It’s a cold Monday morning, the perfect day to skip school and hang out at the beach. Two fifteen year old girls decide to ditch class and walk to the beach, preferring the freezing cold wind over the interrogation about why they hadn’t done their homework. This was the day I discovered my best friend was a future singing sensation, amongst another deep secret that I was the first to find out about her life.
We sit in front of our computer screens, seeing each other after what seems like years. We talk about how we’ve been as she eats a tub of ice-cream with a spoon. Reluctantly, I ask her what made her start. “All the relatives were calling me fat…they’re very straightforward, and I wasn’t used to that because I was from Australia”. Living in the Philippines as a young girl had given Rochelle a tough insight about the stereotypical expectations for girls to be skinny. “There’s still times where I feel guilty for eating too much…the best part of my day is in the morning when I haven’t eaten anything yet. I literally feel like I’ve achieved something up until the point where I eat something”.
Rochelle has been struggling with Bulimia nervosa since she was only eleven years young. She feels immense guilt after eating, yet no guilt after forcing herself to get rid of the food. “I feel guilty when I don’t do it, but I never feel guilty when I do.”
Bulimia is caused through a range of different factors including genetic predisposition and a combination of environmental, social and cultural factors. Tragically, Rochelle had watched her two older sisters suffer through the same disorder, and was aware of her mother having experienced it in the past. “My mum walked in on me doing it once. She was just staring at me, and I was just staring at her. It was all over, it was everywhere. She didn’t say anything, she just looked at me, closed the door, and she never mentioned it afterwards.”
When asked if she had ever informed anyone about her issue besides myself, Rochelle looks down with a sad expression on her face, responding “No. Because I would remember how serious it was based on the reactions my sister would get when she would do it, so I would just keep it to myself.”
When it was all getting out of hand, she made the decision to open up to her father about it, in exchange for some help and comfort. Instead, the response she received claimed that she was only doing it for attention. She decided the only comfort she was going to get was through her disorder. The first time Rochelle had ever attempted to force herself to throw up, she was only eleven years of age. Home alone, and engaged in a book where the main character was in fact, bulimic. “When I did it, afterwards I felt like I achieved something.”
Dealing with this disorder has been a living nightmare for Rochelle. “If I would eat something and wouldn’t do it afterwards it would be the only thing in my head, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else.” Not only did this affect her psychologically, but her social life was majorly disrupted. “There would even be days where I wouldn’t want to go out and see friends because they would want to eat. And if I agreed to go out with them, I would have to pretend I didn’t have money to eat.”
Unwillingly, I ask her when the last time she had attempted it was. There’s an anxious silence, hesitation, followed by “I don’t want to say”. Indeed, it is later revealed to me that she had suffered through it only two short days ago. “It’s hard not to, because as you know I see results from it”.
We continue our conversation, and I try to comfort and engage her. Because at the end of the day, her eating disorder does not change who she is, and it certainly does not define who she is. We are still the same two girls from the beach, who love food and sharing laughs; even when we’re cities apart.