In a four-part series, Georgie Bradley chronicles her experience of burnout, from depression to disordered eating to taking a sabbatical. Read the second part, here.
TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders. Please view my experience as a lesson, not as a method.
I could feel the fat attach itself to my thighs within minutes. My clavicle began to disappear into soft flesh and my angular face took on a more spherical shape. Guilt coursed through my body. I ran to the toilet and had fingers for dessert.
I hauled myself up like a geriatric and looked in the mirror at my face pulsing with intense blue veins – like a police strobe. “What are you doing to yourself?” I silently lamented, only to then grab fistfuls of stomach fat, shake it hard with venom, and get back down on my knees to dredge up the last of my belly’s contents.
There is a moment in every binger’s life when it doesn’t get any lower. Like when you retrieve the previous night’s half-filled jar of peanut butter, tossed in the bin in a fit of binge defiance, dust off ashen dirt, and scoop the remains. Or when you’re at a restaurant and you have an audience spectating your food attack – “Someone’s hungry!”– but the seal has broken and senseless chewing hijacks your brain. And there’s nothing more demeaning than wearing your binge uniform (anything ratty and oversized) three days in a row surrounded by trays of saccharine dates, empty food wrappers, and take-away boxes.
I went to war with food. It was a battle of wills between me and sugar.
The thing about burnout is that it has the ability to re-up previous damaging habits. For me, it’s my rollercoaster body image complex. When toddlers are in a funk, they throw their toys out the pram. For me, food is my temper tantrum. When everything around me is out of sorts, the need to take control of something, anything, is feral in its mania, to the point where the reverse happens: complete loss of control.
Between extreme dissociation with food and panic-eating everything in plain sight, burnout brought out my inner glutton for punishment because I was angry at the world.
I could barely get through an hour at work without bingeing on snacks. I went to war with food; It was a battle of wills between me and sugar that would end in a christening of each available toilet cubicle with a Jackson Pollock display of my insides. Sorry for the visual.
If you haven’t had an experience of disordered eating – much in the same way as I have never been a drug or nicotine addict – it comes across as voluntarily letting a wrecking ball boomerang you into all kinds of destruction. Let’s just say it’s a form of warped distraction from other pain. But the combination of being charred by work and eating myself into oblivion put the cycle of self-loathing on vicious repeat: hating myself for eating, eating to get rid of the hate, hating myself for eating…
The combination of being charred by work and eating myself into oblivion put the cycle of self-loathing on vicious repeat.
I’d spend 90 minutes in the gym to run a binge off – 9.5 resistance, 2.5 incline. My life became about maintaining a number on a scale – it gave me the illusion of ownership. One morning, after a 3 a.m. binge, I couldn’t handle the idea of that weight sticking onto me, so I called in sick at work and headed to the gym by 9 a.m. It was a very, very sad state of affairs.
When you don’t treat your body right – both physically and mentally – you botch your ability to do anything. I was already down a rabbit hole from burnout, and the violent attack of (what I call “part-time”) bulimia made it so much worse. The situation had crescendoed to a nasty apex when I staged my own intervention.
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