We are just a few days into Ramadan, and I’ve felt my first trigger, “This feels great, my stomach is so empty, I can feel my hipbones, I love this feeling,” It tells my brain.
It is the high I feel, It is my eating disorder.
I have been in recovery from an eating disorder for the past eight years.
It started when I was 13 years old, and in 8th grade. Growing up, the “glamour” of eating disorders was only reserved for young females, the affluent and the white. I fit into 2 of those 3 boxes.
Eating disorders weren’t as well-known two decades ago. No one talked about them, and the only celebrities I knew who had them were Karen Carpenter and Tracey Gold. I had come from a conservative Middle Eastern family, who taught at Sunday School, prayed as a family, and fasted every Ramadan.
I will never forget the day I came home from school and my mom was waiting for me by the front door, ready to pounce. She had found over-the-counter diet pills in my bedroom, and was yelling like I was working a meth lab in there. I don’t remember what she said, but that was the day I learned that it would be a disgrace to my family, culturally, if I had any illness, and it was that day that I made sure to keep this secret to myself.
I eventually learned tricks to keep my secret hidden.
I never let on that there was any problem. I was the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and very smart at keeping my illness away from everyone. I knew what to eat, when to eat, how much to put on my plate, how to hide food, and to never get too thin.
I went into remission when I had my first child. Poof, just like that, I was cured. I went on to have a couple more children after that, back to back, so I stayed busy running after little ones, nursing, and fueling my body so I could properly raise my children.
But this Ramadan has been different. My children are older and need slightly less 24/7 supervision, and my mind is free to roam places it shouldn’t. So here we are, four days in, and the voices inside my head have come back. Fasting during Ramadan is about self-control, and I’ve already made the effort to not miss any prayers, read Quran daily, listen to my Taraweeh audio tapes, and to be extra patient with my children. But for someone with a history of mental illness, this can trigger a “high” that can test how much self-control I really have.
This eating disorder isn’t about being thin, or looking good. I’m too old for that. But just as drug addicts are addicted to the rush of endorphins they feel from a certain drug, people with eating disorders also feel a high from not eating. It sends their brain a message that this feels too good to give up.
Will I make it the whole month of Ramadan? I pray that I will.
Every day is a struggle with any illness. There are good days and bad days, good years and bad years. I refuse to let this take away any more years of my life.
I will continue to make my prayers, to read the Quran, and work on memorizing a new surah (my annual Ramadan goal). I will continue to worship Allah, and not feel guilty for having an illness. I need to remember that Allah is forgiving, and does not give us religion to make our life harder. Allah gave me the strength once, and I pray He will give me the strength again. I believe this is my test.