“I fight for my health every day in ways that most people don’t understand. I’m not lazy. I’m a warrior!” –Unknown
I ‘m nearly 27 year old woman, currently living in central Europe, but I was born in Bulgaria. I study and work abroad for about 9 years, but my development in all levels of life has been almost frozen and delayed by my Eating Disorder. In time I just came to realize that how I think and the behaviours I have regarding food are wrong and slowly it got clear to me that this must be an ED. Of course I wasted years with the classic “I’m too fat to have a disorder” or “It’s just in my head, I’m just finding excuses to keep on stuffing myself” or “only thin and pretty girls have eating disorders”. Around the time I moved to live abroad I starved myself for a long time, lost weight, then I started mindlessly binging for months, gained 80 pounds, then in 2012 I had a huge nervous breakdown and started losing again. After I crossed many lines I thought I’d never will and tried to kill myself more than once I decided that this just won’t do and I want to see if life can be different and joyous too. Decided to give myself a chance. So last year I called a local ED center and signed up for evaluation and treatment. Few months ago moved to an apartment by myself, which resulted in rapid weight gain, due to medications and stress, so now I’m on a verge of relapse. But hope is something I never lost of sight and I’m thankful for it..
One to One with Miriam
Maha Khan (MK): What are you diagnosed with? And how long have you had your diagnosis for?
Miriam (MR): I suppose like most of the ED sufferers I’ve been struggling with self-image and food for the better part of my life, last year I got an official diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa, but it has been present for 2-3 years before that. And since my early teens I’ve been using restriction and fasting as a “normal” dieting regimen, as well as binging as a form of protest and self-protection against feelings I’m not ready to deal with.
MK: What was your family’s reaction to your illness?
MR: No one takes it seriously to this day. In my family there’s plenty of history about obsession with body-image, food and disordered thoughts. So no one found it all too strange when I headed to the restrooms after a meal or when I refused meals. It was all okay as long as I lost weight and everyone was happy for me. Needless to say I was hurt, because no one would understand or want to really listen. Even my mother told me recently that when I went for an evaluation at the ED-treatment clinic she hoped they’d turn me down and I’d “understand it’s all just in my head”. But when they accepted me quite quickly with all the red dots circled on the admission papers – then she says she got worried. I still doubt that. For me personally the ED is my own battle which I’ll have to win by myself and few close friends, who sadly are all in other countries.
MK: To what extent Eating Disorders overlap other illnesses like anxiety, depression, OCD?
MR: I can’t say which came first. Depression or ED, but they both overlap up to 90%, along with this I’ve been diagnosed with mild OCD and general anxiety. ED is like the Pandora’s box – once you open it everything evil comes out.
MK: How is your recovery coming along?
MR: Currently I’m walking on thin ice, because of the massive weight gain. But I try to keep my focus and remind myself that happiness doesn’t go hand in hand with self-destruction. I wish I could say its all roses and sunshine, but it’s not. Recovery is hard, but it feels much better than the false promises of the ED. One day I’ll look back at those long years of suffering and I’ll be proud for winning the war against my Eating Disorder.
Ramadan and Eating Disorders
MK: How long have you been Muslim for?
MR: 13 years, although I’m not practicing. I’ve been struggling with faith for the most time in general, until I recently started following the path of Sufism.
MK: Has the faith played any part in your illness, in managing it?
MR: When I first converted I was the happiest I ever remember myself being. At that point darkness didn’t matter. It was easier to accept myself and ED behaviors were not present.
MK: Will you be fasting this year? Why? Why Not?
MR: I will not be fasting, because every year it fast-tracks me to binge-purge-restriction cycle and relapse.
MK: How are you preparing for Ramadan?
MR: I’m reading and listening to lectures by Hamza Yusuf etc. Ramadan will be a time for restoring my connection with God and myself.
MK: Do you think Ramadan is triggering for people with Eating Disorders?
MR: Absolutely. It’s difficult time for all sorts of eating disorders – Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, Orthorexia, EDNOS, everyone faces challenges and many “fall down the rabbit hole”. It’s not just about the food, it’s about the family gatherings, the wish to get closer to God, but also fighting and refusing the purely human nature. You can see how “purifying the body and soul through fasting” can be translated as a green card for the ED to take over. I think especially in the time of Ramadan and before it there should be events organized to inform people about eating disorders and offer help to those who already suffer.
MK: Dieting/fasting is a precursor to Eating Disorder? Do you agree?
MR:Yes, long history of dieting has been proven to mess with how people think about themselves and help the “I’m never good enough” attitude that lays the fruitful soil where added some trauma an Eating Disorder might grow. Plus prolonged fasting and restrictive intake lowers the brain’s functions and worsens the person’s ability to make right choices. (Read about the “Minnesota Starvation Experiment” here and here Also “The Effects of Starvation on Behavior: Implications for Dieting and Eating Disorders” here )
MK: Have you engaged in act of fasting before, other than the month of Ramadan?
MR: Yes, just for the sake of weight loss, although I was lying to myself it’s for spiritual purposes. And knowing that deep down, makes things worse for me and matters urgent. “The more you lose the faster you’ll be done with the self-deception” I spent years in a bubble of lies I told myself to justify my ED. At one time I decided to become vegetarian, I promised it’s for the sake of the poor animals….but it was just a good excuse to cut out a whole group of food. All I thought about was weight loss. Other times I fasted for weeks, because I wanted to purify myself so that I can be a better person. Again the main motivator was the scale.
If I decide to fast the right way I’ll be very tempted to either fall into a binge-purge cycle or keep on restricting as much as I can. Either way – relapse is imminent at that point.
MK: Advice you will offer people struggling with Eating Disorders?
MR: Don’t be ashamed, talk about it, and raise awareness as much as you can, perhaps extend a friendly hand to other people who suffer as well. This will help you too, strengthen you and you’ll have more power to fight your ED. You are amazing just as you are, although you won’t believe anyone when they tell you this. Just don’t give up hope and remember that everything that’s worth it takes time. And being here and enjoying life is certainly worth it. You don’t know what will come tomorrow so don’t just give up today.
MK: What advice for people who are living with this illness in secrecy and in silence and refusing treatment this Ramadan?
MR: Read everything on waragaisnteatingdisorders.com, inspire yourself, and try to remember times in your life when you felt content. Start with small steps, get to know more about the dangers of the ED, seek online communities and anonymous recovery groups in your area. Consider talking to a close friend, a relative or a professional. Your loved ones might not understand what you’re going through, but the act of confiding will ease your suffering.
Write down what you want to improve in your life and try to write next to it a way to obtain it without the lies of the ED. If you can’t or won’t confide in anyone, because you fear being exposed as a “bad seed” in your community, then try writing a journal or a blog, get the feelings out of you, and put order in your mind so you’ll know your real priorities. Analyze yourself, what triggers you and why. And never lose your faith in God, because the harder He tests you the greater mercy He is showing you.
MK: How can family and friends help someone with Eating Disorders this Ramadan?
MR: I’m certainly not a specialist, but my advice is for them to thoroughly inform themselves about what an ED is and what treatment options there are, so that they can offer adequate support and understanding for the suffering person. It’s easily said than done, but the most crude mistakes are done out of ignorance and unwillingness to face the problem. Mind that this is not a “phase” or a “whim”, it’s an illness that can be deadly. Don’t force, don’t blackmail or yell, don’t punish. Never undermine the feelings of your ill friend or relative, be there for them even when they won’t talk to you, let them know that no matter what happens you’ll always be there for them and mean it. One kind word or a simple hug can tear walls.
Thank you For Joining Us Miriam.
Wishing you Peace and Blessings for Ramadan