I wish I could tell you that those numbers reflected something positive. Maybe the time I volunteered for a worthy cause or the amount of money I have donated to a local charity. Unfortunately not. They are the numbers that reflect what my Eating Disorder has taken from me and what I have given to my Eating Disorder. It entered my life 20+ years ago and changed everything.
Hi everyone. My name is Lisa Boltman.
I’m 42 years old. I’m married to the most fantastic man. I have three beautiful boys. The most amazing parents, in laws, and sister in laws. I also have the most incredible friends, cousins and aunts that I could’ve ever asked for. I look around at everyone supporting me here tonight and don’t know how to thank you for never giving up on me. For being there for me. And most importantly for believing in me. You each are so near and dear to me and hold a very unique spot in my heart. Your friendship, loyalty and constant support are what help me through every day. A very special thank you to my sister in law Megan who didn’t give it a second thought about being here tonight – on her birthday. Happy Bday Meg, I love you.
I have been suffering with an Eating Disorder or ED as he’s referred to since I was 20. That means over half of my life has been stolen by a mental illness.
My childhood was picture perfect. I did well in school, was social, outgoing and usually the life of the party. Home was always fun. I remember laughing. Smiling. Always being happy. My parents never put any pressure on us. They were proud of our achievements big or small and certainly body image was never, ever an issue. They loved us as a full package just as we were. And they were sure to tell us how much they loved us. Every. Single. Day.
There were no major traumatic events when I was 20 that could possibly lead to the onset of what would become the biggest challenge of my life.
They say someone who has an Eating Disorder is usually a perfectionist and people pleaser but
I find it hard to believe that this is what leads me into the arms of a Mental Illness. I have spoken to therapists, psychologists, nutritionists, dieticians, life coaches, my GP and we were never able to get to the root of the problem. Why did I start when I did? What we did uncover is that my Eating Disorder became my coping mechanism. Basically it was my way of saying “I’ve had it, I need out.”
I was never overweight and don’t remember ever being consumed with my body. I honestly believe it started out as an innocent “I wonder what would happen if I took laxatives?” on a day I just felt full and bloated. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I knew that it would change the course of my life. I wish I could go back and show myself how that one small choice would change everything. I had a choice in that moment. And I made the wrong choice. A choice that started to take my life apart piece by piece.
Well, the next day it made me feel empty, light and thin. I felt that I had found this secret that nobody knew about. I figured I would just use them on an as needed basis. But it slowly became a way of life as I dropped weight and people commented on how good I looked. Why stop now?
It was a slow process. I didn’t take them often at the beginning, but eventually over the months and years I was ingesting more and more laxatives every 3-4 days. As my body got use to them, I had to increase the quantities. I vowed that I would never take more than one box which contained 60 laxatives. But, it came to a point that without taking more, my body wouldn’t respond so I began buying two boxes. It would take about an hour to take that amount. I would’ve taken every day. But the side effects from taking that many laxatives lasted for days. So I needed to get through that hell and give myself one day of rest before I started the cycle again.
Taking that many laxatives is physically unbearable. I would be nauseous, dizzy, sweat profusely, I was incredibly lethargic for days, I would get heart palpitations, I was out of breath, would often vomit because taking that many would make me gag and I was always tired. I was up most of the night in the washroom. Sometimes I would take a blanket and a pillow to sleep on the floor. At the time, I lived at home with my parents and younger brother. I tried to be as quiet as possible, keeping the lights turned off so they wouldn’t know what I was up to.
As time went on, people’s positive comments turned to concern. I had lost so much weight, I was pale, I constantly cancelled plans, I was miserable, grumpy, not eating the same and generally looked unwell. It took quite a bit of time for me to open up, but eventually my secret was no longer a secret. You can only hide it for so long.
I remember one day back in 2001 when I was working as a head-hunter at Quantum Management Services. I had taken a dose of laxatives that morning. I was interviewing a potential candidate that I thought my boss should meet. As soon as I stood up, I knew I was in trouble. I started feeling nauseous and was extremely dizzy. But, I struggled to go on as I always did and brought my boss to meet this young lady. She sat in my chair and I leaned up against the credenza. I wasn’t even listening to what they were saying. I was in a daze and focusing on how absolutely awful I felt. After a couple of minutes, I knew that I couldn’t stand for much longer so I excused myself. I left my office, passed the reception desk and then woke up a couple of minutes later, lying on the dirty carpet of the waiting area. I fainted. Right there in front of my colleagues and complete strangers.
People were standing all around me extremely concerned. I stood up, tried to put on my best acting performance said I was okay and would go to the washroom to splash cold water on my face. One of my friends came with me and we ended up sitting in the hall for about 20 minutes until she felt I could go back in the office. The lies that came out of my mouth were the usual. I didn’t eat breakfast, didn’t get a good sleep, think I’m coming down with something. She bought it and suggested that I go home to rest.
What was I doing? What was I thinking? Why was it okay to do that to my body? Why do I think I deserve to feel like that? My poor body. My poor mind.
Another memory that will be forever etched in my mind is when my entire family was at a restaurant downtown celebrating my Zaidy’s birthday at his favourite restaurant. I had taken laxatives earlier in the day, of course not thinking that they would take effect until later that night – but you can never predict how these things will work. We were all sitting at the table enjoying, eating, and laughing when it hit me. That is basically what happens. You feel perfectly fine one minute and feel like death in an instant. I got up and said I was going to the washroom. I went outside to the parking lot because I needed some fresh air. I squatted down between two cars and began to throw up. The nausea was too much. This became a common trend as I began to increase the amount of laxatives. I guess my body couldn’t handle that many so it was saving me by getting rid of some. My body. Always looking out for me. And yet, I was never looking out for my body.
After all was said and done and I had a few minutes to reflect on what had just happened I cursed myself for doing this. Wasting time outside, throwing up in a parking lot and missing out on precious time with my family. For what?
Eventually I was admitted to Toronto General’s Symptom Interruption Program. It was actually a joke.
They locked the bathroom and I had to get permission when I needed access. There was no therapy at all during my three week stay. When I went to the washroom on my own, I was given special privileges. First, I was allowed to leave the ward and then I was allowed outside by myself. It was essentially a detox program. It did work. I was clean for a few weeks – but after some time, I was right back to where I started.
This went on for 10 years. Lying, manipulating, being so unwell, hiding, convincing – but most importantly – missing out on life.
February 1, 2004. Super Bowl Sunday. I remember the day so well. I had been married almost a year. My husband and I had been talking about kids. He was very clear about where he stood. “We won’t have kids until you are well. Until your body and your mind are well.”
Leading up to that day I had spoken to my therapist about how important kids were to me and that nothing meant as much to me as becoming a mother. So that day was my cold turkey day. That was the day I would get my life back. I had tried so many times over the past 10 years but always had a setback. This time I knew it would be different.
And it was. I took my usual dose of laxatives on February 1, 2004 – was sick as hell for about 48 hours and never looked back. I didn’t touch a pill; I began eating normally and focused on me and getting well. And I did get well. I lived again.
I went on to have three perfect boys. One in 2006, one in 2008 and one in 2010.
Now, to be completely honest, I still gave myself a hard time every now and then about my body. But I never acted on it. I just reminded myself of how far I came and how much better I felt.
Fast forward to April 2014. I had become more and more uncomfortable in my skin. I was constantly feeling bloated, full and generally not like myself. I knew how I could make that go away. But I also knew what I would be getting myself into.
I tried to convince myself that I could do it just one more time. But I also knew that one more time was an invitation back into my life. So I worked very hard every day to fight off the urges. But, ED was so strong and so powerful.
I was sitting at our computer desk. I was trying my hardest to not give in as the temptation was very strong. Suddenly I snapped. One more time Lisa, just one more time. Fine. Do it already. Strangely it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I told my husband I had to run a quick errand and I drove myself to Shoppers.
I wasn’t sure how many to buy. What is normal? What will have the desired effect I wanted? It had been so long.
I decided on 5. The normal; dose is 2-3.
It hit me like a ton of bricks a couple hours later. And it was as if I never stopped for those 10 years. The nausea, the sweats, the stomach ache was all too familiar. I was so incredibly sick. I ended up in the washroom for hours. And what I’ll never, ever forget is Rob knocking on the door asking if I was okay. I reassured him that I was and I must’ve caught a stomach bug.
You know what he said to me? “Did you take?”
How did he know? It’s been 10 years. What would’ve made him think this? Why didn’t he think it was a bug? How did he know? I yelled back that of course I didn’t take. And so the lies began.
My kids had plans later that day and Rob had a meeting. I knew there was no way in hell I was going anywhere. I had to call my mom to come pick up the kids and help take care of them for the day while I rested and tried to get rid of this awful “bug”.
Such lies. It’s all about lying, deceiving and being so untruthful to everyone around you. So that day, as you can imagine was not just one more time.
Here I am almost three years later, still fighting my demons.
The problem this time around is that I wasn’t able to hide it for very long.
I knew how they worked. I knew how to lie. I knew how to deceive people – or so I thought I did.
I dropped weight quickly and people noticed. And they knew.
I liked it. I liked my clothes being looser. I liked feeling lighter. I liked feeling empty.
Wait, let me rephrase that. My eating disorder was happy to be back feeling lighter and feeling emptier.It also liked that I was now shopping in the kids section because I didn’t fit into adult clothes anymore. 40 years old and shopping at Gap Kids. That’s not right.
Lisa didn’t like any of this. Lisa missed out on bedtime routines with her kids, missed out on going to the park with her kids, missed out on dinner time with her kids, missed out on taking her kids to school, missed out on watching tv shows with her kids, missed out on so many things with her kids because she was in bed or lying on the washroom floor in more pain than you could ever possibly imagine.
And this time, the quantities I was taking increased to over 200 pills. The physical side effects are indescribable. It was pure and utter hell. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t function. I could barely walk from the washroom to my bed without almost passing out and being completely out of breath. There were times when I just wanted to die. I couldn’t handle the pain.
I have questioned myself many, many times wondering how I’m still alive. How my body time and time again would live through a laxative overdose. I would take photos of myself lying on the washroom floor as a reminder of how I felt in that moment. I asked my doctor how I was still alive. Why does my blood work consistently come back normal? She told me that there is no warning sign with an Eating Disorder. When she receives blood work that isn’t normal it means that you have three months left to live. Your kidneys are failing or you will drop dead of a heart attack. No warning. Nothing.
There were several times when I considered calling 911 because I thought I was going to die. My heart would be pumping so intensely and so slowly that I was sure I had taken too many. And I would tell myself in that moment that I must stop. I have to stop. I need to stop.
But after 48-72 hours of feeling the worst pain imaginable, the Eating Disorder reminded me of how good I looked and how empty I felt. The rewards were there to my awful actions. So the cycle continued.
I was late for work, I missed work, I cancelled plans, I hid in bathrooms, offices, bedrooms, cars and anywhere else I could find to hide my disease.
I remember driving home from work one day. I had to stop at the McDonald’s at Yonge and Steeles. I wasn’t going to make it home. I also knew I would be in the washroom a while. Luckily they had an out of order pylon which I placed against the door so that nobody would bother me. As I sat there in the gross, dirty, disgusting bathroom a mother and daughter were using the stall beside me. The young girl (probably around 5 years old) stuck her head underneath and looked at me.
“Mommy, there is a lady in there.”
The woman lifted her up and told her not to disturb the lady.
How awful. This sweet, innocent girl saw me sitting there with my head propped in my lap, pale, nauseous and sad. As our eyes met, I prayed to gd that she never, ever went through anything like this. She left – went to enjoy chicken nuggets with her mom while my boys were probably at home waiting for me. But I was in the washroom. For a change.
Rob has also been living this illness along with my family and friends. Right now, he’s the closest one to it. He once said to a therapist that he was tired of me lying to him all the time. The therapist reassured him that I wasn’t lying to him. I was protecting myself. I was embarrassed, ashamed and so heartbroken over what was happening that lying was the only way to protect myself. And I know I have done that too many of you here.
I’ve seen many therapists over the years. One in particular asked me “Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”
I cut her off faster than she could finish the sentence – absolutely not.
Her response was spot on “But you are. You are killing yourself. You are committing suicide, just slowly.”
And she’s right. How do I justify it any other way? I am testing my body to the absolute limits. I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to live. But at some point, my body won’t be able to take it anymore. It will throw in the towel and just say it’s had enough.
People tell me I have to stop for my husband. I have to stop for my kids. I have to stop for my parents. My brothers. My extended family. My friends.
But, I have to stop for Lisa. Wait, let me rephrase that. I AM stopping for Lisa. Because when Lisa is well everyone else will reap the benefits of her recovery. And I have everything to live for. I knew that things were coming to a crucial point, not only physically and emotionally but it was having a tremendous impact on my kids.
“Where’s mom?” they would ask.
Probably in the washroom was the usual response.
That’s where they knew they could find me.
That’s not right. That is just not right. These sweet innocent boys deserve a healthy, vibrant, energetic mother that is always available. Not a sick mom who spends countless hours in the washroom. I don’t deserve to be a sick mom who spends countless hours in the washroom.
It got to a point when we all decided I needed professional help. And quickly.
What I soon found out is that sadly our Health Care system is completely lacking help for people with Eating Disorders. The most pathetic part is that Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses yet has such limited resources.
I was not accepted into any program because of some of these reasons:
- months to years wait list
- I was too underweight (yes, you heard me. Because my BMI was too low they told me I had to put on weight in order to be admitted)
- program not available for adults
It’s just not right. It’s frustrating, aggravating and upsetting. Here I was. Begging for help and nobody willing to help me because of funds. Because of wait lists. Because of rules. In one breath I was being told that Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses and then in the next breath told that there was no help for me. It is nights like tonight, when we have to bring awareness to Mental Health. People don’t like to talk about it; people don’t like to admit it. They are embarrassed. It is not viewed as an illness. It is often viewed as a choice. Let me tell you something. This is not a choice. I would never, ever choose this. I would never ever choose feeling that close to death. I would never ever choose lying on the cold washroom floor while my 6 year old son passed a note under the door that read I love mom. He was so excited to give it to me, but I had been in there so long he didn’t want to wait another minute. The mind is a powerful thing and has a tremendous force on your actions and behaviours. Mental Illness is not a choice. We need to know that and we need to change that.
So I knew that it was up to me to help me. And the truth is, I can get all of the help and use all of the resources in the world but it’s up to me to decide I want to make the change and actually make the change. The unfortunate part about recovery is that it’s slow. Very, very slow. And it’s not a simple road. It has ups and downs, twists and turns and unfortunately setbacks. But what I’ve learned is that if I have more good days than bad ones – I am winning.
The two best ways I could describe an Eating Disorder is
- It’s like cancer of the mind and
- It’s like having a roommate in your head that won’t keep quiet.
Two weeks ago my kids were eating subs. I took a bite of my son’s crispy chicken sandwich that was lathered in mayonnaise. And I loved it. Small step, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve started to eat peanut butter again. I’ve had several ice caps over the past month. And guess what? Nothing happened when I ate them. Wait, something did happen. I experienced joy.
So what is my message?
My message is that an Eating Disorder starts off small. It manifests itself into a personality. One that becomes bigger and stronger than you. It will take over your mind, your actions and your life.
Mental Illnesses are powerful. It has proven to be the biggest most difficult challenge of my life. When you think you don’t have a choice because the urges, temptations and voices are too strong. You do have a choice. And have the power to change. I have a choice.
I can recover and live. Or have an Eating Disorder and die.
I wish I could go back 20 years ago and make the right choice. That day I bought my first box of laxatives changed my life forever. I let my Eating Disorder in. I let it take my life apart piece by piece. Because I felt bloated. Because I felt full. Because I was trying to cope with something. No situation, no scenario, no feeling, no conversation no person could ever, ever make you feel as awful as an Eating Disorder.
I tell my kids every day not to ever let anyone bully them. Stand up for yourselves. Be strong, be confident and don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about yourself. You are wonderful. You are smart. You are kind. You are thoughtful. People love, admire and respect who you are. You need to be proud of who you are.
I refuse to let my mind bully my body. As powerful as the mind is, I have the power to change it.
And I will change it.
Thank you for listening to my story.