Woman Next Door Making Herself Throw Up Every Night
July 17, 2013 11:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm up again listening to this poor woman torture herself, it's so loud.

I live in the city. I'm lucky enough to live in a building where one does not typically hear much noise from neighbors, if any at all. However, a few months ago a couple moved into the condo adjacent to mine, and ever since when I happen to be up in the wee hours of morn I hear the woman in her bathroom running her shower, gagging, and spitting violently. She's really going for it. It is SO loud and dramatic. It's as if suddenly my bathroom walls are paper thin, whereas with the previous tenants I rarely heard a peep, only the sounds of water pipes in action.

The 'water running' is classic, I did it when I 'tried' bulimia out for a few months in high school when I was in a dark place, until my Mom caught on and put a stop to it. I know what it can do to the esophagus, stomach, and heart...

This is NOT any of my business, whatsoever. However, the day she's wheeled down my hallway in a body bag I'm going to feel like a complete failure of a human being. I know that's dramatic and only happens to a fraction of bulimics, but it could happen, especially with the frequency and ferocity with which this woman is harming herself.. and that small chance makes me feel obligated to act in some way. I don't think there's been a single night/early morning since they've moved in, when I've been awake, that I haven't heard this going on. It's stressing me out.

This may appeal to the don't ask don't tell crowd, but her ritual is very loud and has shocked me awake when my dog hears her and flips out. Her emotional turmoil trumps my dog flipping dung naturally, but I think it's relevant to mention.

Is there any possible way to approach this issue without being the infamous intrusive crazy neighbor? Do you think it's actually conceivable that her husband is such a sound sleeper that she's successfully been able to hide this from him for God knows how long? I can't imagine he's blind to it. I feel like I have to say something to her when we pass each other in the hall next. Possibly ask her if she'd like to have lunch sometime? It would be strange, most people here are quite private, busy professionals. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated
posted by OneHermit to Human Relations (54 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it possible she's vomiting involuntarily? I know it's easy to assume that this is bulimia nervosa, but what if she is chronically ill and is regularly vomiting not because she wants to but because this is the current reality of her health?
posted by aspen1984 at 11:27 PM on July 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

It's possible she has some medical condition that isn't bulimia, that's making her vomit. None of us know.

But consider your reaction if when you were in high school, some random stranger came up to you and wanted to talk to you about your issues. What do you think the efficacy of that would have been?

You're right, it's none of your business.
posted by danny the boy at 11:28 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have emetophobia, ie a fear of vomiting and so I can assure you that this situation would be highly distressing to me too. In fact, probably to the extent that I would have to move if it didn’t stop. I do agree that it’s not really any of your business and you would have to tread very carefully. Having lunch and launching into a big speech about eating disorders is not really an option. But what about a more subtle way to let her know that you know. Does your dog bark in the night when he hears her? How about letting him bark for a minute or 2 before loudly telling him to be quiet. Or when you see her say “Hi, I hope you’re feeling better soon.” If, as others have pointed out, it’s a health issue then maybe she will open up and fill you in.

If someone was keeping you up in the night with loud music then you would be annoyed and do something about it. I don’t really see an issue with being put out that you’re being kept awake by someone retching and vomiting. It’s disturbing your peace.
posted by Youremyworld at 11:40 PM on July 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

From what you're describing, I would bet the husband knows or, at least, suspects that something is wrong. I think your first instinct is right and you should not get in the middle of such a personal matter. I hope you put your good heart to use smiling and being neighborly and helpful when you can. I think you'll know if something happens where you need to act.
posted by melangell at 11:41 PM on July 17, 2013

You could leave her a note. Tape it to the door in an envelope marked "to the missus" or some such, so that she knows it's for her, not him. In the note, say something like:

"As neighbors, we sometimes become aware of information that we wish could remain private. I'm sure my neighbors have heard me crying on the phone, or gleeful with my partner. However, what we do with that information can sometimes be difficult.

"I don't know what you're struggling with because we are not close friends, but I do hear how it impacts your life. I hear you at night and in the mornings, and I know that you're having a difficult time with keeping food down. I've struggled with this in the past and felt that I must reach out. Whether mental or physical, this seems like a medical issue for you. I hope that you are able to get the help that you need, because you deserve better than this. This is not a noise complaint or anything like that... It's a gesture of compassion. Please be kind to yourself and know that there are many folks out there who want the best for you."
posted by samthemander at 11:59 PM on July 17, 2013 [53 favorites]

The OP is losing sleep because the noise is waking her. Whether the potential health condition is something a neighbor should consider her business (good samaritans do make themselves vulnerable), the noise makes it her business. It's interfering with her life.

As for what to do -- this is a very difficult problem. Don't think it's easy and you're missing something obvious; it's hard. If you can, you might just start by trying to acquaint yourself with her. Any kind of discussion will benefit from a foundation of trust -- if you have it within you, at all, to build that a bit, it will make everything else more likely to succeed without damaging relationships.
posted by amtho at 12:01 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: This woman absolutely has bulimia. I work from home and have never heard her do this violent ritualistic vomiting, spitting, rhythmic thing during daytime hours. She is home during the day as well, we pass each other in the halls frequently. Her husband is also around during the day so she is obviously choosing to do this at night when he's asleep. Either that or she's taking some ghost medication at 2, 3, 4AM in the morning that's causing her to heave, yelp, vomit, and spit all whilst running her shower or sink. She also leaves her condo on cue after each episode and throws something away in the service room (I can only imagine it's food or evidence of a binge). The doors are very heavy on our units and you can hear them slam shut when someone leaves and enters their unit.

This would wear on anyone, regardless of their capacity (or lack thereof, obviously) for empathizing with others.

My dog only loses it when I'm asleep and my neighbor begins her night time ritual, if I'm awake she (my dog) just wanders into the bathroom and stares at the wall wondering what it is. Sometimes she whines and 'comes to get me' because she thinks something is wrong. It's just wearing me down. If you have nothing kind or useful to say please refrain from commenting.
posted by OneHermit at 12:02 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe she is pregnant, and very early morning sick.
posted by Cranberry at 12:07 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tell her that you can hear the door slamming late at night and to please shut it more quietly.
posted by brujita at 12:11 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by sock of ages at 12:15 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to send an encouraging note, please slide it under the door. Taped to the door may mean she doesn't get it, or that a passerby feels the urge to do some reading. Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope you might find it possible to be warm and friendly to her in passing - she's got a rough road, whatever it is.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 12:16 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Leave her alone. If you are really bothered by it, get some soundproofing done. You don't know what's up with her. She could be pregnant and having all day sickness, or be psychologically distressed. It's none of your business. Leave her be.
posted by discopolo at 12:20 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Northern. I would never leave a note in fear of her husband finding it first. Like I said, I don't even want to approach her about it as I feel it's out of bounds. But who are we, such disconnected beings, not to care about each other? What sort of trendy cold crap is that? I just want to sleep soundly and it'd be nice to not worry about a stranger, yeah. A. I'm shocked awake at least 3 times a week when my dog starts barking and I'm left sitting up in bed waiting for her to stop (or standing in my bathroom snatching up my dog and waiting for her to stop) all the while furrow-browed wondering if she's going to rupture her dang esophagus and B. It's getting old. I'm not one to fuss about loud music, gatherings, etc. but this happens all week long.

She's not pregnant. If by chance she is, it's unrelated. This has been going on since the beginning of the year when they moved in. No baby belly on her. Again, on cue, she leaves her condo, stampedes down the hallway, and opens and slams the service room (trash room) after every episode instead of just throwing away whatever it is she needs to discard of in her own condo. Now what sort of medication requires that? I'm at my wits end. I just want to sleep properly.
posted by OneHermit at 12:39 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

You should read the answers in the thread that sock of ages linked to.

Unfortunately, I don't think there's a "right" answer to your question. You don't know with certainty that she's bulimic. If she is, you don't know if her partner or family knows. You don't know if she's already in therapy about it or otherwise getting help. And, most importantly, you don't know that if you act to help her, it will actually help and not hurt. It might hurt. Most likely, it won't make much of a difference.

Given all this uncertainty, I think that your primary concern is your own peace of mind. That's not to say that you aren't concerned for her well-being, because I'm sure you are. You're right to be concerned, that's the natural reaction of a caring person. But I suspect that your main impetus is that nagging sense of "what if", that maybe you have a responsibility, though small, and that if you "fail" in it, something bad might happen to your neighbor and you'll have awful regret. And that's really about you. Again, it's not that you don't actually care, you do actually care. But I think that your dilemma is really about your fear of making a mistake that you'll later have trouble living with.

And the thing to tell yourself is that you're chaining together a bunch of things you don't actually know and feeling anxious about a possible outcome that is quite unlikely to happen (even if your other assumptions are true). This is more like worrying that you left the stove on when you leave for a vacation than it is something justifiable.

So you need to deal with your anxiety first. Put it in perspective, put it on hold, whatever. If you were to take action, it should be on the basis of what is actually best for your neighbor, not because you were primarily motivated by anxiety.

I can't tell you how to deal with the anxiety and I can't tell you what the right thing to do with your neighbor, were you to decide that you should do something. But I think you should start from the awareness that your anxiety is primarily about you and your decision about what to do should primarily be about her.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:45 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I lived in NYC, a native New Yorker.

People saying it is none of your business are wrong on every level. It bothers you, someone's life may be at stake - soundproofing or ignoring is not the answer here - for shame (!) fellow MeFites.

As a city dweller, you have the option to confront directly, the option to complain about the noise (without specifying her vomiting) via your landlord, or the option to reach out and make friends as a road towards intervention.

Hmmm. Which option is right here?

I liked that you had the impetus to make friends, but making friends with neighbors is dangerous JuJu. In this situation, don't do it unless you have a deep spiritual need to follow through, and a solid exit plan from the relationship if/when things go pear-shaped.


I think you should contact the landlord and complain about the late-night noise.

After that, if it fails, make friends?

Read that thread above marked PREVIOUSLY. Better ideas, there.

Thank you for your concern for a fellow human being.

In your shoes I'd be calling 911 for a ambulance the next time I heard it, risking embarrassment for all involved, as a way to put the issue out there - but I'm usually too strong.


Thanks again. This is a tough tough question. I think the answer depends on how wise you want to be. Sometimes wisdom is inserting yourself, and sometimes wisdom is minding your own business.

You know better than us, but these are some options.
posted by jbenben at 12:48 AM on July 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was remiss in not acknowledging that this is loud enough to bother your dog. You didn't emphasize in your question your own simple issues of comfort and sleeping at night, but that's important! With regard to the noise, I think the previous advice to deal with it like any other noisy neighbor is probably best. If it's enough of a problem that if it were something else you'd report it or otherwise do something about it, then you should do something about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:55 AM on July 18, 2013

Maybe earplugs or a white noise app on your phone would help you sleep?
posted by discopolo at 12:56 AM on July 18, 2013

Response by poster: Did you read my replies Fyo? I'm not leaping to conclusions here and neurotically forcing some awful assumption upon some poor woman who is pregnant or has some awful disease because I have a guilty conscience.

This is not late night and only late night pregnancy sickness. She's incredibly thin, rail thin, again, if she is pregnant, it's completely unrelated because they've lived here since the beginning of this year and in her tight little tank tops and yoga pants I'd see something by now.

It's not a medication causing her to ONLY do this at a certain time at night when most people are asleep that also requires her to leave her unit and dispose of something in the hallway that she doesn't want her partner to see.

I apologize for getting cross but honestly. I'm just going to go look in the service room right now and see what these mysterious deposits are that she throws away so you people will focus on what one should do and not 'how do you know.' Absurd
posted by OneHermit at 12:59 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, I read your replies. I don't think you're leaping to conclusions — but I think that there's uncertainty about your diagnosis and that's just the premise. If she is bulimic, you also don't know whether you're the only one who knows, or if her partner and others know. So the point is that if your concern is whether you have a particular responsibility to help, the problem is that you can't know this.

I'm definitely not inclined to the "mind your own business" point-of-view; I think you're right to be concerned and I think it's good to help someone in need. But I think that you should spend some time considering your own anxiety about this — part of your responsibility to her is that your helping her is about her, and not primarily about you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:10 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You can't fix your neighbour, why aren't you asking how to make your dog not go crazy at sounds in the night?
posted by jacalata at 1:13 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:16 AM on July 18, 2013

Mod note: OneHermit, moderator here. This isn't the place to have a back and forth conversation or argue with people offering suggestions. The convention is you ask the question, you get some answers, not all of which you will find helpful. That's fine, just concentrate on the advice that seems best to you, and comment only to answer direct questions or clarify if something is unclear.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:17 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Can we post links to photos on here? Grocery bag with a nice little pile of FAST FOOD BAGS, CANDY WRAPPERS, YOU NAME IT. Ugh God :(

Of course this isn't about me Fyo, I'm trying to make sense of your pseudo-psych here and I appreciate the responses but I knew I was right and I just confirmed it. Shoot me down all you want I know it when I see it I had it for a short period of time and I just found her left overs/wrapper stash in our communal service room.

Are people not empathetic these days? Of course I'm anxious and frazzled this woman's slow-killing herself right next to me and I can hear it all week. Ugh I just want to cry.
posted by OneHermit at 1:19 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's very difficult but I would be as straightforward, frank and friendly as possible. When you see her, I'd say something like "Hey, are you OK by the way? None of my business, only sometimes we can hear you through the wall and it sounds like you're vomiting a lot. If there's anything I can do, I'd be glad to help. Are you seeing a doctor?"

She may take offence, she may just vomit somewhere else more discreetly, but I can't see what else you can do. I think suggesting lunch would be a tactical error. You're not really out to socialise, and it might seem to build the thing up unhelpfully, like you feel she's ruining your life and you've got lawyers just waiting to go.
posted by Segundus at 1:25 AM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm surprised at some of the harsher responses you are getting here. It's clear from your post and follow-up that this situation is really distressing for you. As a fellow city dweller I've sometimes heard things through walls or ceilings which have worried me and it's a horrible, out of control feeling to have intimate knowledge of someone's troubles and no real way to help.

But that's the crux of it really: there is no real way that you can help her. I applaud your empathy and humanity (and sympathise with your dog and sleep issue) but complex, advanced eating disorders are not solved by kindly notes from neighbours or even gentle probing from new friends.

People with these disorders hide them from everyone, that is part of the disease. Even when they do become unavoidably public it doesn't always help. He may know what she's doing but be unable to stop her. Her whole family may know and be sick with worry. There is really nothing you as an outsider can do for her so I suggest you focus on helping yourself.

As I said, this sounds agonizing to listen to so can you sound proof or move your apartment around? If not this would be reason enough for me to move. I empathise easily and, even without your personal link to this issue, this would distress me beyond all measure.

Thank you for your compassion. Your instincts are good but you can't help everyone. Perhaps making some donations to mental health or bulimia charities might soothe your kind heart a little.
posted by Dorothia at 1:27 AM on July 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

OK. Deep breath, shake out your wrists and don't go dumpster diving.

The reason for the noise isn't your problem, it's the noise. The noise from the bathroom and slamming the door of the service room is disruptive. If you and your dog can hear this through the wall, then her husband must sleep like the dead.

I am all for for being sensitive to feelings and that she may have a serious illness. But if this has been going on for this length of time, she's pretty hardcore.

She could be quieter. Maybe not with the vomiting, that's like sneezing. Some people have no control over the volume. But door slamming. She can control that. The location of her activity is disruptive. You can't make the behavior stop. But perhaps you can encourage "relocation.

Address the issue. The NOISE. Either to them or your landlord.

" There is noise of someone (being violently ill) coming from your apartment every night at such and such time. It wakes me up and upsets the dog. Every night someone goes down the hall from your apartment and slams the service room door." You could even leave out the violently ill. It's the noise you want to stop.

Leave out the who or why. It's the noise.

Bulimics are like many other self abusers. They rely on denial and people being afraid to say anything. They will leave incredible messes and disrupt their and others lives to tend to their urges. This is very sad. But really, If she was using a super sonic vibrator every night and then running down the hall of the building to pound on the service door with joy, would you have such scruples?

I wouldn't.

posted by moonlily at 1:28 AM on July 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

I love the compassion and caring that you are showing, but, it is time to be blunt. Tape a note up in the service room "to APT ###" at the time when she will be going there. Let her know that you can hear what is going on - she is trying to be discreet, but it's not working, and she needs to know that. If I was making noise and it was bothering the neighbours, I'd want to know, so I could stop.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:54 AM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am a recovering bulimic. When I started recovery and was honest with people about what I was going through, I was shocked at how many people already knew. Some were afraid of saying anything and upsetting me. Others, like my mother, just heaped praise on me for my very effective weight loss efforts.

I wish someone, anyone, would have told me they were worried or cared, or that it was affecting someone other than just me. Maybe I would have sought treatment sooner.
posted by makonan at 2:03 AM on July 18, 2013 [18 favorites]

There are two issues here. One is her personal problem that is very sad. The other is that your sleep is being disrupted. The two should not be lumped together and both are very difficult to negotiate. [It is particularly difficult because surely she could hear your dog barking?]

I would have a word to her about the door and how it's upsetting your dog (half truth) and waking you up. This is your real issue. Address that first. I would go from there. See how receptive she is to talking to you. See whether the door issue changes. If it doesn't, you're going to have to walk away from this. If it does change, then ask her how she's doing, if she's okay.
posted by heyjude at 2:19 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You mentioned that you are both home all day. Could you possibly buy some ginger ale and some ginger candy and pop over during the day? You could say that you can hear her getting sick every night and thought these might help. I know you said she's bulimic, but approaching it in a non threatening/ friendly neighbor way may be enough to make her think twice because she would know her secret isn't so secret. Don't mention/ confront the bulimia, just that you know these help with nausea. If it continues after that you could make a noise complaint to your landlord.
posted by MayNicholas at 3:34 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with the mind-your-own-business school of thought.

It’s really hard letting go of the urge to help, even if this is “none of your business”. The harsh truth is that your neighbour is the proper guardian of her bodily and mental health. Our happiness and well-being is our responsibility. YOU can’t help her, and that’s heartbreaking.

BUT – does her partner know? Could he help? Tell him what you know. Stick to the facts. It might not go down well. But, if he doesn’t know about this, he definitely can’t help. If he knows, he * might * be able to help. This does imply that in some way your neighbour can’t take care of herself, and that perhaps others can. Perhaps that assumption is wrong, but it’s a reasonable assumption to make.

In my opinion, the real issue is not whether or not this happens in a private residence. It is not whether or not there is some other explanation, say some rare disease causing this. It is whether, since you have good reason to believe this person is causing herself harm, you have some kind of moral responsibility to act on this knowledge. You are privy to information that if you share, * might * help.
Again imo – and I understand that this is a tricky call and easy to get wrong – the possibility her partner is unaware AND that if he were aware he could have helped merits your intervention.

There are a lot of ifs, sure.
I’m not saying that this is the right thing to do for everyone, any time. But I understand where you’re coming from, and just like you, I would also “feel obligated to act in some way”. This is just what I think * might * work.
But do bear in mind you might cause unnecessary distress, that nothing comes out of this, that there are unforeseen negative consequences, and that you might anger your neighbours. It’s your call whether you still want to intervene.
posted by mkdirusername at 3:50 AM on July 18, 2013

1. Read the previous thread. Read it again.

2. Never leave a note when talking in person is an option. The note might be the more comfortable route for you, but it usually comes across to the recipient as passive-aggressive at best, creepy at worst. (Especially if you mention that you've been looking through her trash!) This is just good general neighbor etiquette.

3. The chances of your being able to help are slim to none, no matter what you do. Eating disorders are notoriously hard to treat or confront; shining a light on one usually makes it scamper into the nearest shadow. If she finds out you know, she may just go to greater lengths to hide it. The people telling you to stay out of this aren't doing so out of indifference or cruelty, but out of the recognition that intervention often backfires.

4. Decide if you want to help this woman or if you just want the noise to stop. If it's the latter, mention the noise to her as delicately as possible, but also get earplugs and train your dog to stop barking at the sounds. (And if you can hear her vomit through the walls, she can hear your dog, and is likely already aware that she can be heard.) If you want to try and help, that will be slower and more difficult. Start by trying to befriend her: say hi whenever you pass her, working up to "how are you" and "nice morning" and little exchanges. Eventually you can invite her over for coffee (not a meal!) and so on. See if she'll open up to you. This will take a while, and you can't move too fast.

I'll repeat this for emphasis: there is likely nothing you can do to help, and a good chance your attempts may backfire. Good luck. I know it's hard.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:42 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you choose to intervene, the thought of calling 911 and saying they need to send an ambulance strikes me as a spectacularly bad idea.
posted by ambient2 at 4:53 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I agree that there are two issues here: your interrupted sleep and her probable bulimia.

I would go out into the hallway after one of these episodes, when she's slamming around, and tell her very politely about the noise issue. I think in that moment you'll be able to tell if you should tack on a comment regarding your concern for her health.
posted by Specklet at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you done the very preliminary noisy-neighbor thing of banging on the wall? At least this will alert her that you can hear her. Or if you're friendly, going next door in your pj's and knocking on the door to ask if everything is all right and if she needs some [stomach cure you have to hand] every single night. (She may not answer the door, but she'd hear the knocking.) Other people's mental health is really not your business, but other people making enough distressing noise to wake you up, is. Knocking and checking in when you hear her is about the gentlest way I can think to be there if she wants help, making no assumptions about her condition, or at the minimum to barf somewhere else.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:56 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Previously.

I haven't read the other comments here, but I wanted to pop in, because that one up there was my thread. My neighbor. A lot of the comments in my thread were not very kind.

I did get to know her better in the ensuing months, and she DID have an eating disorder. Does still have, I imagine. Not only bulemic, but compulsive exerciser and her refrigerator was stocked with pre-made salads on separate covered plates for every meal a week in advance. At one point when our leases were both coming to an end we discussed becoming roommates, and I asked her if she would be OK sharing fridge space and having non-salad foods in the house, and she looked at me terror-stricken saying that I would have to get a separate refrigerator. (She was actually doing crunches while we were talking.) I ended up not living there, moving to a completely different neighborhood, and I haven't seen her in a couple years. I'm friends with her brother on facebook, and while they used to spend a lot of their social time together, it seems like they don't see each other much anymore. I don't know what she's up to these days, but I hope she's ok. I could still hear her throwing up until the day I moved out.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes you just know, and don't let a bunch of dickweeds on the internet shame you for trying to care about your fellow man. Unfortunately, I don't really think there's a whole lot you can do. It made me feel better knowing that I tried to get to know her as a person, and not as a noise through a wall, even though the more I knew about her the worse I realized things were.

I don't know. Life is hard. Thanks for looking out for people.
posted by phunniemee at 6:29 AM on July 18, 2013 [32 favorites]

You poor thing, how distressing!

I had a similar experience at the airport. I was waiting to fly somewhere and I made a couple of trips to the restroom to pee. I heard someone vomiting violently in one of the stalls. The first time I figured someone had a rough flight. The second time, I got concerned. I tapped on the door and asked, "Are you all right?" I got no answer.

I was concerned, so I spoke quietly to an airport security person. "There's someone in the restroom and she seems very ill. I tried to see if she was okay, but I didn't get an answer. My flight's going to leave, but I'd feel better if I knew you were going to check on her." The security lady agreed.

Oddly enough, a VERY skinny, skelital person emerged from the restroom and boarded our flight. I'm thinking it was her. I'm really hoping she was flying to a treatment center because she did NOT look healthy. But I salved MY concerns as a human that I wasn't letting some sick person die in a restroom at the airport.

Treat your upcoming interaction with her as a mini-intervention. Not so much that you're urging her into treatment, but from the "Your addiction affects me in the following ways..." standpoint.

Speak to her in person and say, "This is really awkward, but the walls here are pretty thin and I can't help but notice that you've got something going on in the wee hours of the morning. Normally, I wouldn't say anything but whatever it is, it's very loud and it awakens me. I hear the water running, I hear what sounds to be violent vomiting, it's so loud that it causes my dog to bark. Then, I hear doors slamming. It's very distressing to me because in addition to being awakened repeatedly, I'm worried about you. First of all, is everything okay with you? And secondly, what can you do to not be so disruptive?"

It will take some balls to say this but you're accomplishing two things.

1. She is on notice that you know EXACTLY what's going on.

2. You're expressing concern for her, while asking her to knock this shit off.

The other thing is, you're not accusing her of having an eating disorder, or asking her to address that. You're telling her what you're hearing, and you're asking her to address the problem. Whether she chooses to do it at the source, by seeking treatment, or if she does it in some other way is for her to decide, but you've called her out on the OBSERVABLE behavior, and that's about as good as it's going to get for you.

I feel ya, this is a hard one, but I think speaking to her person to person is probably the best way to handle it.

If, after you speak, she's still doing it, get the management involved as a noise complaint. Because part of dealing with addiction is having consequences for your actions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on July 18, 2013 [41 favorites]

I think the "What Approaches You Can Take With Your Neighbor" angle is pretty well covered here.

What deserves a little more time is this: You are being woken every night by a situation that would be unpleasant under any circumstances, and that isn't good for you, either. You owe it to yourself -- and, if you approach her, your neighbor -- to be in the best frame of mind possible.

Have you tried a white noise machine, or experimented with a white noise online app? While something like that certainly wouldn't solve all of the problems you put forth, it might help with the one over which you have the most control. Which, in turn, could benefit the other problems.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a bulimic in long term recovery, I have to agree with Ruthless Bunny. Part of dealing with addiction is consequences and you aren't responsible for her shame. If you confront her, she may be angry or defensive. This isn't personal though and you shouldn't take it personally. She doesn't get to ruin your sleep with her behaviors.

I feel for you and I hope you get some sleep soon.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:40 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are really personally invested in this. If the sound is waking you/keeping you up and freaking out your dog then talk to her about that. Her health, as a non-friend/non-relative hallway-passerby, is none of your business unless when you bring up the noise she brings up the illness. In that case bring your experience to bear in your conversation(s), and in any case bring your compassion to bear.
posted by headnsouth at 6:51 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Folks please don't turn this into a "well actually" thread and just answer the OPs question and read the previous comments
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to help her, get to know her as a person. Very slow path, low odds, but the more human thing to do.

Do not arrive in her life as eating disorder fixit person.
posted by ead at 7:17 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know that the making friends process is going to help any. If you want to say something to her in person, either catch her when she goes to throw her binge trash away if you want to speak to her privately, or go knock on the door in the evening when her husband is home and explain you need to talk about the middle-of-the-night noise. (I think speaking to her non-privately is bad and potentially dangerous, see below, but it's your call.)

If you want to leave a note, either leave one at their door or in the service room.

If you want to deliver a cosmic hammer, wait until just after the water stops running and let her know, from your bathroom, that you can hear her in hers.

I don't know that it's fair to diagnose her with bulimia to her face, whatever you think privately. I think you can, if you want, make an offer to help if she needs it or isn't allowed to pursue it on her own (because you also don't know if she's being abused by her husband or employer with regard to her weight), but you don't get to dictate what kind of help that is. You are dealing with an unknown variable in her husband, who is maybe just as sound a sleeper as mine is, but who also might try to kill you for intervening or her for being overheard, so there are reasons to move carefully here. You think you know what's going on, but I guarantee you only know part of it.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:30 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will just address the making friends part - I met a girl in a workout class and we became workout buddies. After a while she began confiding in me with regard to her bulimia, albeit in roundabout terms, she was very coy about it at first. Once I really realized what was happening I talked with her about it, gently, many times. In the end, she made it clear that she was not going to seek treatment or help, and that if I wasn't going to just let her continue on with what she was doing, I was going to have to get out of her way. After a couple of years she ended our friendship pretty abruptly.

So, there was an emotional investment there from my side, and my feelings were hurt both from being dumped as a friend, and also from not being able to help someone who at times seemed to be urgently seeking my help, but then rejected the help I offered.

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I think if I encountered a similar situation now I would hold such a person at a greater distance. I might offer help once, but I wouldn't get personally involved in their life. YMMV with regard to whether you currently have the time and emotional energy in your life to get involved beyond the neighborly "hey, have you been ill, is there anything I can do to help?" conversation.
posted by vignettist at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came to say what Metroid Baby said, which is that in my experience (a friend with an ED), almost nothing helps. There are a lot of "how to talk to someone about a possible ED" booklets that you can google up for more guidance.
posted by salvia at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2013

I second the idea of talking to a bulimia support center to ask what to do, simply because they'll have seen it all and be able to recommend the best confrontational situation. It may be better to confront her directly or it may be better to tell the husband. I don't know, but they might. It'll be comforting to you to open up about the situation completely to someone that can probably give a proper perspective. The fact that you once experimented with bulimia may direct the conversation you'll eventually have to have with this woman, but they should be able to tell you if that's true or not.

Also, I think that the most impactful way to have this conversation would be to wait for her in front of the service room one night. At first, I liked the idea of the note left on that door for her to find when she made her trip, but the note is probably too unreliable at getting your point across, and you won't be able to get her reaction. The other problem with the note is that she'll know it's you anyway, which may diminish your chance of having a full-on conversation in the future with her. It's probably best to get this over with in one go. Confronting her at night has the advantage to you that it makes it crystal clear that you're being negatively affected by this, too, by being kept up. It may shock her to see that and have an effect. If she's belligerent, instead, you have every kind of right to just lay down the law that this is unacceptable regardless of the cause, because, hey, look at how damn late it is.

Regardless of how things go, I would try to avoid getting too involved for a long period of time here, hence the efficient confrontation. Maybe have some resources she can go to for help ready to give to her when you do talk to her. It's just going to be too emotionally draining and time consuming for you to put yourself out there to become her friend or confidant or support person or whatever. Compassion is a wonderful thing, but it's easy for others to soak it all up without showing anything for it, and that only hurts you in the end.

In the end, if none of this works, at least take comfort in the fact that you're going to get the landlord to deal with it. Keep updating and pushing the landlord until either she stops or they get kicked out. There is no reason that YOU should simply have to put up with it or move yourself. It's their problem, and they've got to fix it or get out.

Oh, one final thing, since now my conflict strategy side is kicking in. Maybe you should a record a few nights of these incidents on video (with audio of course). I don't mean for you to try to record her in the act of going to the service door. I mean that, while in your apartment, record (with the date and time showing in the video) what it sounds like at the worst place in the apartment. The location should indicate that it's coming from her apartment. Film the time on your bedside clock, too. Record your dog being upset. Keep recording as you move to the door and listen for her to slam the door really loud outside. Hell, I'd do this every night she wakes you up to keep a running log. That way, if the landlord doesn't do anything and you do feel you've got to move, you have evidence in your favor and maybe can break your contract claiming the landlord did nothing to remedy the situation.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am in recovery from bulimia (and doing very well, yay!). But, there was a period of time where I was throwing up multiple times a day. For part of that time, I was hiding the bulimia, and I honestly don't know what would have happened if a neighbor confronted me. My guess is that I would have been extremely ashamed, started binging and purging outside the home, and it would have been a net negative.

For a long period of time when I was actively binging and purging, I was actually in eating disorder treatment. My therapist and I worked on harm reduction at first - eating disorder treatment is typically very gradual. My bloodwork was checked regularly at that time.

I ended up in inpatient treatment (twice) as well as outpatient group therapy, as well as my individual treatment. I have met a lot of people with eating disorders! It's actually relatively common for people with bulimia to be in treatment but continue to binge and purge regularly for a long time. Of course, my sample was skewed - since I've met people through treatment - but, there is a realistic chance that your neighbor is already in treatment for her eating disorder (and I totally believe you that it's bulimia - sounds like it to me from your description).

If a neighbor had confronted me while I was already in treatment for my bulimia, I would have been ashamed. I would have been angry at the interference in my private life. I was already doing my very best to stop the behavior at that time, and a neighbor's interference certainly wouldn't have helped me get better. The primary feeling, though, would have been intensified self-loathing. So overall, it absolutely would have been a net negative.

So, from my perspective, please DO NO talk to her or interfere in any with her mental or physical health issues. It is absolutely none of your business, and likely to harm her more than it helps here.

That said, if the noise is interfering with your quality of life, that's a separate issue. Perhaps you could bang on the wall when she is being loud in the middle of the night? That is generally a "quiet down!" signal, but doesn't confront her about the eating disorder specifically.
posted by puppetshow at 9:11 AM on July 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wake up at 4 am every morning and go right into the shower. I have asthma and one of it's fun side effects is that sometimes (specifically in the spring/summer/allergy season) I will cough so hard that I'll gag...which then sets off a fun loop for phlegm and gagging for about 10 minutes until my inhaler kicks in. It sounds exactly like what you're describing.

I can't even imagine what my neighbor thinks. Wait- are you my neighbor?

Anyhow, I agree that you should let her know that you know with a knock no the wall. If you really want to insert yourself into her life, that is your call, but I doubt the results will be satisfying for either of you. Maybe try being her friend before you become her therapist/doctor.
posted by haplesschild at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is a mindfuck for you.

There was a short period of time where my anxiety/depression issues manifested as bulimia. About 90% of the time I feel like it was another person - it's remote (10 years ago!), I do not identify with it, I don't understand how I even got there, etc.

I was recently out to dinner with my family. A tiny fish bone got caught in my throat and I had to run to the bathroom with my mother to try to figure out how to get it out. Someone magically had those weird tweezers with rubber tips used for contacts, they worked, the bastard little bone was removed, and... I started crying and then sobbing and had to be driven home. It shouldn't have been a big deal; it didn't hurt, but I found it profoundly traumatic to have that god damn little tickling bone in my throat because it triggered a zillion reminders of feelings, actions, awfulnesses to have something making me feel like I was going to throw up a recent meal. I don't understand why it provoked such a strong reaction - I've had no symptoms for years and years, I didn't relapse, etc etc. Brains are weird.

So I think there is a lot of complexity here:
Yes of course it is a good thing to be worried about this stranger. I think expressing concern about her sounding ill is a completely reasonable action.

However, I'd really advise against coming from a place where you are a) desperate and b) assuming you know the truth. You don't know the truth about her, you know the truth about what you personally have been through. Give her just a tiny bit of space to have agency in choosing how she would like to respond to you - since that is what people with these issues are often struggling with anyway.

Best of luck. I am sincerely sorry for how hard this must be for you to hear every night.

N.B. Order steaks at steakhouses. Fish bones. THE WORST.
posted by skrozidile at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

I saw this on a blog I used to read and it stuck with me. Short version: someone who saw that someone was throwing up every day got a note to her that said, "You are more beautiful than you know, and stronger than you can imagine. I hear you purging in here every day, and I want you to know that I care about you even though we have never met," with the phone number for an eating disorder helpline.
posted by kat518 at 12:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

KinoAndHermes is wise. Next time the vomiting and dog wake you, station yourself outside the service-room door. Greet her by her name with as much kindness as you can muster at two in the morning. Say gently, "This has been waking me up at night for a long time. I think know what's in the bag. It needs to stop. Do you need help to make it stop?" Say this as neutrally as possible. Don't cross your arms over your chest, put your hands on your hips, or use other challenging body language.

She must suspect that you're aware of her bulimia. If you can hear her retch, she can hear your dog barking. And while it's conceivable that her husband can sleep through the noise -- could be he wears earplugs, or there's a white-noise machine in their bedroom with the volume set on high -- she must know that dog owners wake up when their dog sounds the alarm.

Not knowing your neighbor, I have no idea how this confrontation will play out. I suggest envisioning screaming and name-calling and recriminations so that when less than the worst happens, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The key here is that the "help to make it stop" is not you. It's specialists, it's her husband, her family, her friends. This shouldn't be your problem, and it's unfortunate that you've been drawn in by your proximity. (And your frustration in this thread has my total sympathy. Sleep deprivation will rob even saints of their patience.) If it doesn't stop, go to the husband and tell him what you know. Show him that video that KinoAndHermes advised you to shoot. Tell him how long it's been happening. Offer to call his mobile phone next time it's actively happening if he doesn't believe you, so that he can witness it himself.

It's admirable of you to feel compassion, but her illness is not a problem you are in a real position to assist her with if she's a mere acquaintance. That problem is hers. The noise that wakes you is yours. If you don't get traction with the husband, your next recourse is the landlord.

Best of luck.
posted by cirocco at 7:05 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the dog's food/ water kept in the bathroom? If so, can you put it in the kitchen and shut the bathroom door at night?

I know you're concerned about this woman, but it's ultimately HER desicion to get help.
posted by brujita at 8:34 PM on July 18, 2013

What are you going to do if you confront her about this and she tells you she has cancer and it's the chemotherapy that's making her sick and thin and she's so terribly sorry she's disturbing you?

I'm sorry, but when you live in apartments you better get used to hearing all kinds of things you really don't want to know about from your neighbors. I had a couple living below me one year whose bedroom S/M antics took place immediately below MY bed and I had no other place to sleep - it was a nightmare.

I think you should invest in some cheap earplugs, keep your dog out of the area where he can hear the noise easily - maybe play some music or white noise to cover the retching sounds - and leave the lady to deal with her problems with the help of her husband, friends and family. Earplugs really do help things like this.
posted by aryma at 10:46 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

What are you going to do if you confront her about this and she tells you she has cancer and it's the chemotherapy that's making her sick and thin and she's so terribly sorry she's disturbing you?

Probably apologize and buy a white noise machine. No harm, no foul.
posted by anthropomorphic at 6:34 PM on July 19, 2013

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