Written by Interviews, Writing

INTERVIEW: Angela Gulner, Co-Creator of BINGE, with NEW Quarantine Episodes

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I was fortunate enough to interview Angela Gulner, the talented writer, actor, and educator, who co-created BINGE, a dark comedy exploring bulimia and addiction. I had discovered the BINGE pilot episode during a Youtube eating-disorder recovery video binge (haha!), and had instantly felt at home in the BINGE universe. The series encapsulates the self-deprecating humour in mental illness, where you are just as likely to cry as you are to smirk. This complex reality is something I felt was missing in mental health media, and was something I wanted to discuss with this blog. It just really brings everything full circle to feature Angela on the site!

I am also excited for this interview as it coincides with the launch of a three-part web series, How to Lose Weight in the Apocalypse, created to connect with the BINGE community during the current global pandemic. This extra support is so important as the current climate has created unique struggles for people with eating disorders, as we face food shortages and hoarding, onslaughts of at-home workout media, and a general increase in anxiety. You can check out the first episode of this series, launched TODAY, here. For further support, Angela, has also created a weekly Sunday Support Livestream you can check out as well.

Now without further ado… to the interview!

First, I wanted to talk about your past work in the BINGE universe and how it may resonate particularly during this time…

As we face a global pandemic, a certain aspect of Angela and Kate’s relationship feels particularly relevant. During the pilot scene where Angela brings over the cake, she almost tells Kate something is wrong but then is cut-off by Kate talking about her own problems, resulting in Angela keeping quiet. During a time where the whole world is faced with an unprecedented crisis, how do those struggling with eating disorders speak up? How do you balance being present for other people without minimizing or avoiding your own problems?

This is such an important question… with probably no “right” answer, but hopefully a series of tools that can help folks navigate this time.

I’m not a therapist or a health care professional in any capacity, so I’ll be speaking from my lived experience in my eating disorder and recovering from it.

I’ve found that it’s useful to consider who in your life has the space to hold what you are going through. And I don’t mean the space to hold ALL of what you are going through—just like in terms of romantic partnerships, no one person can be everything to you — in terms of support, no one person can do EVERYTHING. 

But think what are your needs right now? What would ACTUALLY help you on a day to day basis… and who in your life is energized by doing those things.

Not every friend or family member will have the capacity to be part of every aspect of your support right now — and that doesn’t mean they love you any less! It just means that all of our emotional energy is being taxed to the extreme with COVID, and it’s important to be picky in terms of whom you seek out (and for what.) If your usual support system’s bottom level of hierarchy of needs isn’t being met (money, home, food, etc.) they may not have room for higher level things like emotional support. It’s not personal. We’re in crisis.

BUT!! there are many people (myself included) who get a lot out of helping others (energetically, socially, in terms of purpose, and value) — and whose emotional resources are FILLED UP by giving. Try to identify who those folks might be in your life. And if you have any questions about this — simply ASKING folks how they are feeling and if they can support you can go a long way.

How are you? (and LISTEN to the response — how do they sound? what are they saying?) I’m going through something right now, do you feel like you have the space to hear me? If not, I totally get it! We can talk about Netflix instead!

I’d also have specific asks for seeking support — “hey, can I text you pics of my meals? I don’t need you to DO anything, I just wanna send them to someone so I’m held accountable” can be WAY more manageable than “help! I’m struggling with my eating disorder!” 

For folks unfamiliar, eating disorders can be difficult to understand — and it’s hard for outsiders to know how to help. Giving specifics takes the fear away and empowers the other person to feel capable of meeting your needs.

I know that in the peak of my illness, just having a friend to talk to — not even about my ED — was SO helpful. “You can support me by talking about your dog! Just being my friend!” or “Wanna have a lunch date? We’ll eat lunch via Skype together and chat about the movie you watched last night or how your mom is doing” — sometimes the best way to support someone with an ED is just to be there. To give a bit of accountability and visibility to the work.

Another ask is — “hey, would you be open to sending me pics of YOUR meals — it’ll help remind me that eating is great! And give me some structure and inspiration to do the same.”

Of course, there is no substitute for professional help. I could not have recovered without it. These are HARD times. I highly encourage seeking out a therapist, nutritionist, and a few online support groups that can be with you virtually right now.

In terms of being there for others — investigate your energy levels. Are you feeling depleted after conversations or lifted up? Try to find your own perimeters for supporting others — boundaries are POWERFUL and AMAZING. If you can handle (and enjoy) one zoom call with a friend a week — GREAT. Others might take on one a day. Others, one a month. Find the balance for you, and create some language for yourself when you don’t have the energy.

“I love you and I’m taking some me time. Can I text you when I’m feeling better?”

Luckily, the language of self care is very much in our cultural consciousness right now — and I think people are waking up to its importance.

Ultimately, you want a community around you who gives you space for yourself but checks in on you when they are worried — it can be hard to identify healthy friendships and toxic friendships — but pay attention to how those in your life make you feel —and lean into those who make you feel good!

I’ve reconnected with my high school friends via Marco Polo during this time — and they’ve been GREAT supports — and it’s taken the pressure off my partner to do all the emotional heavy lifting.

There’s no perfect solution — but if you are struggling, SEEK SUPPORT. It’s out there.

At the end of the “Blind Girl” prequel, Kate rejects the St. Valentine’s blind girl narrative by saying that blind girls are not saved but rather get walking sticks and get their shit together. What is the takeaway in that for those working in their recoveries? What can we take away from that sentiment overall as we deal with this crisis?

I think, ultimately, we have to want recovery for ourselves. Not all the time, not perfectly — but in our soul, we have to find a way to value ourselves enough to live healthily in this world. In order for it to really, really work. 

And that’s a hard place to come to, and I’m not always there 100% of the time.

There’s a push and pull between self compassion and not playing the victim — eating disorders can be very seductive, and there’s a comfort in the pain we know. It’s easier to stay stagnant, even if it sucks, than it is to move toward change. These illnesses and struggles are REAL. The pain we feel is REAL. AND we have the ability to empower ourselves to heal. It has to come from within.

THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE CAN OR SHOULD DO IT ALONE!!!!!!!

I could not have recovered alone. My recovery has not been perfect and it’s always in progress. But my recovery is for ME — it’s for my future, it’s for my life, for my ability to engage with and shape the world.

… It’s also for my family and my friends and my art and my relationships — but at my core, I have to practice wanting it. 

I wasted so much of my life consumed with food and shape. My brain — my favorite body part — was dedicated to my illness. And I needed a bit of “tough love” (aka KATE) to open my eyes to how I was sabotaging my future.

I also like to frame my recovery as a feminist act of rebellion. I’m taking my power BACK — back from a society that brainwashed me to be smaller, quieter, less embarrassing… just, less. When I can’t heal for myself, I like to heal for the movement — the movement to allow womxn to TAKE UP SPACE — and not just womxn, all people who feel they have to shrink themselves or silence their voices to survive.

You are stronger than you think. As Glennon Doyle says – WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.

Recovery is hard. And we can do hard things.

Eating disorders impact smart, strong, dynamic, creative individuals — we just have to use our superpowers for good instead of for self-destruction.

I then wanted to focus on what you’re working on now and the impact you hope to achieve…

Much of what we’ve seen of Angela’s journey so far has been her struggling to make the leap to ask for help. For people struggling right now, social distancing creates an extra barrier to making this leap as the logistics may feel more overwhelming. How is this going to be explored in these upcoming episodes? What do you think are the pros and cons to receiving help virtually?

Well, we’re limited to Zoom and FaceTime interactions between actors — so immediately, we’re put into a world in which support feels VERY far away. It’s easier to hide behaviours, it’s easier to choose disorder and “get away with it” — and we’ll see Angela fall into these traps —and we’ll see how her obsession and struggle with food closes her off from real connection and from seeing the pain of those around her. There is so much we can’t control right now… food and shape look more seductive than ever. But it’s false control. It’s false security. It doesn’t work.

We’ll also see Angela engage with virtual forms of connection to heal — for better or for worse — with “Frodo”, with past partners, with a new character (played by my partner), and, of course, with Kate. Angela is as stubborn as they come, and she’ll dig her heels in DEEP before admitting that how she is “coping” during this time does not work.

There is great power in community — and that community is at our fingertips — we just have to CHOOSE to use it. It’s a hard choice to make, but as we continue to write these episodes, I sure hope Angela will choose healing 😉

The internet can allow us more courage, sometimes, I think. We don’t have the physical barriers of getting in our cars, going out in the world, being physically vulnerable. It can be sometimes easier to hop on a phone with a support individual than to GO there, physically. Hell, we don’t even need to put on pants!

And the internet is 24-7 — you can find support WHENEVER you need it.

Of course, there is also less accountability and more noise in the digital space. But we can use that as an opportunity to create strong habits — to develop a recovery plan that is pandemic-proof! Where we owe it to ourselves to fight for ourselves every day.

You have also been doing a “Sunday Support” live series on the HLG YouTube channel. What is it and who could benefit from tuning in? What sort of topics do you cover and how can the viewers get involved?

Yes! It’s every Sunday at 10am on HLG Studios YouTube Channel! 

I use it as an opportunity to share what I’ve been thinking about and struggling with over the week — and I open the conversation up to folks to ask questions — to everyone, not just me. It’s a nice way to crowdsource support — folks chat with each other in the comments section and I lead the discussion.

It’s not result-oriented, but just a space to be for 50 minutes — a bit of relief and community during the day — and hopefully 50 minutes where you can put your ED aside for a bit and just exist.

I hope to connect folks in the recovery world to one another — to encourage practicing recovery every day — and honestly, to remind myself to practice what I preach!!

A function of eating disorders for many people is as a coping mechanism to hide away from the realities of the outside world. A part of recovery is letting the eating disorder world go and stepping back into truly engaging in life. But during this crisis, we are faced with an increasingly terrifying outside world and unprecedented external pressure to isolate. How do you keep yourself in reality and engaged with the world during social isolation?

Great question — and one I actually hadn’t thought about.

I wonder — and I’m just thinking this for the first time right now — if this could be an exciting way to reframe recovery right now — this time allows folks to do it REALLY GENTLY. Since our lives are made small right now, we can GENTLY move into a recovery space. Little things at a time, instead of all at once.

There are no big parties with tons of trigger foods to attend, no family dinners or reunions… so there’s a way to look at this time as an exciting experiment! What would it look and feel like to embrace recovery — just for this time! We’ve got a cocoon in which we can rewire our brains — and we don’t have to see other people to compare ourselves to or deal with outside world stress.

Not to say we’re stress free. There’s a constant low-grade anxiety and boredom to this time (at least for me!) that I find INCREDIBLY difficult to deal with. I’m giving myself permission to sleep… a lot. And I’m slowly encouraging myself to explore new ways to pass time (not just Netflix and phone scrolling).

I’ll also giving myself permission to not be perfect — but I remind myself that I need my brain functioning at full capacity to combat the struggles of isolation —and I need FOOD in order to do that.

In terms of reintegrating with society — moving from ED-world to WORLD-world — it could be fun to create little challenges for yourself!

Maybe you and a friend bake cookies together on the phone one day (“challenge snack” as we called it in treatment). Or you try a new recipe. 

Maybe you explore Intuitive Eating for a few days, and see how it feels in your body.

Maybe you cover your mirrors and throw out your scale (I hope you don’t have one) — in an act of trust for your body and how it works.

Maybe you create affirmations that are not shape-oriented.

Maybe you practice “body neutrality” — you don’t have to LOVE your body, but you can accept it as the machine that allows you to be in the world.

Of course, the strange relationship this pandemic has had with food will be particularly hard-hitting to those with eating disorders. Particularly, the practices of food-hoarding and the scarcity mindset that goes along with that, almost mimic aspects of the eating disorder mindset. What are your suggestions for how to frame these occurrences in a healthier way for those who with eating disorders or in recovery?

This is a tough one. And I have the privilege of never being without food growing up, so I don’t have the added trauma that many are dealing with.

For me, when structure is lacking and things seem chaotic, I move back to a meal plan. So that I know I am safe, getting what I need. Perhaps 5 days meal plan, 2 days intuitive eating might help a bit.

Meditation, breathing exercises, activities that take your brain and hands (knitting, coloring, training a dog).

Accountability with your support network, projects you can work on that have nothing to do with your ED (learn a language, nurture a plant, write a poem a day.)

And ultimately, COMPASSION FOR YOURSELF — which doesn’t mean a free-for-all. Compassion and accountability. Try to view yourself as the child version of yourself — how would you treat you?

And this is really where a professional comes into play —because each person brings their own unique lived experience to the table — and is DESERVING OF SUPPORT!!

Perhaps the most obvious and most pushed back upon aspect of quarantine culture is the focus on home-workouts. Why do you think this has been such a trend during quarantine? How can we deal with the popularity of at-home routines during this time? What impact do you think this will have on people’s relationship with exercise?

Oooooooh boy. Wellness culture. What a mind fuck!

Many of us have so much more time —and UNSTRUCTURED time at that! And boy oh boy does the world feel out of control right now. Controlling body and shape are VERY seductive ways of coping… but they are false prophets. 

Ultimately, the goal of recovery is to spend LESS time thinking about food and shape — and more time thinking about (and doing) the things that make life worth living! This doesn’t mean exercise is BAD — it can be great! But it’s a slippery slope, and the wellness culture that exists online screams eating disorder to me.

I put little markers in place for myself to monitor it — how much time am I thinking about shape? How much time am I taking in content about changing physical shape?

I mute stories on social media that are too shape focused — I do try and move my body most days, but I try to do it in a way that uplifts my body and reminds me that it is my TOOL, not my project. I’ll do Facetime walks with friends, listen to audiobooks and stretch, put on some music and dance around…. or sometimes, I’ll lay in bed all day. The key to healthy, sustained recovery for me has been FLEXIBILITY and BALANCE.

If I feel like a long, intense hike — COOL! If I feel like sitting on my butt — COOL! If I do half a dance class and bail because I don’t feel like it (which I did today) — COOL! The point it: there is no VALUE in what you choose. It doesn’t affect your WORTH.

Are there any aspects of quarantine you think might be conducive to recovery? How can people take this time to focus on themselves in a healthy way?

I covered this a little bit above, but we can try and use this time as an opportunity to quiet the mind and get back to basics. We can test out intuitive eating and new meal plans without the stress of anyone else watching. We can cry and scream and fail — and no one has to see.  It can be liberating!!

Why did you decide to film episodes focused on living with an eating disorder during COVID-19? What do you hope viewers take away from these upcoming episodes?

We made a video telling folks where we are in our process here. 

But then, of course, COVID happened and we have no idea when we could make a feature. And we got to thinking, wow, this time must SUCK for those struggling with EDs. How could we connect with our community in OUR way (with dark comedy) — and we decided to experiment.

We have no idea if it’ll succeed! It’s not going to look like the BINGE you’re used to, because we’re shooting alone, on iPhones, with no fancy equipment. We’re shooting fast and editing faster. But we wanted to do SOMETHING. So, we hope it can be a bit of a gift!

Is there anything else you’d like to say or want your viewers to know?

We love you. We thank you. You are worthy of support.

And the best way to keep up with all things BINGE is to subscribe to HLG’S YouTube channel and follow us on IG @bingetheseries.