Bullying, Bulimia and Me: Sam’s Recovery Story
This two-part article was written exclusively for EatingDisordersOnline.com by Sam Thomas, founder and director of the UK-based organization Men Get Eating Disorders Too. Sam shares how he recovered from bulimia and used his experience to start the site.
I was bullied from day one in high school at the age of 11. I did very well on tests – swot, boffin, those sorts of names came my way – but it became apparent that I wasn’t like the other boys who were interested in cars and football. I had quite an effeminate appearance and my voice broke and sounded squeaky, which made the problem worse. At this point the bullying and teasing became predominantly homophobic.
By the time I was 13, the bullying had intensified. I couldn’t deal with being stuck in a classroom and being taunted constantly. I used to run out of lessons and hide in the boys’ toilets, because I knew it was the only place that I wouldn’t be found. I used to comfort eat; it was the most obvious thing to do, and there were always sweets, crisps, etc. in my lunchbox. I used to be so uncomfortably full that I felt sick. I thought making myself sick made sense. I knew nothing about eating disorders – I had never even heard of bulimia – so I didn’t know that what I was doing was potentially damaging.
Bulimia: A Coping Mechanism
The first time I made myself sick, there was such a release of tension and anxiety that it was quite cathartic. It became a regular habit, as I had no other way of relieving that tension. It spiralled, happening at home as well as at school. For a long while I thought it was something that only I did. I was about 15 when I was reading a problem page column in a magazine and I discovered what bulimia was.
If anything, it made the situation worse, because I felt as though I deserved it. Bullying gives you a very low sense of self-esteem. If you’re made to feel that way through bullying, you’re going to want to carry out self-destructive behaviours. So it was a coping mechanism for dealing with all my issues. Ultimately, it’s a form of self-harm.
I had no one to talk to. I didn’t want my parents to know, and I didn’t have any friends. I became reliant on binging and purging. The nature of bulimia is that it’s very secretive, so nobody knew about it. Ultimately, it was damaging me physically, as well as mentally: I was completely drained and exhausted. It became so absorbing that my world revolved around bulimia. It’s like a full-time job with overtime, absorbing everything.
Seeking Help for the First Time
At 16, I was so distressed and fed up that I went to the doctor. They made an emergency referral to child and adolescent mental health services the next day. They wanted me to have some kind of treatment, but it wasn’t explained to me what it was because they needed my parents’ consent. I didn’t want my parents to find out about my bulimia, but it was so severe that they had to phone them and tell them anyway. I didn’t understand at that age about parental consent and I distrusted the professional services after that, as I felt I couldn’t trust them. My mother had a lot of her own issues, and I didn’t want to complicate my parents’ lives by them finding out about.
I told my first partner because I couldn’t hide it. He was very supportive, but he didn’t really understand the condition – I don’t think a lot of people do. There was one occasion when I was going to make myself sick and he caught me. He insisted I went to a doctor. I don’t think I did in the end. I think the tension this brought about resulted in the end of that relationship. Similar things have happened twice since, because when bulimia is at it’s worst, it is more important than relationships. It is so life absorbing, it can ruin any relationship.
In Part II, Sam discusses how he started his recovery journey and created the site.