Posted by fxckfeelings on December 7, 2009Share This Post
At fxckfeelings.com, we’re never afraid to tackle the ickier topics; we deal with not just the feelings that come out of us, but the solids, as well (although often they’re equivalent). So if someone can’t hold it down or you can’t hold it in, sure, it’s an awkward situation, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re not responsible for what goes in or what comes out, just for what you do about it, whether it’s your problem or your neighbor’s.
I just started at college, and I like my roommate, but she’s bulimic and hard to be around. Not just because she’s sick (and everybody on the floor knows about her problem, it’s hard not to), but because when she binges, it’s on my food because that’s what’s closest, and she always feels really bad about it and cries that she wishes she could stop, but then she doesn’t offer to pay for it and it’s costing me a lot of money. Part of me just feels bad for her, because she’s clearly really messed up, but another part of me is pissed because I’ve lost a lot of money this year on food that she’s eaten and thrown up, and that just makes me feel guilty like I’m a bad person for putting my lost money above her health. I want to move after the break, but I don’t want her to feel abandoned. My goal is to help her and myself.
Welcome to that other part of college, Hard Knocks University, where the class Helplessness 101—what to do when you can’t help both someone and yourself, and sometimes you can’t help at all—is a frosh requirement.
The tough part is not the decision, but accepting the shitty nature of your options. Bulimia, like any chronic condition (depression, addiction, etc.) is not completely curable, not by you or certainly the patient herself.
If you buy into the psychobabble about body image and low self-esteem, you might think you could help her by praising her strengths, noticing her attractive qualities, or getting her to think about the superficiality and limitations of attractiveness. Ha!
Whether it’s coming from you or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Therapists, your therapeutic support is not going to change those mysterious urges to binge and puke. Buying into that notion will waste you even more time and money than all the cash you’ve already flushed away at the supermarket.
Bulimia, like all addictions, can turn people into assholes. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t choose to be assholes, but when you’re more interested in binging and purging than in anything else, including other people’s feelings and squaring your debts, you’re an asshole. Or really, you’re a normal, possibly good person suffering from a bad case of asshole-itis.
It’s a humiliating thing to say about ourselves, but what helps most in controlling dangerous behavior, when all else fails, is to be treated like a soldier or dog-in-training in a program where our every movement is controlled. That’s the kind of treatment that saves lives when bulimia gets dangerous.
Obviously, it doesn’t cure it, but it stops us from going over the cliff until we can get enough control back to keep it down to a barf or two a day.
So the most you can do is let her and others know if you think her life’s in danger. Otherwise, you’ve got little influence over her for good or ill, and you’re living with an asshole you can’t cure who’s costing you a bundle.
You may wish you could help her, ease her pain, and not make yourself feel guilty by locking the refrigerator if you don’t get a check. Well, I hate to say this, but fuck you. That’s a goal of feeling good, which is much like her goal.
If, however, your goal is to make the best of this situation, it’s not to feel good but to do what’s right by helping her if you can and otherwise preserving your resources for worthwhile causes.
That means bearing the pain of watching her in pain, feeling helpless, and ignoring the guilt of receiving a look that accuses you of adding to her misery. It also means letting her know you’re there if she wants to get real help, establishing your refrigerator perimeter, and getting to eat your own damned ice cream.
Prepare a mission statement that protects yourself from false guilt. “I can’t help my roommate feel better or control her eating behavior, but I can watch out for her if her life is in danger and I can encourage her to be a stronger obsession manager by requiring her to pay for what she eats. In doing so, I may temporarily make us both feel unhappy; but that’s an unavoidable part of her recovery and my self-protection. It’s the work we both must do to pass this course in making the best of a bad situation.”
Since there’s no easy way to say it, I’ll just put it out there that I have a problem with my anal sphincter (a botched surgery when I was a kid that left me with very little control). Like everyone since then, my co-workers notice that I sometimes smell bad and like to joke about it, usually but not always behind my back. I do my best to control it, and I’ve seen specialists about it, but what it comes down to is that everyone is happier when I keep my distance and I just wish I could find a job I could do from home. I even avoid attending family events and leave early when I go because I don’t want to embarrass my parents (and I obviously avoid women and people in general). I just transfered to another branch, and now I’m terrified about the reaction of my new co-workers. I know this sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. My goal is to find a treatment that can control this problem or a lifestyle that is less full of humiliation.
By now you should know that you can’t have what you want, either a sweet-smelling body or a solitary, well-stocked bat cave to retreat to. Forgive the pun, but tough shit.
You’re fucked, and if you keep trying to eliminate the problem you’ll never live your life and your parents will die and you’ll regret the things you didn’t do with them or the other things you want to do with yourself like make more money.
Now that that’s cleared up, ask yourself what your goal is when the goals you’ve been chasing are unattainable and there’s no way to avoid a shit-load of pain (last sly double-entendre, I swear).
The obvious answer is to try to reduce your sensitivity to humiliation so that you can live life as fully as possible. It would be nice if you were a natural-born comedian who could deflect nasty jokes, or an insensitive clod who never understood them in the first place; but you’re not. Now that you’re an adult, however, and no longer a school-kid, there are lots of other things you can do.
First, confront the Madison Avenue notion that your self-esteem depends on attractiveness. Your goal isn’t to be attractive, but to make people feel as comfortable as possible with your ugly side while you pursue your other goals.
So pretend you’ve got a colostomy and that’s the way it is and learn how to be shameless. Wear a diaper if it will help, just learn how to not take shit personally and put together a list of what you want to do with yourself and do it. That’s your goal.
Make people more comfortable by telling them, frankly, that you have a GI problem that sometimes causes bad smells and you can’t stop it but that you’re pretty good at managing it. That’s why you, for instance, use incense and deodorizers, and sometimes have to leave meetings unexpectedly. If your smell is a problem and you don’t notice it, you don’t mind having it pointed out to you.
Keep a candle burning on your desk. Be the first to let them know when you’re having a bad day. Read a book of bathroom jokes beginning with “What died in here?”
Your goal isn’t to control your colleagues; that’s impossible with heaps of cash or hypnosis, so accept that they’ll be nice or nasty, as they are. Instead, create a wall between you and your problem and invite them to see your problem as something apart from you. Lots won’t, but a few will.
After all, you’re not a bad smell, just a guy who’s trying to do a good job despite a tough, humiliating handicap. That’s something to be proud of, a much bigger accomplishment than being sweet-smelling and attractive. Fuck advertising.
Give your parents similar directions, letting them know that you’re happy to attend family events, but you’ll let them know if you’re having a bad day and you won’t take it personally if they’re planning a big event in a poorly ventilated space and don’t want you to come.
You can’t control your problem or how people react to it, but you can’t let those factors take over your life completely. After all, even for those of us with cooperative anuses, life often stinks. You just arm yourself with Fabreze and carry onward.
Prepare a manifesto that keeps you focused on your own priorities rather than the reactions of idiots. “My job is to lead my life and try to make a living and find friends, and I’m not responsible for my bad smell. I manage it well by protecting others and making it easy for them to protect themselves. My bad smell may humiliate me; but it can never outweigh my pride in not letting it stop me.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname