An Open Letter from an Egyptian with an Eating Disorder

Previously published on Egyptian Streets.

The thing about eating disorders is that it’s an invisible illness and the physical ramifications of that illness only appear after a long period of time of abusing one’s own body. Just like any psychological or mental illness, we shy away from the discussion, leaving many women, men, and children, struggling in the dark, feeling helpless and hopeless.

While many believe eating disorders are secluded to the West, it is highly occurring in the East. People still give too much thought into what is considered beautiful in their side of the world. They put themselves through hell and back to fit the societal view or perception of “true beauty.”

Whether it is anorexia, bulimia, over eating, or excessive exercising, it is all there and people are suffering from it. Yet, we turn a blind eye to it. Why?

People find the topic of eating disorders difficult to discuss because it is uncomfortable for the person suffering from it and the person that is reaching out to help. Let’s consider this from both aspects.

First, the person with the eating disorder feels ashamed of having an eating disorder and is constantly saying mean and hateful things about themselves to themselves. This only makes the eating disorder worsen and as time goes by, self-esteem is demolished and the person believes that they are unworthy of help. Therefore, when someone reaches out, they feel confused, conflicted and undeserving of treatment.

Secondly, the family member or friend that is reaching out to help someone with an eating disorder goes through a series of feelings that often leave them in anguish. It is not easy to see someone you love self-destruct and you end up feeling helpless. Because of the fact that eating disorders are widely misunderstood in the region, especially in Egypt, people reach out to people with eating disorders in ways that only worsen the eating disorder. For example, parents hide food so it doesn’t go to waste or friends telling someone to “snap out of it” because it’s no big deal. Those manners and ways of reaching out worsen eating disorders. You can’t force someone to eat. You can’t force someone to not binge and purge. You can’t force someone to stop over eating and you cannot stop someone from having an eating disorder if you don’t understand the heart of the issue.

Instead, understand that recovering from such illness is a long and hard process. Accept that there will be setbacks. Learn to love unconditionally and show sufferers that you have an unshaken belief that they have the strength and the will to recover.

While it is a difficult topic to approach and an uncomfortable discussion to have, it is essential that we understand eating disorders, the causes and how to effectively recover from such a menacing and deceiving disease.

The study of eating disorders continues and while there were multiple medical and psychological breakthroughs, little is known about it in Egypt. This leaves psychologists baffled, attempting to heal the issue with the use of medication which more often than not is a complete failure. It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. It won’t work.

As for the thousands of people suffering from this life-threating illness, they are left helpless and hopeless in an everlasting cycle of self-hatred and blame for having an eating disorder and depression. They feel shame for not being able to recover, and hopelessness for not knowing how and where to go for help.

That said, there are a handful of qualified doctors who are often overpriced and very inaccessible. For instance, EGP 500 for a 50-minute session to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy is unacceptable. I know that because that is how much my therapist costs per session.

Which begs the question: What about the middle and lower class individuals that are suffering from devastating eating disorders but have no access to treatment – a basic human right that should not only be limited to the privileged?

Eating disorders are common and spreading in Egypt. In fact, chances are you know someone that is secretly suffering from an eating disorder. It is spreading to the point where nine-year-olds are refusing to eating because they don’t want to get “fat.” Like “fat” is the worst thing you can be.

Why are we so focused on our looks and how others look? Why do we define ourselves and others with the skin color and mere numbers on a scale? Why do we attack one another using derogatory, and quite pathetic, insults such as “fat” or “chicken bones?” Have we forgotten that people are more than their bodies?

Open up the discussion and start addressing it. Do the research and look for the symptoms of all the eating disorders out there because those suffering are often trying to call out for help and are never heard. Be their voice and their outlet and provide them with the comfort of knowing that they’re not alone in their struggle, that they have the opportunity to recover.

I was lucky enough to find support through friends and family members. I was lucky enough that someone confronted me and made me see what I was doing to my body and my mental health. I was lucky enough to learn that my life is more than my look, my body image, or what is considered beautiful.

My desire to live to is larger than my desire to be accepted. Two people saved my life, the person that made me see what I refused to see in the past – someone I am eternally grateful for and blessed to have in my life – and myself, because I took a step forward and decided to seek the help I need. It’s not easy to be putting on weight for someone who was obsessed with keeping weight off, but my health and mental stability is more important than a thigh gap and a flat stomach.


The Beauty of Being Damaged

“Damaged people are dangerous because they know they can survive.” – Josephine Hart.

I remember all the times I was told I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or smart enough to be anything. I remember being told I was a nobody, that I am nothing and will always be nothing. That I am just another waste of space.

We’ve all had a bully in our lives. Someone who is mean and picks on you constantly. Whether it’s at home or at school, whether it was physical or verbal bullying – we all know a bully or had an encounter with one. The victim is often left anxious, depressed with little to no self-esteem and the haunting feelings of uselessness and helplessness.

My depression is deeply rooted in my childhood, which consisted of neglect, fear and the constant need of approval from parents and teachers. Speaking of my own personal experience with bullying, at home and in school, I still pretty much carry those feelings around. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say something mean to myself. Whether something about how I look or how stupid I can be sometimes, I have to say something mean and heartbreaking to myself. Something, that I will never say to a friend or a stranger. It is a learned behavior that I picked up at the tender age of 6, continued to my teens, and extended in my 20’s.

The reason why I am telling you this, whoever is reading this and wherever you are, is because I know what it’s like to torture yourself  with your words. I know what it’s like to become a person you hate and despise. I know what it’s like to not be able to look at yourself in the mirror without saying something truly and utterly disgusting to yourself.

There is no magical solution that will make you feel better and make the past disappear. It’s a struggle that you will often have to face and all you need to do is be the person you needed when you were a kid. Be the kind and gentle voice that you so desperately needed to hear. Love and cherish the child within you.

Always remember that you’re beautiful. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from – you’re beautiful. It doesn’t matter how broken, battered and bruised you are, you are still beautiful. Noting can change that. Nothing can ever change that.

The beauty of being damaged is that somehow, you still manage enough strength to go on about your day and live your life. The beauty of being damaged is that, despite what you were taught to believe, you’re still standing your ground, you’re still breathing, you’re still here. The beauty of being damaged is that you know exactly what to say to those who need kindness in their lives.

Best of all, the beauty of being damaged is that nothing can really break you.