By: Angela Gulner
Some may find it odd, insensitive, or tasteless, even, (pun intended) that I (and my teammates at HLG Studios) chose to launch our crowdfunding campaign (https://igg.me/at/binge) to fund Binge, a dark comedy inspired by my decade-long struggle with bulimia, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. The day you’re basically required to have an eating disorder.
Um, no thanks, two pieces of pie were eno–WHAT!!!! What is wrong with you?! It’s Thanksgiving! Why do you hate Thanksgiving? Do you hate America, Angela, is that it? Do you? Do you? No, I don’t hate America, Uncle Pete, I’ll have another piece of pie.
If you don’t feel like vomiting after Thanksgiving Dinner (and dessert, and second dinner, and second dessert) then according to society, you’re just not doing it right. So, by that measure, Thanksgiving should be a great day to be bulimic, right? The entire country is bingeing. Your behaviors, on this day, are normal, glorified, and insisted upon (minus the purging part, that’s still considered ‘effing gross’). But for me, Thanksgiving was one of the most painful days of the year.
I think what so many outsiders don’t understand is that we don’t want to be bulimic. At least, I didn’t want to be bulimic. Bulimia isn’t fun. It’s ugly. It’s embarrassing. It’s animalistic. And bulimia doesn’t usually cause weight loss, so we don’t get the positive social benefits that anorexics get (wow, that’s hella fucked up – anorexia is rough, too). We hate ourselves and we hate our bulimia, even while we’re addicted to it. Like many bulimics, I’d often go into a trance-like frenzy where I couldn’t see clearly. My heart would pound, time would blur, and then a few hours later, I’d realized I’d just consumed my entire kitchen pantry. But I didn’t want to. What I wanted – what so many bulimics want – was to eat nothing at all.
For me, the days leading up to Thanksgiving were filled with crippling anxiety, constant dread, and obsessive planning. Weeks in advice, I’d map the entire day out for myself– what I’d eat, and when, and how slowly. How would I manage to: 1. Eat as little as possible while still 2. Appear totally normal and happy without 3. Triggering a binge so I wouldn’t need to 4. Puke my fucking guts out in the basement toilet. But every year of the ten I struggled, when Thanksgiving day arrived, my well-crafted plan backfired. I’d be 15 minutes in, with a respectable vegetable medley resting on my tiny plate, take a sharp left turn at the cookie tray, and be hunched over the toilet before Halftime.
Bulimia is a vicious cycle. And regardless of how it appears, bulimics are not choosing to partake in it. Now, I’m not a dietician, or a doctor, or a therapist. But I spent ten years, a shit ton of therapy, and two rounds of treatment in that cycle and I have learned a lot. Eating disorders change your brain chemistry and your body’s physiology. With bulimia, despite the massive quantity of food consumed during a binge, purging and frequent starvation between episodes means one is generally malnourished. And when you’re malnourished, you’re depressed. You just are. Your brain doesn’t have what it needs to fire correctly. When you’re malnourished, your body kicks into “survival mode”. It tries to save itself…by eating. By eating a lot, as quickly as it can. Because it doesn’t know when it will next be fed, and it doesn’t know how long it will have that food once it gets it. But when the binge ends, those survival instincts disappear. The bulimic is left alone, physically ill and emotionally devastated. I can’t believe it happened again. I said it would never happen again. I’m a failure. I’m an idiot. I’m a pig. I suck.
The shame and fear is too much. We purge. And the cycle begins again.
Bulimia – and eating disorders in general – are so often thought of, by the general public and by those who suffer, as emotional afflictions. Deficiencies. Vanity gone too far. Maladaptive behavior patterns caused by some trauma, or ineffective coping mechanism. And while that’s definitely (sometimes) part of it, it’s not the whole story. Our bodies are at work here, too. And the longer we’re in the bulimic cycle, the harder it is, emotional and psychologically, to break out of it. Ending the cycle, for many, is beyond what we are capable of without outside interference. Only when the body and brain get steady, uninterrupted nourishment can the cycle be broken (and can the underlying emotional traumas be worked through).
This whole tangent is all to say — there were a shit ton of mechanisms at work for me during my bulimic Thanksgivings. And the self-hate, the shame, and the failure I felt wasn’t fair. My bulimia was beyond my control. I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t selfish. I wasn’t a pig. I was trapped. And it really fucking sucked.
…so if it was all so terrible (honey, it was), then why? Why make BINGE, a webseries about the pain and strife that comes with these afflictions? Why ask for donations to create a show about this illness? Because 30 million people in the US alone suffer from eating disorders. Because in many countries around the world, there is no talk of eating disorders at all, so thousands suffer in silence. Because eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses, and yet there is very little representation of them in the media. Because this community shouldn’t have to feel alone.
We released BINGE (www.bingetheseries.com) a year ago, and over half a million people have seen it, all over the word. We have received thousands of emails from men and women who have been moved by the show, who have learned something about their friends or their loved ones, and who want to fight the stigma surrounded these illnesses. I hopes that the show helps you get you through your struggle.
You’re not alone. You’re not a freak. You’re not a pig. You’re a badass. You’re going to get help, and you’re going to kick this thing. For those of you who don’t struggle in this way, I hope BINGE gives you some understanding of what is going on with those who do. Even if you don’t know it, you know someone who’s hurting in this way. And your compassion can make a shit season a little less shitty.
( If you’d like to get involved with our crowdfunding campaign, click here: https://igg.me/at/binge )
Angela Gulner is a writer, actor, producer, and recovering bulimic. She co-created the dark comedy BINGE, inspired by her decade-long struggle with bulimia. She also co-hosts the feminist comedy podcast Welcome to the Clambake. Follow her on Instagram, @gulnatron and Twitter, @angelagulner.