The rush of emptiness
I've never ever been fat. I've always been quite a skinny girl. My bulimia never started with a physical need to lose weight.
All girls have an awareness of their bodies, especially when they're teenagers. And most girls have some experience with diets or weight loss. Even me, who really didn't need to lose weight.
I took two diet pills every morning when I was in standards 8 and 9. It just seemed like the thing to do. I even took them to school, sat down at the lunch table and took them there.
Then I made some comment like, "Duh, guys, it's not pills. It's diet pills". This was at the time when I was in a really bad stage with drugs and my friends had started ridiculing me about it.
My first encounter with bulimia was when I was in matric. By then I had given up drugs - including the diet pills - and was trying to keep myself focused on getting good results in the final exams.
In the last school term, we came back from the holidays and my friend, who had been quite overweight, came back to school looking very thin. I was still eating normally, loads then, and I wasn't fat.
"F**k! How did you get like that?" I asked her.
I felt really jealous. And she did look great.
Everyone was commenting about how beautiful she looked.
One day, when we were hanging out in this little cottage that only matrics were allowed to go to, she was eating lunch and she asked: "Does anyone want to eat my sandwich?"
She didn't want to eat bread.
So I started cutting out bread. I used to see my friend pick at her food, watch how she analysed every morsel. I had always eaten without noticing a thing. So I started paying more attention.
Soon after that, I overheard some girls talking about someone in the year below us.
"She's throwing up her food. That's why she's lost so much weight," said one of them.
I knew this younger girl quite well, and thought she was pretty.
The throwing up was news to me.
I thought: "I wonder what it's like to throw up your food after you've eaten?"
I was just really inquisitive.
Suddenly, there was all this talk about weight loss, like it had become the next big thing, and it seemed to make people happy and more beautiful. So I thought I may as well try the throwing up trick.
In fact, I think a lot of people probably tried. My initial motivation was to see if I could do it.
After school lunch one day, I walked across the hall to the bathroom and threw up. Just like that. I stuck one finger down my throat, which didn't work, so I tried again with two, and there it was. Easy .
I remember flushing the loo, wiping my mouth, walking out, and going back to the table.
I started doing it once every two days. I would test what kinds of foods were easier to throw up.
I had a sandwich and realised that was hard, so I was like, "I'm not going to eat bread." Then I tried a stew and that was really easy. I started researching it all on the internet.
It's terrible. Sites that are meant to help you end up giving you ideas. Same with the books. They advise you to watch out for patterns. So you look at all the patterns and copy them. You go into the bathroom, run the shower or the bath to cover the sound of vomiting. You put your hairdryer on or turn up the music. You get these ideas. It's quite sad, really.
At the end of matric, I remember eating three burgers, which wasn't unusual. I had always eaten lots, always gone back for a second or a third helping.
But now, with the three burger rolls, I was suddenly really conscious of the quantity. I ate three burgers, went into the bathroom and threw them up. And I had that satisfaction of feeling full without the guilt of eating too much.
You crave that empty, empty feeling.
Once you've filled yourself up, it's like you reach this max, then you throw up and there's nothing. All or nothing.
It became more and more interesting to me.
But I ended up taking it to the extreme and it took over my life whereas a lot of people might try it once and never again. That's my pattern with things: one's too many and 1000 is never enough. Everything to the extreme.
Bulimia is a very sneaky, manipulative disorder because it creeps in, latches on, and before you know it, you're addicted, completely addicted to the rush and to the high.
You get to a stage where you can't get through a day unless you know you're going to be able to binge and purge. If I knew I couldn't do it during the day, the only thing that kept me going was knowing I could do it at night.
But if there was a chance that I wouldn't be able to do it at night, then I had to make a plan. I didn't go to friends' parties or birthday dinners, or even out to clubs, because I needed to be able to throw up.
Picton, 26, is a recovering bulimic