Surviving Depression and Bulimia

Which came first, I was once asked–the depression or the bulimia? The truth is that I have no clue. I didn’t even know I was suffering from depression and or bulimia. I was gaining weight and I was crying all the time for no reason. I would ask myself, What is wrong with me?
This was right after my separation from my husband, and even though I was happy about my decision, I really wasn’t very happy. I felt lonely. I was living in a foreign country with no family to hold me and support me, and I only had my son. As much as I adored him, it became difficult to be with him. I was trying very hard to be there for him, but I was emotionally absent. I would want the evening to come as fast as possible so I could put him to bed, and then I would cry from guilt. Why was I such a bad mother to the child I adored?

At the same time, I was eating constantly. After dinner I’d prepare myself a plate of food and watch television. Then I would get up and go to the kitchen again and again for another snack until I couldn’t eat another bite.

I knew I was eating more than usual because I was gaining weight. When I went to see a dietician, she made me a new eating plan. After the fourth week, when I had gained over fifteen pounds, she became worried and asked me a few personal questions. We spent a long time just talking about my separation and how sad I was feeling. I started to cry, and that’s when she asked me the most important question, Are you having very bad thoughts?

I knew just what she meant! “Yes,” I said, “and I’m scared!” She asked me if I was seeing someone for fear, and I obviously said no, as I had no idea I had a problem. She offered to make an appointment for me with a doctor who was also in the building. When she said this, I wondered what a doctor could do, so I asked her if it was a psychiatrist. “Oh, no, no,” she said. “He’s a generalist and a fabulous doctor. You’ll see.” I was happy to hear that, as I don’t have a very high opinion of psychiatrists. The first appointment she could schedule was three months later; the doctor was very busy. I laughed and thanked her, but I did not think I would make it till then. In the meantime I continued seeing her and we would talk.

I planned my suicide, leaving a letter to my son and one to my mother asking her to take care of him. My letter to him was very clear. I explained that I was tired and ill with an illness that had no explanation. I told him that the pain inside was so strong, it was just to hard for me to be awake. I said I wanted to go to sleep.

The closest I got was getting in my car and driving over a hundred miles per hour and waiting for the right moment to turn the wheel and crash into a wall. But something inside me asked me to think of my son and what this would do to him. I could not crash myself. Many times after that, I asked myself what would be harder–to just do it and get it over with, or to stay and keep on fighting this horrible feeling. I decided it was harder to stay. It takes more courage and, lucky me…I’m courageous!

I finally met the doctor, Daniel Dufour, M.D. I had been hoping that he would give me a miracle pill and make me all better. However, after many questions, he said to me, “This will be very painful and I need to know if you’re ready to go ahead with it.” I was surprised, but I said to him, “I have no choice. It’s this or die.” He told me then that I was bulimic, but I had no idea what that was. He did a number of lab tests, including my urine and blood as well as hair samples to check the mineral levels, and then prescribed vitamins, but no drugs.

On my second visit, he started by making a list of my qualities. He asked me to name them, but I could not come up with anything more than “I’m a great friend.” He laughed and asked me again what my qualities were. As I couldn’t think of any, he did it for me. He said I was intelligent (I did not think so!), feminine (I had doubts), and intuitive (me? never!). He kept on writing them down.

This process was very painful, as he had said it would be. I cried and cried every time I went to see him, I talked about my childhood, my divorce, my son, my parents’ divorce, my changing countries…there was just so much to tell him.

As time progressed, I was feeling better in terms of depression, but the bulimia was still very much present. He had asked me not to fight the attacks but just let them be. It was useless, he said, to fight them, as you lose energy for nothing. They will happen anyway. He would ask me what happened before my latest bulimic attack. I learned to recognize what had triggered the attack. It became clearer and clearer. It was always either an argument with someone, something that reminded me of something that had happened years ago, or a situation I could not do anything about that drove me crazy.

Next, he would then ask me to do something about that feeling before I got an attack. This was very confusing at first because he wanted me to express what I was feeling after an argument. “That argument made you angry,” he told me. “It obviously did because as you tell me about it. I can feel how angry you are with that person. Why don’t you just express that anger?” “Ha-ha!” I would laugh, and then I’d say, “Because I have no idea how to express anger, and I don’t see the point, anyway. I know he’s the idiot and it’s his problem not mine!”

As the doctor kept telling me, Live those emotions. They’re natural. You expressed your emotions when you were a child. What’s more pure and natural than a child?

Time after time, he would say, “There’s so much sadness inside you. Let all of that out and cry, just cry…” And the truth is, I had no problem crying, even though for many years before my separation I would never shed a tear. I was emotionally blocked. Now I could really cry. I felt that I was crying all the time, as if I had opened the water faucet and could not close it!

But I would become very tense when the doctor told me I was angry. He said I was angry at my husband, at my parents, at my life, at so many unjust things that had happened to me. I would laugh and say. “No! I’m sad, but I’ve forgiven everyone and it’s all okay now. So I didn’t have a great childhood. So what? Who does, anyway?”

He often spoke of living today of living in the present. I tried, little by little, to think less and less of the what-ifs and the when the day comes… As a bulimic, I was always thinking of the day it would stop and I could lose weight and be pretty again. I was not really living in the present but in the future, and that made me frustrated because it wasn’t already that day. So I hated my present, my here and now. I wanted to be there and then!

It was hard work for me to start living in the present moment, but I found a relaxation technique that would bring me back any time my mind would become scared of a situation that had not even occurred yet. So I started to practice what the doctor told me to do. “Breathe through your stomach,” he said, “and just stay with your body and your breathing.”

However, I was still not able to express my anger. Plus, while I was having fewer bulimia attacks, they were still controlling my life. So I decided to register for a seminar put on by Dr. Dufour.

The first thing he said at the seminar was, “We will have five percent theory and ninety-five percent practice. This is not group therapy. Don’t have any expectations. Let yourself just live in the present.” “Right,” I thought to myself, “that’s just what I was doing!”

Before going there, I had thought I’d done all the crying a human being was capable of. Yet at the seminar I was able to completely let go and I cried all weekend long in a way I had not cried before.

Next I worked hard on my anger problem. I started to gradually allow some of my anger out, then realized how much better I felt. Finally, I understood what the doctor meant when he said I should express that anger.

I believe in the love we all have inside ourselves. With a bit of guidance, we can heal ourselves. We just have to go back and remember who we really are. We need to accept our emotions as part of who we are. When an emotion appears, it must be expressed. It’s our body requesting the expulsion of that emotion. If we don’t express those emotions, our body suffers tensions that can cause nervousness, sleeping problems, and even turn into serious illness. For these reasons, I believe that the more people know this and see that they feel better when they let go of all that anger and sadness they’re holding inside, the healthier this world will be.