Ramadan: Still in the grips of anorexia

ramadan-still-in-41Nv

Every year when Ramadan comes around, I open up about my experience with an eating disorder. It can be such a tricky time for those of us struggling with an eating disorder. For the past seven years, I’ve been strictly told not to fast by medical professionals who were treating me for my eating disorder in hospital. In the past, I had to be monitored extra closely in case my weight dramatically dropped due to fasting secretly.

This year is different. This is the first year that I am not in treatment for my anorexia in seven years, so I feel anxious because now I have a choice. I hate having a choice because I’m more likely to choose the unhealthy one. I’m not being watched anymore and I’m not being threatened with inpatient if I lose weight, so this is the perfect opportunity. I am in no way recovered. In fact, I’d say the thoughts have been creeping back in, especially recently.

A year into my recovery without treatment has been tough. Every day is still hard, and there have been both massive relapses AND recovery wins in the past 12 months and I truly believe this is how it will be for the rest of my life. I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered.

Ramadan brings out a lot of negative emotions and triggers for me. But this year, having a choice to fast or not to fast and still seeing Ramadan as a chance to lose weight and to become sicker is not helping and confirms, yet again, that I am not in a good state of mind to fast safely. I don’t see it as a religious thing. So if I fast, I will be doing it for the wrong reasons.

Rationally, of course I know that I must not fast if I am still in that eating disordered mindset. I know that health and my recovery comes first. But anorexia is so powerful that even if I say I will not take part, I will most definitely act on behaviours because everywhere I go, there will be someone fasting, someone talking about how much they’re “starving” and restricting will be inevitable. Plus, there will be triggering food everywhere and everyone will be talking about food.

I have made the choice, however, to not take part. People close to me have been expressing their concerns about me fasting. I’d be lying if I said I don’t engage in behaviours anymore so fasting in the month of Ramadan can absolutely land me back in hospital.

I’m in a good place career-wise. I’ve got a new job that I love, but I’m worried if I’ll be able to hold it down if I go down that path again. Anorexia makes me not believe in myself. Every day now, it tells me that I don’t deserve this job, that I don’t deserve to be successful. It makes me question if I’m capable of holding down a full time job without getting sicker. It makes me anxious about disappointing my colleagues and managers. It’s been keeping me awake at night worrying about how anorexia, especially in Ramadan, might impact my mental health this year.

In the past, it was anorexia that made me become this successful. It was anorexia’s perfectionism that made me work hard (without food) graduate and get my dream job. People tell me it wasn’t anorexia, but they don’t know how strong anorexia can be. It was this illness that demanded I prove to people that I can do things. The less food I ate, the more weight I lost, the more successful I became…and it worked.

I cannot keep letting anorexia take credit for everything I’ve achieved. I cannot let it take over me anymore. People tell me that I can do things, that I am capable without this illness. Maybe they’re right?

Ramadan is a spiritual month. It’s about health and helping others and about being kind to oneself. I cannot fast because I am sick, but what I CAN do is help others and take care of myself. I can be thankful to God that I am here in this world. I am alive and I am living.

Ramadan shouldn’t be just about controlling yourself from eating food. It should be about taking care of yourself whatever way possible and if fasting isn’t right for your mental and physical health at the moment, it’s okay not to take part.

For others like myself who cannot fast in the month of Ramadan due to an eating disorder or mental illness, why not turn it around and work on your recovery? This year, I’ve come to realise that putting your own health is more important than religion, career or opportunities. Look after yourself first. Make yourself a priority. That is what I will try to do.

This was originally posted on Beat‘s website.

What I Thought of Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’

img_0046

TRIGGER WARNING (and contains spoilers)

There has been a lot of controversy about this film ever since the trailer came out. To The Bone was finally released yesterday on Netflix and I was very excited to watch it.

Lily Collins plays Ellen, a talented artist who happens to suffer from anorexia. She is sent to a residential treatment facility under the care of Dr Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves.

What I liked about this film, even though it is triggering, is that it shows how unglamorous eating disorders are. I don’t understand when people say it glamourises it.

Is exercising excessively to the point of collapse glamorous?  Is having a messed up family glamorous? Is being locked up in hospital glamorous? Is vomiting secretly in your room and hiding it under your bed glamorous? Is knowing every calorie in every food glamorous? Is looking like a ghost glamorous? Is feeling weak glamorous? Is waking up everyday body checking glamorous? Nothing about this film is glamorous.

The film makes me sad that this is my life. It makes me sad that this is how I live on a day to day basis. The only parts that made me cry was when Megan, the pregnant patient, purged and lost her baby. It hurts everyday thinking whether I’d ever be comfortable having a baby myself or if I ever could have one. I don’t ever want to be pregnant because of the selfish reason that it will make me fat.

The other part which made me cry was when Ellen’s mother fed her like a baby, with a bottle. I bawled my eyes out at that scene because anorexia turns you into a baby again. Everything is scary. You are always terrified. You just need someone to cuddle you and feed you and tell you everything is okay. You don’t feel safe but all you want to feel is safe. You just want to be looked after by an authortive figure.

Ellen’s mother said maybe one of the causes of her anorexia was that her mother wasn’t there for her when she was a child. This shows how deep rooted eating disorders are. It’s not always about wanting to be skinny to look beautiful. It’s a cry for help. It’s a coping mechanism. I certainly can relate to that scene. It was heartbreaking.

Dr Beckham’s approach reminded me of my psychiatrists approach. He is funny yet serious. He has a different attitude. Not what you’d expect a therapist to be like. He told Ellen she needs to be able to save herself and not wait for someone to save her. That’s exactly what I realised only this past year. It’s such a strong illness and it won’t let anyone save you. It has a grip on you and only you yourself need to find something, a purpose, to be able to get better. You need to save yourself. Dr Beckham spoke with honesty and what he did was he listened to Ellen. Tried to understand how she feels.

Despite all that, Ellen chose recovery at the end. At least the ending was positive and it shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When she dreamt that she was dead was a powerful scene. It even gave me goosebumps to realise that I am alive. I am still alive and fighting this. Death isn’t the answer and its never too late to get better.

I do understand how it can be harmful to some and I’m not going to pretend it didn’t trigger me. When Ellen kept on putting two fingers around her arms trying to see if her fingers touch, I found myself doing the same thing (not that I don’t do this on regular basis anyway). But it’s very real. It shows how disgusting and excruciating eating disorders are. It’s not a life. It’s hell.

I chose to watch it but my advice to those who are still in their eating disorders like myself, especially younger viewers and want to watch it, just be careful and be prepared.

Surviving Eid with an Eating Disorder

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 21.27.50

Eid, like Christmas and many other religious festivals, is a day of celebration and happiness and for those suffering from eating disorders, it can be a very difficult time for them. As always, days like this are about food and for sufferers, it can have a big impact on their behaviour during that day. From experience, Eid is always very overwhelming. Friends, family, guests, food, food and more food surround you and there is nowhere to hide.

I have been given some strategies to help me get through those difficult times by my treatment team and thought I’d share.

Plan the day in advance and have a back up plan. If you have a meal plan – stick to it. If you don’t have a meal plan, make one. This can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed with all the food in front of you. What helps me get through stressful times like this is planning my meals in advance. But whatever you do, don’t skip a meal! This can cause you to feel hungrier and you’ll only end up binging.

Tell a family member how you are feeling about your fears around food on the day. If they are aware of your feelings, they can help you and make it easier for you to get through the day. For me, if I tell a family member, they tend to keep an eye out and make sure I feel comfortable.

Don’t let yourself be guilt tripped into eating something you don’t want to if you feel like it is going to trigger you into a relapse or even cause you to binge. If an auntie or grandmother has been cooking a traditional dish for hours, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Keep busy and try not to isolate yourself! What I find helps me take my mind off the food is playing with my little cousins. Try and do other activities that does not relate to food.

Finally, it is crucial to remember that Eid is not just about food. It is about family and joy, so try not to let your eating disorder ruin it for you. But also remember, don’t beat yourself up if your day does not go to plan because after all, it is Eid and you deserve to enjoy it. Remember, God is always with you to help you get through any hardship you are facing.

Ramadan and Eating Disorders

The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us once again and for those of us with eating disorders, it can be somewhat of a triggering and a stressful time. If you are in recovery or in treatment and are still physically unable to fast due to health concerns, then you should not be fasting, which is the case for me this year. You need to be able to fast with a healthy body and a healthy mind. There is no point if you do not have those two important things.

In Islam, you are excused from fasting during this month because you are sick and instead, you give Fidya (charity) which is paying for someone else such as the poor to be fed. However, the eating disorder could be so strong that you could be faced with a dilemma leaving you to choose between God and your eating disorder.

It does not help that Ramadan is still all about food. Food seems to be everywhere. Iftar preparations fills the whole day and everyone talks about what they are going to eat for Iftar. It can really mess with a disordered persons mind.

An eating disorder is a mental illness that the individual cannot control without the right help and it can certainly be worsened by fasting. The point of Ramadan is to bring someone closer to God, however if you have an eating disorder, it could get stronger during Ramadan and it turns into a battle in your head.

During this time, you need to be focused on what is good for you. Distraction techniques is a useful tool to prevent any destructive behaviours during this time. I find that writing down all my feelings helps. Praying should also be a massive thing during this month. Your recovery is the most important thing. Have an intention in your head to be healthy for next year’s Ramadan so you can fast for the real purpose.

You could be unsure about recovery and still in the grips of your eating disorder and if that is you then be sure to reach out for help as soon as possible. Alternatively, talk to a religious leader. Without health, nothing is possible.

This article was published on the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat website. – http://www.b-eat.co.uk/get-help/online-community/beat-blog/ramadan-and-eating-disorders/