A Touch of Rain

Challenging the self stigma

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking to a team of female swimmers in the US about my experience with bulimia as an elite athlete. Five weeks ago I wouldn’t have even thought that was a possibility.

When the captain reached out to me on Instagram, I didn’t see the message for a while and it was such a pleasant yet overwhelming surprise. The captain had found my blog and spent a while trying to find me on Instagram (probably due to my many handle changes!). She explained that she was trying to raise awareness about eating disorders and wondered if I would be in a position to speak about my experience.

I thought about it for a while but I knew I wanted to help. Not only did it mean a lot to me that they had taken the time to reach out and talk to me but they had also presented me with a unique opportunity.

I had never spoken about my ED in detail before. I have been relatively open, mentioning my struggles with food and the fact I suffered from an ED but I never spoke about it in detail and, most importantly, I never openly stated bulimia to more than my closest friends.

As a bulimic I was always ashamed. I felt that anorexia was the strong eating disorder. I was weak for “giving up” and eating food. I was disgusting for then purging. I was jealous of those who suffered from anorexia. I saw it as desirable. I wished I had developed that instead of bulimia. I wanted to be that skinny, I wanted to be that ill.

It took a few years for me to realise there were a lot of factors that contributed to me developing the eating disorder I did but I still felt ashamed. I felt that people would see me as the “fat one” and wouldn’t see the severity of my eating disorder in the same way as they would if I was anorexic.

For years I would emphasise all the times I didn’t binge before a purge. As though I was trying to convince myself I didn’t binge because binging was disgusting. There were plenty of times I didn’t binge but also plenty of times that I did. My eating disorder was just filled with shame.

So I decided I would do this call. I decided I was ready to be brutally open. I decided that I wanted to raise awareness by sharing my raw honesty. I told them that I was bulimic. I told them I did display restrictive and starvation habits but I was honest with the extent of my bulimia. I didn’t twist any of the truth to try justify my eating disorder – not to them but to myself.

It was inevitably an emotional call. I spoke about eating disorders in general and health problems that they may cause before I jumped into my experience. I received some positive feedback and a few people reached out to me personally after the call. It was overwhelming to see that people felt as though they had benefited or learnt something from the call.

However, I benefited from the call so much too. I am aware I have suffered from trauma but speaking so openly made me realise just how traumatic my upbringing and especially my sporting career was.

In hindsight, I had suffered so much as an athlete. I had been subjected to an incredible amount of mental abuse and I had always thought the coaches’ actions were wrong but always found a way to, in a way, justify them because that’s what happened in elite sport. But what I was subjected to was actual bullying. It was more than “demotivate to motivate”. It was deeper than encouraging me to push the limits.

It was pure bullying.

Singling me out. Humiliating me. Accusing me of lying. Manipulating my actions. Constant digs and demeaning comments.

By attending this talk and by the team listening to my story I was able to really understand that what I went through was probably the worst trauma I went through. I mean, of course through therapy I knew I had suffered many traumas throughout my life but, seriously, what I went through in my swimming career was incredibly toxic.

I am so grateful that the captain reached out to me. I am so grateful that the team wanted to and did listen to my story. I am so grateful to have been welcomed and appreciated. I am so grateful to have made some new friends. Most of all, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to raise awareness of eating disorders.

For years I’ve wanted to be more involved in charity work with the UK’s national ED charity – BEAT and I believe this opportunity I was given to speak to this swim team has opened the door to me getting involved with eating disorder charities and I think that is something I will always be thankful for.

I decided I wanted to share this opportunity I had on social media. For the first time ever, I was finally able to say that I suffered from “bulimia” instead of using what had been the safer description of “eating disorders”

Len x

(I didn’t think it was appropriate to share a photo of the call, just in case some of the girls don’t want their picture shared)

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