if I keep this up. Im convinced, though, that it isnt enough to just keep exercising and scraping by on water, hard-boiled egg whites, and salad (which is actually just lettuce and tomatoes no dressing, croutons, or even corn because there are too many carbs in that). If I want to be tinier with every glance in the mirror, Ill need a better strategy. So I become a double-barreled bulimic; Im the purging type and the non-purging type. Purging is just a pleasant way of saying self-induced vomiting. It isnt pleasant at all but people are convinced that I eat. Non-purging, also called exercise bulimia, is when I sweat off what little Ive eaten and more. One website calls it secretly vomiting, but I think of it as added insurance.
I recommend bulimia for anyone self-deluded enough to ignore feeling like shit all the time. This bottle of aspirin must be full of placebos because my headaches wont go away. The doctor is insane; Im not overrunning and my knee and hip pains cant be early signs of arthritis. My esophagus isnt corroded. My voice isnt raspy. I can keep getting away with this. Itll be worth it. I feel fine. Im not bulimic. And now Im wailing my confession to Jon about having two types of bulimia and how much work it is to hide it and how Im scared about not getting my period this month and I hate myself for developing bulimia in the first place and I need to stop it and I know I cheated and Im sorry but I need to back out. And he says thats fine. Well fix it together. Plus, he misses pizza.
For the next month, I only eat with Jon so he can be sure I relearn to eat healthfully. At first, I feel criminal for only exercising once a day and eating food that I can taste, but my complaints are short-lived.
Its the end of July and Im driving with Kelli. Kelli knows I helped stuff Jesse McCreerys mailbox with defective donuts from the Krispy Kreme dumpster. Im the only person she told when she backed into another cars side door. Secrets are only fun if you have a best friend to share them with.
Theres a lull in the conversation before she says, You never told me who won that thing between you and Jon.
The saltiness of my fingertips floods my tongue and tickles my throat. I called it off.
Shit. Lie, dont lie, lie, dont lie, lie, dont lie, lie, dont lie, dont lie, why would you lie to your best friend, lie, lie, dont lie, lie. Because I became bulimic.
Oh Lindsay. She turns her head from the road and looks right at me.
Ive never heard Kelli say my name in a disappointed tone before. But Im ok now. Really! Jon and I worked through it and Im fine.
Do you mean that?
Ok. I believe you.
There are times when you should be honest. That wasnt one of them.
Kelli calls the next afternoon and asks me to come outside because shes parked on my driveway. She starts sobbing when she sees me. Crap. She says that she cried all day yesterday while researching bulimia and calling eating disorder hotlines. She doesnt understand why I have a negative body image. She insists that I dont need to lose weight. She is scared for me.
I am beyond pissed. Didnt I tell her that I was fine? Why didnt she believe me?
Lindsay, you have to tell your parents.
WHAT? What? Why! It isnt even a problem anymore. I dont want them to worry over something thats in the past.
I know, but they need to know.
No. No they dont, actually.
Lindsay, if you dont tell them, Im telling them. Shit. If something happens to you and they find out I knew, I wont be able to live with that. Since when was this about you, Kelli? Ill give you time to tell them. If you dont do it within that timeframe, Ill tell them. But dont worry, Ill warn you before I do it.
Youll warn me? Are you trying to strike a deal with me? I knew I should have lied.
Im doing this for your own good, Lindsay. Youre my best friend and I care about you. I dont feel myself hug her back. Fuck you. If you really cared, youd let it go.
Kelli never brings the subject up again. I forget about the incident and figure she has too. The your-time-is-up-so-Im-telling-on-you ultimatum disintegrates into an empty threat. See, Lindsay, you can trust your friends.
I go back to school in September and dont come home until October ends. I lost a few pounds by eating healthier and my family is happy for me. On the way to the airport that Sunday afternoon, my dad says, You look great, honey, really, you do.
That was random. Thanks.
Uh, ok. This probably isnt the best time to bring it up, but I need to ask. You didnt lose weight by being bulimic, did you?
Oh my God. She TOLD you?
Lindsay, dont be mad at her. She was really scared to tell me and your mom.
Im not mad at her. Im furious at her. When was this?
Right before you guys left for school.
Well, she called and said she had something important to tell us. Your mom and I went to her house that night; I think you were out somewhere. Anyway, we went there and she was sitting in the living room with her parents. Kelli was crying because she wasnt sure if she was doing the right thing. She didnt want to lose your friendship. It took her ten minutes to finally tell us.
Im crying too now, but not out of sympathy for Kelli. What did you guys do?
My dads tone of voice is still calm. I didnt want to believe it. Your mom didnt say anything.
Im thankful when they let me walk through security with sunglasses on. Im not looking forward to Thanksgiving anymore.
My parents have stayed together for me and my sister, but they still act like theyre divorced. They wont stand next to each other in the few pictures they both agree to be in. Conversations between them inevitably become arguments. The word your is always bitterly emphasized when they say your mom or your dad. I dont remember the last time they kissed, hugged, or smiled at each other. I didnt want my parents to find out about my eating disorder and blame each other for it; they fight enough already.
Its your fault that Lindsay turned bulimic! You always pushed her too hard!
I did NOT push her too hard! I just wanted my daughter to grow up strong!
It didnt matter if she was valedictorian or tennis team captain or a concert pianist or whatever! She was just never good enough for you.
At least I wasnt babying her all the time like you were! It was your coddling that made her cave like that!
Although Ive accepted their chronically loveless marriage, it still hurts to hear my name involved in it. I doubt Kelli meant to give my parents another thing to argue about, but its easy to blame her anyway.
Even though Im finished with bulimia, it isnt finished with me. A common side effect that I suffer from is gastroesophageal reflux disease, where my gag-reflex fires involuntarily and my stomach contents come back up. This looks incredibly suspicious to people who know I have a history with bulimia.
Im window-shopping with my mom after dinner one night when my stomach muscles tighten. Oh shit, not now. I squeeze my lips together right as liquefied pork loin and asparagus spill into my mouth. As shes pointing out some copper cookware, I snatch the two-second opportunity to spit while shes still distractedly eyeing that kettle. My mom is staring at me when I turn back around. What was that?
Damn. Nothing. Shes suddenly finished talking.
Im looking at Christmas ornaments with my dad and sister a few days later. I cant decide if this one is a gingerbread man or a really tan starfish when my stomach tightens again. This time is worse, though, because my stomach is empty of anything except acid. I imagine this is what it would be like to iron the inside of my throat with a pair of flaming soccer cleats.
Im bent over like Im trying to cough my throat out onto the floor (which I wouldnt have minded) as the scorching gets worse and Im pretty sure everyone in the store is staring by now so Im scrambling outside because I saw a water fountain on the way in. Of course, the fountain doesnt work. Fuck. Im trying to calm down by taking deep breaths but the frozen air ironically makes the burning worse so I attempt to casually stroll into a nearby Johnny Rockets to ask in a horrifyingly raw voice for a glass of water. The girl smiles because she thinks Im a chain smoker but fills a cup anyway and I thank her while trying to control myself because Id gladly drink all 32 ounces in one gulp but I dont want to look like a nut so I take a sip and step outside before downing the whole thing. My throat cools but its still itchy. My dad and sister are asking what happened and I say I coughed up acid, so we get ice cream to neutralize it. I claw maniacally at a frozen cylinder of Phish Food with a flimsy plastic spork the whole way home, where I finally microwave the block into submission. Im halfway done when my stomach protests the unexpected influx of food by sending the ice cream back up (at least it doesnt burn) and Im running again, except this time to the nearest toilet.
Winter break then becomes a laborious game of avoiding anything that could make me look like Im still bulimic. I dont eat too much because Ill vomit. I dont eat too little because Ill seem anorexic. Im afraid of soda because burping can trigger refluxes. I snack on Tums between meals. Nothing sharp comes near my hands because cuts can be misinterpreted as bite marks. My workouts are light so I wont lose weight. You may think that even if my parents didnt know I used to be bulimic, they would still notice my reflux disorder. This is true but having unexplained gastroesophageal reflux disease is less worrisome than having it because of bulimia.
Kelli and I exchange Christmas gifts one night. I havent told her that I know she snitched on me, but she probably figured because Ive barely spoken to her over the past two months. As she turns to leave, she asks, Are we ok?
Oh. Ok. She emails me the next day asking again and even though I know I should call, I just email her back. I insist it was unfair that she didnt warn me and, in spite of her good intentions, my parents deserved to hear it from me or at least with my consent. I tell her Ive lost my parents trust. I tell her shes lost mine. I tell her not to respond because I will never believe anything she says again.
Kellis letter arrives at the end of January. The envelope reads You dont have to read this right now. You can open it tomorrow, next year, or in ten years. Just please dont rip it up. The letter lives under a stack of notebooks for a month.
Jon is watching me tear it open because I dont want to be alone if I get upset. I dont need to read the letter to know what it says. Shes sorry for lying from the start because she was never going to warn me. Her mom said I would understand if she told my parents. Shes sorry her mom was wrong about that. She hopes I can get over my body image problems and live a healthy life. She wishes me the best.
Im still mad when I finish reading. Jon asks if its a good idea for me to end our friendship when she was just trying to help. Im irked further and insist that Im not going to talk to her for a while. Jon turns back to his laptop.
Brian makes the consensus official later that night. As my best guy friend, my boyfriend minus the romance, I call with the expectation that hell side with me like always. But he doesnt respond when I finish. Im afraid that Ive created another Kelli situation. Its useless, but I tell him not to worry anyway.
I cant help but worry, Lindsay.
Not again. I know, but you have to trust me on this. Kelli didnt trust me and look how that turned out.
Are you sure youre being fair? She was just trying to help.
How do I always end up being the bad guy? I have no comeback and Im tempted to hang up. I know, ok?! I know!! But Im fine; I wouldnt be telling you this if I wasnt, right?
I guess. Hes silent. I decide to be silent from now on too.
The fear of alienating more people keeps me quiet. I cant talk about it without getting mad because everyone thinks Im being irrational for resenting Kelli. No one ever fails to mention that she was just doing the right thing. Yes, I already know that so CAN YOU JUST LET ME BE MAD NOW?? Im mad that everyone is defending her. Im madder that Im not allowed to be mad.
Im more frustrated than grateful that everyone is too concerned to trust me. Im supposed to accept my regression to infancy. Babies wear diapers and require constant supervision because its not Lindsays fault that she cant control her bulimia. I ask my dad why no one believes me when I say Im not bulimic. He says they do believe me; theyre just making sure Im ok. So no one believes me.
I despise the pity. I doubt that Kelli told anyone, but I flip through a mental yearbook anyway to vote for Most Likely to Ask Me About It at our high school reunion. I can already feel them placing their condescending hand on my shoulder as they whisper, So I heard about your thing with bulimia, to me like Ive already died. I hate that I only hear the word weight when it is spelled w-a-i-t because people think Ill relapse if the subject comes up. Im even more insulted when Im told that I look fine and that Im already beautiful just the way [I am]. When did I say I was fat? Bulimia didnt blind me from reality. Im not delusional and I can make accurate judgments. No one understands that bulimic is not a synonym for mentally unsound.
Im reading the millionth How I Overcame My Eating Disorder story that Ive read this year. Just like the others, it goes like this:
1. I was the fat kid and everyone made fun of me
2. I developed a negative body image
3. I became anorexic/bulimic/both
4. I was hospitalized after letting it go too far
5. I love my body now and I dont own a scale and I eat whatever I want and life is normal again
It pisses me off that they all sound like that. It pisses me off that they all end like that. I hurl the magazine at the ground.
Writer Lindsay Tang is currently studying sociology and journalism at the University of
California, Los Angeles.