Bringing Bulimia to Work
Potential trigger warnings for eating disorder behaviors.
Twenty-nine minutes. That was my record for locking myself in the bathroom last year in the middle of a binge/purge attack during the workday. I know because unlike some people, I still have to wear a watch everyday out of habit.
I don’t remember what caused me to have to do this in the middle of the day. It had to have been stressful. Then, maybe not. Who knows what I am really thinking when I get into these cycles? The fact that I tried doing this at work shows how low I was.
Being the “good girl” who didn’t eat at work (always on a diet!), I never had food at my desk. That day I took a break from my desk and got food I knew I could eat a lot of and quickly. As long as I told myself I was just hungry, hadn’t had breakfast and wouldn’t have dinner to balance this all out, then it would be fine. Purging was not on my mind.
Except that was a lie, as it pretty much always was. I loaded up on the junk, ate as much as could in the car so I wouldn’t have food evidence in my office trash, and went back into work. My coworker was gone, so I had the space to myself for a while. So far, so good.
Twenty minutes later I was feeling stuffed and needing to get rid of everything I had ingested. I got up to go to the bathroom, right when my coworker returned. No big deal, I excused myself and went on.
Now, my office is not in a shiny, corporate building, but instead in a quaint, older house. We have fireplaces (closed off), hardwood floors and the rooms flow one into another without halls. The former living room is where my office is, then there is a conference room, kitchen and the bathroom off of that. Once I got in the bathroom and shut the door, I heard my coworker enter the kitchen. The floors and open rooms conduct sound really well and, to be kind, she is a hard walker. Bang, bang, bang with each step. She also narrates her tasks.
So this is all I hear for almost half an hour:
“Where’s the coffeepot?”
(bang bang bang, slam)
“Ok, gotta washout the coffeepot …”
(bang bang bang bang) …
(bang bang bang bang)
(bang bang, slam,) Beep, beep beepbeep!
*more humming* BEEEEEEP!
(cell phone rings)
*Conversation while standing in kitchen eating popcorn*
(bang, bang, bang, bang across the floor)
All the while, I am trapped in the bathroom. For those minutes, I couldn’t move. If I did anything to purge what I ate, I would be heard. It would result in a bunch of questions, which was the last thing I wanted. Sure, those questions would have been from a place of kindness, but I needed to be left alone.
Finally, I just gave up and came out, claiming to not feel well (not untrue). I spent the rest of the day sick and hating myself more than ever.
That night I finally called to get a referral to a therapist.
It’s been over a year since that day. I haven’t had the urge to engage in any of these behaviors at work again. Therapy has helped a lot.
Things aren’t 100%, or even close. I refuse to eat at work functions and still skip events that involve food. I don’t make a huge production, I just tend to disappear during these times and reappear when the program starts again. Back in May, I did make an effort to actually allow myself to have lunch with others at an off-site work meeting.
Well, it seems my “not eating” extremes may have backfired, since the two most outspoken people at the table had to remark about the fact that I was actually eating, and what I was eating. Again, I am sure they meant no harm. Everybody eats, right? I certainly do not look like I am starving. They couldn’t know. The fact it was such a big deal that it became a lunchtime discussion made it unbearable.
It was hard. I really wanted to cry and run away from the table. Then I wanted to go puke my guts out. I didn’t do any of this. I got through with a fake smile, made some lame joke about only eating when the food was good and saved the tears for later.
Today, I am by myself in the office. The rest of the group has gone to a “networking symposium” to mix, mingle, eat and drink. Even without the bulimia, the introvert in me cringes at these. I appreciate the opportunity to go to events and training sessions, but this was optional, not related to my field and was further out than my already long commute. Right now I am holding down the front desk, working in peace and quiet. I’ll save the anxiety for next week, when I do have to go someplace all day for a course that is mandatory.
For every step I think I am taking forward, there are situations that will always come up and remind me how far I have to go. That is OK. One day I will be able to interact without fear at these functions. I know this will happen, I just don’t know when. I knew a year ago I would not go back to trying to hurt myself in the middle of the day, and I haven’t.
Every victory counts in this war.