The Vintage Explorer
Julie’s explored a lot of places. Sometimes she takes herself on those trips where you wake up in a difference city every day. In between rummaging around in vintage shops and charity work, she runs a blog that’s all about kicking bulimia in the butt, with some good travel and fashion and finance tips along the way: www.selfexpandation.com/blog.
Julie grew up in France but she decided to move to the UK because she felt that French people were always checking each other out—faces, boobs, bottom, waists, clothes, hair—and the judging annoyed her. In the England she can go out in her PJ’s and no one stares.
Bulimia crept into Julie’s life and lasted for a few years. She had a right old stink journey with it, from nearly being homeless to passing out in cubicles to feeling it was controlling her life to the point that it might make her jump under a train. Ten years on, at 39, she has a fabulous perspective on it all which comes out in her insightful answers below.
We didn’t connect in person, we talked over the e waves. She is fucking awesome.
Were you the classic ED perfectionist type when you were younger?
I think I was a bit (!) of a perfectionist. I remember getting frustrated over not being able to do things ‘properly’ and by that I mean, not being able to make them perfect right from the start. There was no room for trials. It was perfection or nothing. If I thought my work looked bad I would destroy it and I would cry because I was such a good for nothing.
I think there is an educational problem at the bottom of this. I was raised by people who would put emphasis on success, particularly school. While the other kids were allowed to develop at their own pace, I was asked to sit and practice writing and counting… I was given to understand it was wrong to have fun, work wasn’t fun and you had to cry over it and it had to be clean and perfect. If I ever have children, I will try to avoid putting so much pressure on them. I will tell them to do things they like and find fun.
You say on your blog ‘I created bulimia… and consequently I was able to destroy it.’ Can you explain that – how did you create it?
I believe bulimia is created by the way we think. In my case it was the consequence of thinking so little of myself, of allowing the past to come back to my mind all the time… I know some people told me things that were really unacceptable but at the end of the day, I was the one who chose to dwell on those. I was consciously looping those things instead of trying to get rid of them. Every time I was doing something, I was thinking I would fail anyway because I was such a failure or I was so ugly or so stupid or whatever.
Our minds are tools. We can choose to use our minds to create or to destroy. If some thought is nagging us, we need to fight to get control.
The problem with the ED mind is that it seeks loneliness, desperation, and it refuses to listen to anything positive. If someone tells you you’re beautiful, it will tell you it’s not true, that the person is lying, trying to seduce you, and other crazy things. The ED mind is there before the ED actually starts. The more you starve yourself, the stronger the ED mind gets. But that’s one thing I want people to understand, the more they give in to that bully and think they are unworthy, the more they have to lose. When they think they are winning by not eating, they are actually losing the battle against their inner bully.
Everyone has inner bullies but in the case of people with EDs, that bully is very strong… I was aware of that inner bully at a very early age but I didn’t know how to deal with it.
Like many bulimics, you got over it all by yourself. How?
Well.. I had enough of bulimia. I knew I had created it and that I could get rid of it because it’s logical. If you build something, you can destroy it.
I read You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L Hay, which I would recommend to anyone who is looking to have a better relationship with themselves. I also read Peggy Claude Pierre’s Secret Language of Eating Disorders. I know this person now has a bad reputation but when I read her book she was at the top of her popularity. What happened at her Montreux clinic doesn’t affect the power of her words. What she had to say made sense to me, a lot more than works by psychologists and psychiatrists I had read. Especially what she called Confirmed Negativity Condition. It was like she was describing my own mind. I haven’t read her book in years, mind you, but she was talking about people who were extremely sensitive and that was me… Anything negative would make my mind react. But there was nothing to counteract this, it seemed. I used to worry over my mind and how I could feel upset by things that didn’t even take place here and how other people didn’t seem affected at all while I felt like crying my eyes out. I saw this as a weakness and was fighting very hard to hide it.
That’s so true. We’re taught that sensitive is bad so we try to squash it. What’s your relationship like with your body now: friend or foe?
A bit of both. I like my body for its capabilities. I like feeling fresh air around me, cycling, dancing… But I can still feel upset over the way I look. I didn’t pay attention to my hands until I saw a picture and realised how huge they really are… I was told they are ok because I am tall but I’m still in this game of comparing myself to others and thinking I don’t look good enough.
I can still feel upset by those changes caused by those bad habits I had.. I used to have a very good stomach. I could handle nearly everything. Now I have acid reflux and food intolerance. Not good, but I accept those are the consequences of my past actions. I wish there was a way to restore my body to what it used to be pre-bulimia.
Was your emotional development stunted over the 4 years with bulimia? (I stopped developing the moment it began and then, 11 years later, I had to pick myself up again).
I feel my emotional development was always messed up to start with. The education I received, the things I saw at home, the way I was treated… Bulimia was just the epitome of all of this.
Did you struggle in other areas? Some ED sufferers put themselves in dangerous situations or hook up with assholes with other addictions (me included).
Sometimes. I think that’s because of what I saw at home, I have always been over-cautious with people, particularly men. I did attract some men that would have been wrong for me, but I moved away immediately, didn’t want anything to do with them. I am scared of addictions. Bulimia or no bulimia, I would never have hooked up with anyone who was abusing substances. I did almost end up homeless because of bulimia though and it was a scary experience.
Bulimia is such a debilitating condition. It renders you unable to look at the whole picture. You just see black – I can’t do this, I have lost this… Just negative things. I was not being responsible, didn’t check my papers, my calendar, or anything except my money… Do I have enough to buy some chocolate? It was a turmoil every time I was running low on funds.. I was wondering how I would buy my food fix. I got rid of lots of old papers last summer and was shocked to find I used to have quite a lot of money on my account. My mum had saved so much for me. All of this was wasted due to bulimia. I felt like crying when I saw those papers. I could have bought a house with the money. I had to do some work on myself to accept this situation. I am taking responsibility: I did this.
How did your bulimia nearly make you homeless?
Actually the homeless thing is not the scariest thing that happened to me because of bulimia…
One day I was at work for a late shift. I had binged earlier, I think, I am not too sure as it’s been years. I was on my own, there were no customers around and my colleagues were busy elsewhere. Suddenly I had this impulse. It was like something was telling me to go and jump under a train… I could visualise myself jump just as the train was entering the tube station. It felt like this thing was trying to control me and I stood firmly on the ground, kicked the floor with my foot or something. I may have grabbed a door handle or something to ground myself. It seemed to last ages, but in reality it probably lasted just a few seconds. This kind of experience had never happened before and has never happened since then. I put it down to bulimia. I was at my worst back then, I was bingeing twice a day and I had started to pass out in the toilet after purging. Sometimes I would fail to get up for work and the guy I was seeing back then was kind enough to ring me each morning for about a week to ensure I would be in time for work… I probably had some sort of psychotic episode or whatever it’s called.
Wow. The lows are low. I’m glad you were able to ground yourself. Are you kind to yourself now? How?
It’s a long process. I have to undo years of dysfunctional education. I don’t know if I am kind to myself but I think I have more or less learned to meet my basic needs, which is something I wouldn’t have been able to do with bulimia. I can say that before bulimia I was just an empty shell. Bulimia made me realise this. After bulimia I focused on how to become someone. It’s a life long process.
What’s the biggest myth about bulimia that you would like to see smashed?
That we do it because we can’t control ourselves whenever we see a chocolate cake! That we are vain people who want to indulge without facing the consequences. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
When I started to advertise my blog on social media and mentioned eating disorders, some people unfollowed me right away. Either they didn’t take the time to check my profile and thought I was supporting eating disorders, or they pictured me bingeing on cakes.. Whatever the reason, it’s sad, really. There is still so much stigma attached around ED’s.
ED are a very lonely and scary experience: don’t make people feel even crappier by unfollowing/making fun of them. ED can be deadly. I am lucky to be still here. Back when I had just told my mom about my problem, there was this girl who was anorexic. She was featured in a few documentaries and she was very keen on helping other people though she was so weak and fragile. A few months later she passed on while at the hospital. I never met her but I felt like crying. I realised this could be my fate is I didn’t focus on getting well. People can say whatever they want, but anorexia and bulimia are linked. I felt for this girl. I might write a tribute for her at some point. She was such a beautiful soul, but sadly she never realised she had to focus on getting better before helping others. She definitely played a part in my recovery.
Can you cook or will you join the long list of FABIKs who are useless in the kitchen?
I can! I used to help my mum in the kitchen. Then I learnt how to cook. I think the problem with ED’s is not we cannot cook but we don’t want to cook nice things for ourselves. We don’t want to take care of ourselves… I may be wrong but that’s my experience with the ED mindset. People with anorexia can spend a lot time cooking meals for other people.
Until I developed food intolerances I couldn’t be bothered. I could cook but I would only make the effort for other people, not for me. I always came up with excuses – I don’t have time, it costs more to buy your own ingredients, yada yada. I saw myself as recovered – no more binges and my weight had stabilised but in reality I still had to learn how to take care of myself. I was eating lots of ready-made dishes with lots of rubbishy ingredients, blaming bulimia for damaging my body every time I felt unwell.
I eventually realised I was doing everything wrong and that I was getting sick from eating all this junk. My body had been trying to tell me something all along: I had to stop abusing it. I spoke to friends, nurses, GPs, reflexologists, anyone who would listen and I finally got a grip. I now cook 90% of what I eat. I still have hamburgers at McD’s though. I think it’s those gherkins that make them so good for my stomach! 😀
My blog is also about this, learning to take care of yourself. Feeding yourself is important. It is one of your basic needs. If your basic needs are not met, you can’t hope to have better things in life. All the recipes I share are for people who want to eat well. Recovery is about letting go of all of this and enjoying what you prepared yourself.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
If you could change one thing about what we see in the media what would it be?
Things have started to change. Back when I was a kid, all the people who were on TV seemed to have been cast for their “good looks” – thin, young, Hollywood smile… It was like the media wanted us to believe that fat was not acceptable. When there were bigger kids on a show, they played the part of the bully, or they were bullied. Either way they stood out and appeared like the person you don’t want to be – either too horrible or a victim. Nowadays, you see people with different body shapes, different cultural backgrounds and you feel you could be friends with them and that’s great. I saw a picture on Instagram a couple days ago. It was for a well known brand, can’t remember which one, but it was a group picture, girls sitting on a sofa and the model in the middle could have been a size 14 or 16. It was clear that the spotlight was on this model and not the other girls who were more standard looking models.
What bothers me is how YouTube and Instagram for instance dictate the way girls should look. Everyone does their brows, hair and makeup the same way. Everyone tries to copy everyone. I see lots of girls who look like they are related because they just look the same. It’s like there are international standards for beauty and that’s sad. Why should a Korean girl try to look like a white American girl? That’s nonsense! Beauty resides in being unique, not in being the carbon copy of someone else! All those girls need to learn to value themselves and cherish what is good about them rather than look for what’s wrong and try to correct it.
There is pressure from social media these days. Girls think that they have to look exactly like a certain YouTuber or to show more skin to get more likes. Girl share inappropriate pictures because they think it will help them get a date with a boy… This makes me sick. I don’t know how we can stop this. It’s always about girls, I don’t hear anything about boys going through all of this.
Sometimes I want to make jokes about EDs, which only those who have been through them can do. Do you have that urge or am I a weirdo?
I don’t think I have ever joked about EDs. When I was working on my recovery, I was talking to bulimia as if it was a person and I was calling it names, insulting it, expressing my anger and ordering it to leave me alone. Does that sound crazy to you? I suppose we all have our ways to deal with it. Some people joke about their cancer and other nasty things they are going through, that’s their way of coping.
It doesn’t sound crazy to me. I had a name for mine too – Gertrude. I used to tell her off when she came visiting again. Can you finish this sentence, ‘In my body is a good place to be because…’
..it is me. I am a good place to be.
What would you say to 10-year-old Julie?
“None of this is true, you will be doing just fine” and she would know exactly what I am talking about.
Thank you so much for all your time. Carry on being fabulous.
FABIKs, go and check out Julie at her blog.
Here’s five things you should never say to someone with an eating disorder from Jennifer Rollin.
Have you seen Shirley Manson from Garbage talk about the pressure on young women to look a certain way? Brilliant.
And finally barfbag (Angela) has started blogging on the Huffington Post and here’s a piece about scoliosis and liking yourself even when you’re crookafuckingawesome.