Before I begin this post, I just want you to know that I am writing from a place I have locked away and buried somewhere far and wide, hidden in the darkest and deepest parts of my soul. This goes beyond personal for me, as I am known to be a person who holds on to her own secrets and likes her own personal space. But in light of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I wanted to share this part of my life with you with the hopes that I can help anyone reading this, who may be going through the same monstrosity I did growing up.
I’m 23 years old and I still haven’t fully comprehended that I have spent most part of my life mentally abusing myself over my weight. It’s a daunting realisation, almost surreal.
I am a knowledgeable, bright, sensitive and accomplished young woman. It’s hard to accept that I ended up in such a predicament, it terrifies me. Yet, here I am, one woman amongst hundreds of thousands, putting a voice to my story of how an eating disorder tore my life apart and how I’m still struggling everyday to muster enough courage to keep on going.
I come from a world where I am considered beautiful just as long as I meet societies idea of beauty. I come from a world where unless I am thin, unless I am fair, unless I am tall, I am not important. Within the borders of the South Asian Community, I was labelled ugly because I did not meet my cultures standard of beautiful. A standard that has been set for by them by the West.
I was born under weight and I suffered from severe eczema. Amoo struggled to feed me milk as I would puke up everything I ate for the longest time. Soon enough she gave up on trying to feed me milk and started crushing soft foods to feed me instead. When I look back at old photo’s of myself, I can see my clothes hanging over my body as though I were a hanger. My bones would push through my skin for everyone to see, it was so bad people would think Amoo didn’t feed me.
One day Amoo and I took a trip to the doctors and I was told I had a nasty case of Asthma which needed urgent attention. I had to start taking immediate medication which contained some form of steroid which meant one side effect of taking this medication was weight gain. Normal people have bodies that avoid this side effect completely, my fortune however allowed me to balloon from an underweight child, to a sumo wrestler.
My appetite naturally grew as did my taste for food.
I loved eating.
I wanted to eat the whole world.
Food woke me up in the morning.
Food put me to sleep at night.
When I was in primary school I used to get told off for queuing up for thirds because I needed to watch what I ate. One conversation I remember with one of my teachers as clear as day –
Nazrin: Why does our face get wet when it’s hot?
Mrs Jones: When we’re hot our bodies release fat in the form of sweat. That’s what the moisture is called. Sweat.
Nazrin: I’m sweating right now .
Mrs Jones: You should try sweating a lot more, you have a lot of fat to get rid of.
So I left Primary school thinking that summer I would sweat all my weight away ready for Year 7 in September. I was going to be a brand new Nazrin. That didn’t last long. I went to my Nans for the Summer and there is never any shortage of food at my Nans. I ate six meals a day the whole Summer. I was double the weight I was in Year 6 when I started Year 7 in 2005 and I started hating myself for being so reliant on food.
This is when my first demon introduced herself to me as Cruella. She was here to control my life, and she was obsessed with food.
I hadn’t met Cruella formally yet, but she followed me silently, like my shadow everywhere I went. Making note of any jokes people made, and the number of times people called me fat. As the years flew by that number grew to thousands.
When my relatives taunted me and compared me to other relatives who were beautiful and thin, Cruella would laugh at me for not being like them. When my school peers teased me and were quick to call me fat in an argument, Cruella was even quicker to remind me of the insults just before I went to sleep. The more my weight was made a joke of, the more spiteful she became. What started off as just whispers soon evolved to roars.
She constantly reminded me like best friends do to look out for each other, that I was not enough. I have no existence, I didn’t matter, I had no value, until I was beautiful. So she told me. The people around me fuelled her fury and one day the battle was won. She lit a fire in my belly, a fire that was not going to calm until I met that standard. I wanted one thing only, and that was to be beautiful. I wanted to be societies idea of beautiful.
I did exactly what they wanted. I crawled away into the darkest corner of my mind and I let them define me.
The spits of fire people threw at me because of my weight burnt through my skin and left me scars for a lifetime. I eventually believed what I heard, and every time I looked in the mirror all I saw looking back at me was a girl I hated for being fat.
By 15 I had an unhealthy relationship with my parents and siblings. I was poisonous and bitter and fought with my family wherever I went, I got into a lot of trouble at school, I had a tongue as sharp as a serpent, and I cared about no one other than myself.
Years and years of anger towards the people in my life bubbled in my stomach and I felt I could storm my own wrath alone. I suppressed my anguish and bottled my pain and never shared the dark side of my life with anyone. As a result of this I created a hole of emptiness in my stomach, a hold big enough for Cruella to fit in comfortably.
As humans, we are not always taught how to communicate well, how to express feelings, and how to resolve inner and outer conflicts. Many of us, as children, are astute enough to notice the pain and intensity of the environment we live in, but we do not have the tools to address it. Disordered eating grows out of such conditions. Our eating disorders are the body’s symbolic way of coping with a world that is overwhelming us.
It was the summer of 2010 and Ramadan started early August that year. Cruella kept nudging me to take control of my own life and I felt Ramadan was the perfect opportunity for me to take that control by further restricting my food intake. Instead of embracing the month of Ramadan as a blessing I used the month to starve myself.. At first I would puke back up the very little food I used to eat to break my fast and would only allow myself to eat a small meal at dawn. After eating at dawn, I would return to my room and do sit ups for hours. By the end of Ramadan my stomach had shrunk so much I couldn’t even stomach any food at dawn any more. So I drank 8 cups of ice cold water instead.
When I returned to school that year for Sixth Form the first thing a peer said to me when I walked into the induction that morning was, “..Wow Nazrin! You’ve lost SO MUCH WEIGHT! You look so good!” I was stunned. My whole first day at Sixth Form consisted of people complimenting me on how amazing I looked and the drastic amount of weight I lost. I got a lot of attention from the people who threw stones at me for being fat and I thrived off it.
To the outside world I was a confident, strong, and a smart individual who loved the skin she was in. I put on a show for the world and they fell for it. Little did they know I was killing a little bit of myself every day trying to be their idea of beautiful.
It was at this point I knew I couldn’t stop now. If I was able to lose that much weight in just six weeks, what could I do in a year?
It was no longer the holidays neither was it Ramadan and I was unable to deprive myself of food like I did throughout the Summer. I was unable to restrict my diet openly without being found out by my school peers so I turned to binging and purging instead. I would allow myself to eat to my hearts content only to vomit every last piece of food out. Going out for meals with friends and family were the bane of my life. I first had to figure out where the toilets were and whether I was able to get away long enough without anyone noticing. Then I would have to get rid of the awful vomit smell on my breath and needed to make sure my eyes weren’t red or puffy when I returned to the table for desserts.
I would plan my days around my purges. It was that important to me.
I was physically growing weaker every day but Cruella would tell me I was strong. I had the strength others didn’t have. I had the will power to stop eating and the dedication to restrict my diet until it consisted of nothing. I couldn’t share my secret with anyone because I feared I would be misunderstood or called mental. So instead I reserched more and more ways I could lose further weight. I read books on Eating Disorders, I was obsessed with online forums so that I could gain tips and tricks from other people suffering from the same illness. The more I kept it to myself, the scarier things got for me.
When I couldn’t purge, I had to force myself to sleep while the food sat like a lump of lead in my stomach throughout the night while Cruella would laugh in the darkness about how I wasn’t even good enough to purge properly. Once you pit mind against body, the disconnect it creates starts to convince you that you don’t DESERVE sustenance. That you are a genuinely bad person who deserves all the suffering you are going through.
Can you imagine being in constant battle with yourself every single day? Can you imagine hating the very sight of yourself that you’d rather be in physical pain from the hunger pangs than to give yourself food. Can you imagine living a life where you only feel a deep and burning sensation of achievement after losing weight?
Even if I had lost the weight, Cruella had taken over my mind body and soul. She wasn’t just a voice anymore. I couldn’t feel her breathing hard at the back of my neck. She had taken full control. She controlled my vision, I had a distorted image of my body. Every time I looked in the mirror I could see the teenage Nazrin staring back at me with rolls and rolls of fat hanging off her belly. Even if my bones were hanging on for dear life by my bare skin all I would see looking back at me in the mirror was a fat and ugly girl. She controlled my thoughts. No matter how many people told I had lost enough weight, she told me I hadn’t.
When I was at University, I had very little time to give my extended family. The family members that loved poking and prodding me barely saw me. The years flew by so fast. When they finally caught up with me one year during Eid it’ safe to say they were stunned to see me in my small frame.
To my surprise, they didn’t shower me with compliments and stand around my gushing over how amazing I looked. Instead they said “..You’ve lost your glow, your skin looks grey and soulless.” Instead, they said “..You don’t look healthy anymore, you should eat more.” Instead, they said “..Nowadays girls are obsessed with dieting, you should have some meat on your bones.” I of course, had nothing to say.
I went home that day and looked at myself long and hard in the mirror that night. It must have been hours. Despite Cruella’s roars, despite her cries, despite her howling, I continued looking at myself in the mirror until I could see myself for who I had really become. I had slowly deteriorated.
I had lost masses of hair.
My skin was grey.
My teeth were clear and sensitive.
My eyes were sunken.
My throat burned.
My monthly cycle had stopped.
I was not in control of my own life whilst being in control of it the whole time.
It finally dawned on me the thing looking back at me in the mirror was not me. I was a product of this world. My world. The constant abuse from the people in my world was mental torture and I let what others think of me take over my entire existence.
Because of the cruel things others said to me, I took it upon myself to prove them wrong as though they were the epitome of perfection themselves. They didn’t create me, they should have no say in what I SHOULD look like.
No matter what I did, or how much I tried to fit into their box of beautiful, I couldn’t. There is nothing I could do to please these people because it’s these very people who are ugly. Their ideas are so warped they’re not real. How could I ever become something that is not real?
Everything that’s ever been said about me does not represent me, it represents the people who said them to begin with.
There was no longer any truth to what Cruella told me.
There was no longer any truth to what people told me
There only truth there ever was, was what I told myself.
I had to let go of the self judgement. I had to learn how to stop beating myself up for my imperfections. I had to slowly block Cruella out, if not completely then at least force her o quiet down.
I had to learn that the only way I was going to be happy was if it came from a good place. I could never be happy if I continued expecting bliss from negativity.
I had to learn to muster the courage from somewhere to face myself in the mirror and to tell myself I love me despite hearing Cruella in the background roaring at me about how ugly I’ll become if I become fat again.
I had to learn that my body was not the definition of beauty.
I had to learn that the outside never counted to start with, I had to work on my soul to be beautiful.
All these new things I needed to learn and it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
It is something I struggle with every single day but it is a battle worth fighting just as long as I win and Cruella loses.
“Eating disorders don’t happen overnight and neither does recovery”
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