I’m Only a Teenager, and I Am Bulimic

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Hello. To start, I would like to describe my family. I have two married parents with steady jobs and a younger sister. An outsider would look at my life and label it “perfect.” However, from inside the closed doors, we are far from that. My parents are “happily married” as some would say. Sure, they fight. Who doesn’t? My father is a surgeon so I cannot complain that we lack any financial support. My mother works as well, and that is the problem. She is a psychologist with her own private practice. In some ways, this is helpful. She knows how to handle a crisis, she knows how to raise her children in a non-abusive, safe and healthy manner. Alternatively, her therapist-ways can be destructive. At an age of 9, my little sister started figuring out the things that I had already discovered. She would get annoyed and say, “Mommy stop thinking AT me.” Because my mother has an overly-analytical stare that she uses much too often. But I guess she can’t help it, it’s who she is.

My father is secretly obsessed with success, though he tries to hide it. He sneaks in little phrases about “Yale” and “Med. School” before my mom gets mad at him and tells me I can attend whatever college I want. He is proud of his “little girls.” They both are. So how can I let them down? How I can I tear apart all that they have created?

I have been a “closeted bulimic” for… nearly two years now? It wasn’t extreme at first. It was occasional; when I was angry with myself or with the world. When things were out of hand and out of control. Now its every week. Three times a week. At least. I have a crammed life of getting A’s in school, singing opera and chorus, playing instruments, maintaining a social life, and more. When I write it down, it seems pathetic. I have “the picture perfect life.” Where did it go wrong? Something inside of me is missing; some genetic coding disfunction. That’s what I am: dysfunctional. And what keeps me up at night is that I have nothing to point my finger at. No abuse, death, or abandonment in my life. Nothing. I just want a diagnosis; I want someone to tell me what is wrong and WHY it’s wrong. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty for being…. broken.
My relationship with my father is a typical father-daughter connection. I strive for perfection to make him proud. He always is. I fear letting him down; I fear failing him. I fear failure in general. As a younger child, my father wasn’t around often. Always traveling and operating and working hard so that I could grow up with every opportunity imaginable. I am his princess and he is my king. I don’t have the heart to throw that away with this secret.

My relationship with my mother is strange. I guess my mom would be considered a “cool mom” by any other teen. But to me, she is difficult. We used to be very close. But throughout middle school, that began to fade. I don’t tell her much anymore, and I don’t really want to. I tell her everything above the water, but never anything too deep. I think as I grew older, I grew tired of her analyzing my stories and deciphering my life. But now as things are getting harder and harder to handle on my own, I want to tell her everything. I want to spill my guts out about the past few years; I want to cry into her shoulder rather than into my own pillow at night. I’m done trying to play the strong one, because on the inside I’m falling apart.

I’ve come close to telling her at times. But I always back out in the end. I’m too afraid of what would become of my life and my family. I’m too afraid of what would happen, of the change. I’ve always hated change and transition, ever since I was a baby. I like clean-cut corners and plans. I need control in my life and I try to convince myself that’s where all of this is coming from. But it’s not real enough. It’s not real enough to blame.

Now, I’m deteriorating. I need help. I need a nutritionist, a therapist. Something. I don’t know how to tell my parents, but I know I need to. A friend of mine has offered to do it for me, but I told her that this is my battle and I have to fight it. You think that with my mom being a therapist, she would have noticed. She would have put together the long bathroom trips after meals, whether it be at home or at restaurants. You think she would have grown suspicious when all of the sudden I was developing cavities or living at the gym or skipping meals. You think she would have seen through the facade by now.

Today, my mom says we have to leave by 2:30 because she has a patient at 3:00. I ask her why she doesn’t just try and re-schedule. She tells me it’s too last-minute and this patient is new. She goes, “No I can’t re-schedule. This is an eating disorder patient so she’ll probably freak out and go over the edge if I re-schedule last minute. People like that need control. Don’t ever get an eating disorder, god, they just never go away.” And dismissively she closes the car door and walks over to the garage. I take my time getting out of the car, blinking back tears and trying to act interested in what she had been saying. I felt so empty inside. Like a gear in my chest was missing and it would be the greatest disappointment if they found out.

Furthermore, I know my mom works with people just like me. If she knew about me, she would be getting an insider’s look into my head through other patients. Maybe she would understand too much, every move I made would be analyzed and diagnosed. And after a long day of work, she’d have to come home to another patient? Me? How could I do that to her?

And what about my sister? At times, she is the only thing still holding my feet to the ground. If my life was “perfect” and I turned out like this, what would happen to her if she grew up with a household anything below par?

Overall, I’m scared. I don’t want to ruin my family. I don’t know how to tell my mom that I’m just as fucked up as those kids with alcoholic fathers and mothers that have disappeared. I don’t know how to tell my father that all his work has gone to shit and I’m really not the daughter he deserves. I don’t know how I can destroy the role-model pedestal that my sister keeps me on.
I don’t know how to tell them.

A. I understand that you do not want to inform your parents about your eating disorder but it would be a mistake to keep this a secret. Eating disorders are very serious. They are one of the deadliest of all mental health disorders. They take a major physical toll on the body. Bulimia in particular is very dangerous. The physical health concerns are numerous and include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, low blood pressure, irregular menstrual cycle, esophagus and stomach rupture or bleeding, heart problems, tooth decay, tooth loss and many other serious problems that could lead to death. The dangers associated with bulimia and eating disorders in general cannot be understated.

I believe you may be assuming many things about your family that are inaccurate. For instance, you are reluctant to tell your parents about your eating disorder because you do not want to disappoint them. You believe that you will in essence be destroying the family. I highly doubt that your family would think this way about you. The more likely outcome is that they would want to do everything in their power to help you.

You are also overly concerned about how your disorder may affect others and not concerned enough about how your disorder is affecting you. You are the one who is suffering. You are the one who needs help. You are too focused on other people and how they may react to you.

How do you tell your parents? Go to your parents and tell them the truth. It is important to be honest about the extent of the problem. I would also recommend seeking help from an outside mental health professional and not from your mother. She may be a very good psychologist but it would be inappropriate if she were your treatment provider. It would be a conflict of interest and it is also a problem because you do not feel comfortable sharing personal information with your mother. Please do not feel guilty about this. Most people would feel the same way. Few people would feel comfortable sharing deeply personal information with their parents.

Please keep in mind that having an eating disorder is not a reflection of your parents. No one is to blame. Understanding this may make it easier for you to speak to your parents. What’s most important is that you seek treatment as soon as possible.

I understand that you think, at this point in your life, that telling your parents may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do but it is all part of your maturation. Ask any parent, children have problems. This is just a problem and with professional help it will soon be viewed as “only a bump in the road” on your path to success. Your parents can help you access treatment for this disorder. Please consider writing back and letting me know how you are doing. I wish you well. Please take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Aug 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). I’m Only a Teenager, and I Am Bulimic. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/08/31/im-only-a-teenager-and-i-am-bulimic/