Health and weight

Sam - Interview 23

Age at interview: 23

Brief outline: Severe bullying at school led Sam to frequently hide in the boys' toilets at school and comfort ate to cope with the depression and anxiety he felt at the time. He developed bulimia. Sam is the founder of the website 'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' aim to raise awareness of the plight of young men facing an eating disorder. Ethnic background: White British.

Background: See 'brief outline'.

Audio & video

Severe bullying at school led Sam to develop an eating disorder that was to last for about eight years. Sam is the founder of the website ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’. Sam experiences of bullying started when he was eleven years old and moved to high school. Other students thought that he may possible be gay and started teasing him about it. To start with the teasing wasn’t extreme but when he was about thirteen, it intensified and verged on the aggressive.
Sam wasn’t aware of being gay during this early teens and sexual identity wasn’t an issue for him at that age. But he said that others became fearful of the idea of him being gay and was verbally abused at every single opportunity' in the classroom and in the school playground. As a result school for Sam became an awkward place, more associated with stress and abuse rather than a place of learning. Until then Sam had being an A’s and A* student.
As a way of coping with the bullying Sam started to run away from the classroom and would go and hide in the boys toilets. He found that his teachers seldom looked for him in there. So, in there he would comfort eat to cope with his feeling of depression and anxiety. So hiding in the toilet and comfort eating became his way of dealing with the abuse. Another place he also felt safe was the school library and he would usually spend lunch time in there. Sam had almost no friends and explains this by saying that other kids tend to keep their distance from those who are bullied for fear of they themselves becoming a target.
He found that the school wasn’t particularly good at dealing with the situation for a number of reasons. First, the homophobic bullying happened at the time Section 28 was still in place which banned schools from talking about issues to do with sexuality. But Sam says that for a strange reason the school was unwilling to do much to help apart from suspending one or more bullies at one given time.
Sam’s comfort eating eventually evolved into making himself sick. He would make himself uncomfortable full in order to make himself sick and he said that in a ‘twisted’ sort of way it relieved him of all his sadness, anger and depression. At that time he didn’t necessarily thought of what he was doing was an eating disorder. He found out about it when reading one of his Mum’s magazines.
Sam didn’t talk to his mother about the bullying and his eating disorder. Family life was difficult and the only person he confided in was a tutor from a training skills course he did after leaving school at the age of sixteen. Supported by this tutor, he managed to leave the family home and moved into a supportive lodging scheme aimed at young people but in another city. This was an altogether positive change that enabled Sam to acknowledge his sexual identity and he ‘came out’ as a gay person. He started to meet other gay and lesbian young people for the first time. But his bulimia continued well after he left school because as he put it ‘it was a way of coping with life’. He reckons that he stop making himself sick when he reached twenty-one.
Sam’s recovery from an eating disorder has been a gradual one and for which he has had almost no medical support or treatment. The last GP he saw age eighteen gave him medication for his depression but did not deal with the underlying cause which was his bulimia. It has taken Sam almost ten years to come out the other end and one of the things that have most helped is his participation in youth groups alongside other gay, lesbians, transsexual and bi-sexual young people. Finding that he was not alone and having the support of a community helped him a lot in his recovery journey. In addition, Sam has become more aware of the need to be healthy. He tries to eat healthily and does some form of exercise, mostly running everyday.
Sam is involved in a number of community projects such as the young people’s mental health project and he runs his website ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’ aim at raising awareness about the issue that men can also suffer from eating disorders. He also goes around school talking about his experience of bullying and homophobia.


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