I can't decide if I want to move to another city.
June 17, 2007 9:38 PM   Subscribe

I have an eating disorder and I can't decide if I want to move to another city.

Having an eating disorder, and deciding whether or not I should move, seem like unrelated variables - but let me explain.

I am a queer female in my early twenties. Everything describing me seems good on paper – I have a contract job I enjoy; a scholarship to a competitive grad school program in another city; a lot of good acquaintances, and a new girlfriend of 6 months I really love.

I also have had bulimia, in various severities for the last 8 months in various severities – anywhere from throwing up every day for a week, to a few times a week, to a few times a day, etc. The most I have gone in this time without throwing up has been 3 weeks. The good news is the feeling and urge to be bulimic and throw up is genuinely tapering off.

In the year leading up to my bulimia, I developed a binge eating problem, which still persists, and which I consider to be the most painful, depressing and emotionally taxing aspect of my disordered eating. This problem still persists and confounds me more than my bulimia. An eating disorder is hell. I’m sick of feeling unhealthy and hating myself, and I’m freaked out that the rest of my life will be marked by it. I know there is more to life than having an eating disorder, but a lot of the time I feel I am just going through the motions, and I honestly am having a hard time. I have also had clinical depression which weaves its way back in and out of my life.

Last December or January I began an inpatient program for people with eating disorders. Blood and heart testing revealed my physical health had not yet been damaged. As someone who formally enjoyed a lot of different sports and had no serious physical or mental health problems to speak of, it was a bit of a change to suddenly be a person seeking help - it's like I can see myself dying. I saw a counselor on and off, but stopped because I was working full time on a large project at my job.

I live with wonderful people, but my house spooks me because I associate many of the rooms, especially the bathroom where I would throw up, with being bulimic. In fact, the whole city of Vancouver seems laced with my bad attitude, poor self-esteem and failed attempts at living heathfully – a concept which feels genuinely out of my grasp.

My girlfriend is great, and dating someone I care about has definitely helped improve my mood. I feel happy when I’m with her and often forget these struggles. She knows about the depression, and has in fact had issues with mental health herself, but I have never told her straight out I have an eating disorder of one type or the other. Other than telling two of my friends and a counsellor, I find it incredibly difficult to talk about these problems and my self-imposed silence is utterly deafening.

Now, faced with the opportunity to move to another city, I don’t know what to do. Trying out grad school can’t set me too far back. But starting up all over again will mean stress, losing contact with my friends and probably losing my girlfriend – although it’s not like I’ve ever been genuinely honest about my mental health with her. I am also considering traveling on my own. And then there’s the eating disorder and whatever it is that is causing it, and how that will or will not be affected by moving. As a project at work is winding down, I now have some more time to work on my personal problems. Please help me figure out how I can be proactive about getting my life back on track. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't say much about your disorder or your relationship, I can only say this — moving to a new town, and having the chance to start over, did wonders for me when I was suffering from depression. People will tell you you can't run from your problems, but you can take yourself out of situations that trigger certain behaviors. Sometimes, starting afresh is the only way. Good luck.
posted by Brittanie at 9:48 PM on June 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

I saw a counselor on and off, but stopped because I was working full time on a large project at my job.

Start again. Between this and the clinical depression, "I'm too busy" is not a good enough excuse. And with contemplating a big move like this, your counselor's opinion should carry more weight than mine or anyone else's here. But since you asked:

Moving is a radical life change that induces stress even in the most positive and hopeful of situations -- believe me, I know whereof I speak here. And your baggage will follow you from City A to City B. I know whereof I speak there, too.

You must face your problems in the environment in which you currently reside, unless there is something in that environment that is a direct contributing cause to that behavior. Perhaps moving out of your house would be a good move (I know many who suffered traumas in a house and moved away from those immediate reminders to a new home as part of their healing), but here's the thing: Vancouver doesn't remind you of your problems. Your life does. Moving to another city all but guarantees that that new city will come to remind you of your same problems as well, because without adequate help, they almost certainly will resurface there as well. I'd damn near be willing to bet my mortgage on it.

If you feel your relationship has a shot of going the distance, tell her. If you don't, then you're almost certainly right and I suppose you could just let it fizzle out on its own.

Whatever you choose, I wish you well and pray to God that you GET BACK INTO COUNSELING IMMEDIATELY.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:59 PM on June 17, 2007

I'm having trouble parsing the question here. If it is "should I move to another city?", then the answer is "yes", because you are in your early 20s and now is as good a time as any. If you've got a good scholarship and the programme will advance your career, so much the better. You will develop new support structures in your new city, even if your gf cannot come with you (though given that you've only been together for 6 months, I don't think she should be a deciding factor).

If the question is, "will moving to a new city cure my bulimia?", the answer is "no". If the question is, "will moving to a new city aggravate my bulimia?", the answer is also "no", at least not in and of itself. You can beat it with appropriate counselling wherever you live.
posted by modernnomad at 10:20 PM on June 17, 2007

Not that my opinion should count for a thing, but I would see if you can defer grad school for a year and spend the year concentrating on getting to a better place with your eating disorder. I say that only because the first year of grad school is super stressful, and I could see it exacerbating any tendencies one had in that direction. Also, you haven't really been able to assemble an adequate support system in a city where you've lived for a while and know people, so I don't see any reason to think that you'll be able to do that right now in a new place. You'll be busy in grad school, too.

You definitely need to start counseling again. It sounds to me like you're fantasizing about running away from this problem, and really what you need to do is continue to confront it.

Good luck! The rest of your life definitely does not have to be marked by this.
posted by craichead at 10:42 PM on June 17, 2007

wherever you go, there you are.

new stuff is doomed to fail until you stop sabotaging yourself. having been there, i know.

stay put and face your demons - including being honest with the people who love you. it's the first step.
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:44 PM on June 17, 2007

Get professional help
posted by chrisranjana.com at 11:42 PM on June 17, 2007

As someone who has suffered from eating disorders and depression for about 8 years, my advice to you would be to make the move and go to the school. Find counseling and treatment in your new city.

I used to think that I needed to take time off to take care of myself and get better, but for me, putting things on hold only gave my disorders room to grow. What has really helped me is to pursue other goals while seeking group and individual therapy (Group therapy seems intimidating but is wonderful). When I started to have accomplishments in other areas, I was able to stop punishing myself constantly.

BTW, I can relate to the associations you have with places where you purged. This is why I don't spend too much time at my mom's house.
posted by Adultivity at 11:49 PM on June 17, 2007

Trying out grad school can’t set me too far back.

Honestly, yes it can. What is underlying the disordered eating? Is it self esteem problems? Grad school is a nightmare for that. Is it feeling like you can't control things, like you're not respected in other areas of life? Grad school is also a nightmare for that. The people I have known who started grad school (humanities PhD) with mental health problems had a very hard time.

It depends a lot on the program. Programs that lead to jobs outside academia often have a healthier department culture and are not as hard on the students psychologically. Programs that realistically can only lead to a job in academia are notoriously very hard on grad students' self esteem, very isolating, etc. (Ok, wild generalization, but I'm just being brief since we don't know your proposed field)

Do you have good support from people in your current place, other than your gf? Are you a person who relies on having other people around, or do you do well working alone and not seeing much of other people?

If you do have good support, and you're a people person, my (conservative) inclination would be to stay put and give yourself a little time to build on your increasingly healthy, stable habits. Grad school will be there later if you want to do it after you have your footing again. Stay put, but move out of the house that has the bad associations, restart therapy (with a new therapist if you didn't feel like the old one was great) and join up with some sport group or other active club, to move toward things you know are good for you.

Don't end up talking yourself out of the progress you've made, into a move that might leave you vulnerable, stressed, without support systems. Of course, your 20s are a good time to take risks and start over, and starting over can be really good -- just think honestly about your own personality and what you need to keep you healthy. The move might be great for you -- it would be worth talking this over with a therapist or someone who can have a more in-depth conversation, knowing more of your specifics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:10 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would recommend deferring grad school until you feel like you're in a better place. grad programs are mostly not supportive like undergrad was.
posted by citron at 3:17 AM on June 18, 2007

It's not going to make or break you to stay put or move. That is just something you should decide based on where you want to live and what you want to be doing. However, it will make or break you to not deal with these problems starting now. Whether or not you do it where you are or in a new place, you need to be in therapy, no question about it. And probably some kind of support group would help as well. Do keep in mind that starting a new grad program in a new place will undoubtedly be stressful. How that stacks up on top of your current problems should be considered.

Also, I think a big part of getting well would be, when you're ready, telling your gf about what you are going through. This will give her the opportunity to support you.
posted by sneakin at 3:55 AM on June 18, 2007

what would you do if you were diabetic? you would move, but seek out a specialist in your new town right away to maintain a continuity of care.

it sounds like you are feeling restless and would welcome the fresh start. the key is to develop support systems as soon as you arrive. first, i would tell your friends and girlfriend. they can give you supportive calls and emails. also, line up a therapist in your new town and make an appointment for your first week. most university's student health centers have eating-disorder specialists on hand. also talk to your current therapist about the move and work on strategies for coping with the transition.

i think there's no reason not to take this step. a fresh start might be just what you need; even if it doesn't have any effect on your eating disorder, you'll grow as a person.

good luck! you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders--i think even if it won't be easy, you'll be okay.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:50 AM on June 18, 2007

And probably some kind of support group would help as well.
I was anorexic, rather than bulimic, when I did an eating disorders support group, but I actually found it totally counterproductive. It forced me to interact with people whose thinking was just as disordered as mine, and that reinforced my disordered thought patterns. I really needed to stop being around people who were obsessed with food and weight, not to spend more time with them.

And that's actually made me reappraise what I said above a little bit. I wrote that about running away from your problems, and then I realized that I actually got over my eating disorder while doing a junior year abroad. So I'm not going to say categorically that you shouldn't run away. But I will say a few things about my experience.

1. Part of what made my junior year abroad good for me is that I ended up at a university that was much less competitive and stressful than my home university. Stress and competitiveness were bad for my eating disorder, and getting away from them helped me get better. But the operative issue was that this was a positive change, not that it was change in general.

2. By the same token, I ended up in a culture where women were less-obsessed with thinness. That was very good for me, but again, what helped was that it was a positive change, not just a change.

3. I had support built into my junior-year-abroad situation, because I lived in a big house full of students, and I had to interact with other people. If I'd been lonely or isolated, I think it could have been disastrous.

4. I had been in therapy for six years at that point. I thought I was recovered when I left, although looking back on it, I wasn't totally well until after I went abroad. But it wasn't like I was using getting away as a substitute for therapy. And I'd already made a ton of progress before I spent that year abroad.

So I'm not going to tell to stay where you are. I would still, however, really caution against starting grad school right now. If you think that your current friends and acquaintances are reinforcing your disordered habits and thoughts, it might be a good idea to get away from them. Just make sure that you have access to all the help and support you need, no matter where you go.
posted by craichead at 6:29 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, it really sucks. I'm dealing with it myself. I'm sorry to hear you're going through it but I DO think it's a phase and, like craichead said, it doesn't have to color your life.

What's causing it? Any insight? In my case I think it's boredom and frustration. A good dose of stimulation and growth could be a great thing for that, but only if the start-up efforts are minimal. If you can find a place to live, people to hang out with and things to do pretty easily it seems like it might help. BUT, If you're going to have a tough transition, miss people, doubt your choice, that could set you back.

I guess my opinion (worth every penny you paid ;)) is that it really depends how strong you're feeling. Moving is going to require strength and resolve. If you're feeling weak and at your rope's end, you might not want to take it on. Still, though, you could move apartments to get away from the ghosties... also, I'd level with your gf - she deserves to hear the truth, as long as you can do tht without letting it affect your decision in any way.

Hope that helps! Best of luck.
posted by MiffyCLB at 9:15 AM on June 18, 2007

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