Saturday, July 17, 2010


"...the number of men treated for anorexia has increased by 67 per cent in the past five years."*

Hello Medusa,

I've been reading your blog for quite some time now, and have found it of great help in my recovery. It helped me put into light what I was doing to myself, what I was at risk of becoming like, the absurdity of it all. Reading other people's stories led me to put things in perspective, see from the outside what I was subjecting myself to; and seeing how sad it made me to read about other people in similar situations made me imagine how sad it certainly was for the people who love me to see me harming myself in such a way.

I wanted to share part of my story with you; because it's good to talk to someone who can understand, and because I feel that I'm at a turning point in my life. Feel free to share it on your blog if you wish.

My name's Oliver and I'm French. I'll be turning 23 soon, and I've had, shall I say, 'explicit' trouble with food since I was 16. Up until then, it was merely a matter of combining bad eating habits with depression and anxiety (due to a major physical birth defect), thus resorting to unhealthy comfort eating when I felt particularly unwell. I had no one to talk to; I always was an extremely reserved and taciturn child, and did not get along with other kids my age. They usually thought I was weird, and constantly made fun of me for being different. I was verbally and physically abused, and, when I was 9, raped, because my physical condition made me an ideal target.

Then, on top of my depression, I came to realise that over the past years, I had gradually become really unfit. This added to my self-loathing and anxiety, which in turn made me resort to binging in order to shut off my feelings for a while. The bouts were few and sparse at first, accompanied by short fasts every once in a while; but as time went by, they grew more and more frequent, and my main method of compensation became purging.

I was incredibly successful in hiding it from my family; to this day, they still have no idea what I've been going through - and I have no desire to tell them. I have always thought I was the only one responsible for my decisions and actions, and that my recovery depended on myself and myself alone. My girlfriend did not understand why I was doing this, and talking to her made me feel guilty more often than not, so I kept to myself most of the time. Sometimes she made fun of me for having a "girl's" disorder - the kind of comments that, in my opinion, make many men with eating disorders wary or afraid to speak up about their illness.

Green Tower by Roger Dean

When I was nineteen, I underwent the last of three major surgeries meant to try and correct my disability. They helped me, but I was painfully aware that my body was still abnormal and not entirely functional, and would always remain so.

My depression eventually got to the point where I sought professional help. Nevertheless, I had a very hard time opening up to my therapists about my eating disorder. Partly because, being a man, I feared I would not be taken seriously, but mainly because I was not looking to hear the 'reasons why' - I knew those well enough - but rather the 'way how'. How I could possibly deal with that, with all the depression and anxiety and anger and frustration that had slowly been building up inside me for the past nineteen years. And I truly believed that I was the only one capable of finding the answer to that question. I saw myself as weak and powerless, which added even more to my lack of self-esteem.

It got to the point where I was purging almost every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes without even binging. That sent me in a downwards spiral of worsening depression, which I 'fought' by restricting and over-exercising. The mere thought of eating disgusted me (albeit on a moral level more than physical), every meal was a nightmare. I couldn't stand seeing people eating, let alone having them see me eating. I was weighing myself everyday, counting calories, and I was completely unable to enjoy a meal, let alone eat out. In spite of this, I never was underweight; in my mind, I was so pathetic that I even failed as an anorectic. Even at my lowest - yet still normal - weight of 58kg for 1m75, I perceived myself as disgustingly fat and repulsive. I wanted to be emaciated, to take as little space as possible, to disappear.

I started working in the Summer of 2008, when I was 21. It was of tremendous help for me, both with regards to my depression and lack of self-confidence (I worked as a funeral attendant and master of funeral ceremonies), and although I still felt very anxious and ill at ease in my body, my job allowed me to find relief, something to focus upon. When I was with a grieving family, everything related to myself didn't count anymore - everything had to be perfect for them, and I felt I had the ability to provide them with a service that would make them feel relieved and supported.

My eating also got a lot better at that time. Prior to that, I'd had orthorexic tendencies that interfered with my every meal, surrounding them with guilt and remorse about eating something 'wrong'. My job required me to be adequately nourished so I would keep all my physical and mental strength - and my job was more important to me than what I thought was a way for me to keep control of my eating.

But I still wasn't recovered. I still didn't know how to deal with my emotions without turning to binging and purging, and although I was beginning to open up to my girlfriend, I had yet to find something I could consider a solution. My psychologist, whom I unfortunately stopped seeing when I began working, had given me a few tips I could use when I felt a breakdown coming, but I still felt alone facing my eating disorder. I needed a perspective, something that could make me look at the future and see hope amongst the frustration and anxiety that overwhelmed me.

That perspective was brought to me through the decision I made to pursue my initial professional goal. I applied for entrance into an embalming school, was accepted, and over the course of my studies, was constantly comforted in the thought that, at last, I had found what was right for me, what I was meant to do.

Of course, that also was, and still is the cause of an insane amount of stress and worrying, especially since the main issue that caused my depression in the first place - my physical abnormalities - is still far from being resolved, which seemed to multiply the intensity of my anxiety exponentially. I went back to seeing my psychologist, and he's helping me realise that I've already come a long way, and that I'm doing very well in fighting what can be fought.

But even though it was objectively better, my eating disorder was still a problem. It was still waiting, bursting out from its hiding place from time to time, to prove me I was still failing against it.

But I have found one thing that proved to be, for me, the source of nothing but well-being and happiness. This year, I joined a gospel choir. I love singing, but I never liked my voice. Singing with other people made me feel at ease, and what's even more important for me, I've made friends there.

I quickly came to realise that my eating disorder was interfering with my singing, that it was impossible for me to sing with a sore throat, a stuffed nose and a reduced vocal range, as a result of purging. Not to mention that I was feeling hypocritical singing about hope while puking my insides out in despair at home.

I am an atheist, but I am convinced one does not need to believe in God to perceive the message that gospel gives out. It is a message of hope and faith, and while I personally don't put my hope and faith in any particular spiritual figure, I definitely feel I can apply those to my own situation nonetheless.

Singing is the one thing that can never fail to make me happier. It brings me relief, it makes me feel empowered towards my eating disorder; it gives me the strength to tell it straightforward 'guess what, no, I'm not resorting to you anymore for comfort, I have something you could never rival with now, and you're not ruining it'.

Yes, I have something that truly makes me feel better, and which only brings people happiness and peace. I'm no longer harming anybody, myself included.

I am not recovered, but I am recovering. And succeeding."


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Jillian said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story Oliver. You are NOT alone and I wish you the most success on your path of recovery!

Anonymous said...

Hi Oliver -

I am the same age as you, though I'm a girl. My name is Taylor and I've been bulimic since I was sixteen. I completely understand your shame and reluctance to share your disorder with anyone... my parents, who tried desperately to understand what causes my behaviour, have finally turned to denial; and my boyfriend, who has himself taken me to the hospital when my nervous system approached failure, believes this is a simple matter of willpower.

Reading your story has given me hope, as few people seem to understand that eating disorders are isolating, shame-inducing, humiliating, for those who suffer them. They affect both men and women and cannot be written off as the desire of some silly teenage girl to look thin in her Facebook photos.

Writing this proves how strong you are. I believe in you.