Sarah - A cousin's story Bulimia UCSB, California

I suffered from an eating disorder, but I didn't have any signs or symptoms. I suffered indirectly through my cousin Katie. We grew up together. She was my best friend and she had an eating disorder. I had always been the one who was tall and thin. She was much shorter and normally shaped. Unfortunately, she didn't think she was normal.

I became aware of her abnormal eating patterns when we were sophomores in high school, but I thought that she was just dieting. Now I know that she would starve herself and, when she did eat, she would throw it up. Her disorder continued off and on throughout high school, but it was not until our freshman year in college that her disorder came to an all time low.

We talked all the time on the phone, but I really felt like I couldn't do anything. It was like talking to a stranger. She would say things like, "I would rather die than be big like my mom." She became obsessed with exercising, eating little bits of food, and taking diet pills. The happy-go-lucky Katie I knew was literally dwindling away and in her place was a depressed young woman who was never happy with herself.

She had never experimented with drugs or alcohol in high school, but in college she began trying many new drugs and drinking excessively. Because alcohol had lots of calories, she would throw up at night after she drank. Her self-esteem was so low that she started looking to boys for attention, and began sleeping around.

Meanwhile, I sat in Santa Barbara worrying about her, waiting for her drunken calls. She would break my heart telling me all the things she had been doing that our parents had taught us to despise. Our whole lives we had relied heavily on each other for emotional support and advice, but for the first time in my life I felt helpless. I had never wanted anything more than to shake her and tell her how her problem was destroying her life, but no matter what I said or how supportive I was, it did not help her. I felt like I was watching a bad movie on TV and I couldn't change the ending or influence the plot.

The rock bottom for Katie was when she decided that her life was not worth living anymore and she slit her wrists. She failed and attempted again. Fortunately, she lived and her parents stopped denying how serious a disorder she had. She began counseling and after almost a year of seeing a counselor, her life, for the most part, turned around.

Even though her life has become relatively "normal", I do not think her family, she or I will ever completely recover from it. There was so much blame and depression in our family that now her parents, who have been married 25 years, are planning a divorce. I know she beat her eating disorder, but I think if you asked my family, we would know who the winner really was.