“I was admitted at 31kg,” Aneesa begins.
On a display cabinet in her living room is a graduation photograph of Aneesa when she obtained her MBBS medical degree.
The smile in her photograph betrays the eight years that she spent getting her degree, three of them battling anorexia.
Aneesa and her family are neighbours. I remember her as a little girl in the playground when I used to drop my younger sister to primary school.
She went to a local state secondary school where she excelled in her education, gaining a university place at one of London’s top medical schools. She is now in her late 20s.
“My eating disorder began at the end of my second year,” Aneesa continues. “I had everything: a loving family, a fit and healthy body, I came top in my exams…”
I try to find out what triggered Aneesa’s eating disorder so I ask her the stereotypical question that most people ignorant about anorexia ask those who suffer from it: “Were you unhappy with your body and looks?”
“That’s just it, I wasn’t,” she replies. “There are different triggers for eating disorders and one of them is certainly girls and young women who feel that they are fat, or because they want to look like a certain model or actress or celebrity.”
“But in my case it was my perfectionism,” she continues.
“I am a perfectionist and hard-worker in everything I do. So in my case my desire to make my body as perfect as I could was the trigger to my eating disorder.”
I remember what happened to Aneesa. I rang home from prison one day and my dad told me that Aneesa had been admitted into hospital. She was close to death.
“I met her father in the street and he just broke down in tears,” my dad told me. “Things are not looking good, pray for her.”
I spent many hours praying for Aneesa and asking my fellow prisoners to do the same. Her organs had begun to shut down and she was barely a skeleton.
“People think anorexia is a physical disease,” Aneesa continues. “It isn’t. It is a mental disorder. Anorexia is the only disease whose sufferers don’t want to be cured of it.”
I ask her whether Islam played any role in her disorder, either positively or negatively.
“I would spend hours poring through the books of hadith, trying to find any saying of the Prophet (pbuh) to justify to others that it was normal to eat very little.”
“My favourite was the saying of the Prophet (pbuh):
‘No man fills a vessel worse than his stomach. Sufficient it is for the son of Adam to eat one or two morsels to keep his back straight.’
I made it out as if I was trying to justify my condition to others, but in reality I was trying to convince myself that what I was doing was OK.”
Aneesa tells me that it all happened very quickly and before she knew it, she had deteriorated down to 31kg (5 stones, or 68 lbs). It was then that the reality hit her that she would die unless she did something about it immediately.
I ask Aneesa what the most difficult part of her ordeal was?
“Accepting that I had a problem,” she says. “Up to the point I agreed to be admitted into hospital, I was in denial. I refused to think that there was anything wrong with me. I thought that the people advising me to get help were the ones with a problem, not me.”
And her lowest point?
“Seeing my family suffer because of what I was going through,” she replies without hesitation.
But in Aneesa’s case there was a happy ending. After three long years in and out of hospital, she finally recovered.
She returned to medical school and graduated three years later. I ask her what gave her the strength to stay strong.
“Allah, of course, and then my family. I was blessed in that my family was right behind me throughout my ordeal,” she says.
Even though it has been seven years since she recovered, Aneesa is still getting treatment for the after-effects of her eating disorder.
She has difficulties falling, and staying asleep. In her spare time, she counsels other young Muslim girls battling anorexia.
“Anorexia is considered taboo in the Muslim community,” she comments.
“People don’t like to accept that it exists. Parents of anorexic girls think their daughter is being vain, or even possessed by jinn. They don’t think they need to seek help.”
“In many cases, something else is going on at home which triggers the eating disorder. Over-critical parents who destroy the self-confidence of their daughters, parents breaking up, broken marriages…”
I ask her what her advice would be to young girls struggling with an eating disorder.
“Accept that you have a problem, listen to those who love you, and get professional help. Fast.” I was lucky because I took action in time and recovered. Others have not been so lucky. Don’t leave it too late.”
Upon her request, I have not disclosed Aneesa’s real name and details from which she could be identified.
If you, or someone you know, suffered or suffers from an eating disorder, why don’t you share your experiences below?
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JazakALLAH hu kahir Dr. Aneesa 🙂 for sharing your story.
And you are right, with any mental disorder the hardest thing is to accept that something wrong with you.
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An eye opener and very touching wish her the best and kudos to you for the breadth of versatile topics on this blog.
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Sometimes it’s just genetics, in my case, my cousins were naturally more petite, whereas I saw myself as bigger. And the constant comparison, in my own head, thinking they’re more beautiful and I need to be that way. And then the terrible guilt, when I see my parents suffer, blaming themselves, thinking they did something wrong in my upbringing. No one chooses this. No one makes it happen. I don’t know why, but I just did happen, and it happened to me.
May Allah cure everyone with this issue.. It’s really quite debilitating, emotionally and physically. To the person who has it, and to their families..
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Thank you so much for sharing, I hope someone somewhere will benefit from your words and your experience. Am I correct in assuming that you recovered?
This story is incredible. Aneesa is a very strong woman, and I pray that everything is going (and continues to go) well in her life Ameen. Mental illnesses in general I find are very taboo in the Muslim community (more specifically, the South Asian community). Thanks for sharing Aneesa’s story. I hope it becomes a source of hope for those suffering and helps them gain the motivation to seek professional help and heal appropriately InshAllah! Hope you can check out my blog: heynida.com =) I love finding other Muslim bloggers and I’m hoping to connect with the community!
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Thank Nida for your comment. I looked at your blog and I have posted a comment after your article https://heynida.com/2016/09/30/lets-get-the-nitty-gritty-out-of-the-way/
I am sorry to hear about your NF2 diagnosis, may Allah enrich your life because of it.
People who have been through suffering see things that others cannot see.
Thank you for sharing your story and for being a survivor instead of a victim.
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Thank you so much for checking my blog out, and for your condolences!
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Allah grant us all good health and cure our sick. Ameen.
These mental disorders have more to do with shayateen than people are ready to believe.
They hit your intelligence and drive you to insanity. There’s a lot of things which are caused by shaytan which medical science have not much understanding.
E.g. even yawning has not been understood. Such a simple thing apparently. But we know it’s from shaytan.
Sleep paralysis that too has been mentioned in Hadith that it’s from shaytan. That’s not understood.
Waswas and OCD and phobias of all sorts are from shaytan who has overpowered the individual. Maybe as a trial from Allaah or in lieu of some sins to purify the individual.
The first thing which happens in these disorders is trouble to stay in touch with reality. Person loses sense of control. Not that he truly loses control.
There are two things which have helped me fight and become stronger: ignoring negative thoughts and strengthening my relationship with Qur’aan.
I agree sleep paralysis, yawning, some waswas and some mental disorders are causes or influenced by jinn.
But I think there should be a balance between believing all mental illnesses are the result of jinn issues and believing that jinn don’t bother people at all.
I never used to believe in mental illnesses or conditions until I went to prison. I used to think they were all due to jinn or low iman. I realised I was wrong to think that.
For example, trauma due to a traumatic event causes behavioural changes in a person because it is a psychological injury. Jinn don’t have anything to do with it.
One of the reasons mental illnesses are so widespread in Muslim communities is because of ignorant Muslim scholars pretend they are psychologists and give all sorts of opinions on things they are unqualified to give, e.g. depression is due to lack of iman.
These issues are more complex.
I would say bro that depression is a really incapacitating thing and one who has not experienced it may downplay. Anyone who’s human is susceptible. I have been depressed and been suicidal but Alhamdulillah that’s passed
Depression if not taken care of can spiral out of control.
But what I learnt is that only Allaah took me out of it. I have been diagnosed with hypomania, schizophrenia and ocpd and I have visited some of the best in the business. I could have been dignosed with many more disorders like PTSD. But psychiatrists told me (When I had Alhamdulillah become better) that they don’t have a cure.
At the end I felt that all that matters is that I cling to the Book of Allaah. That’s my anchor. And all credit for this is due to Allaah.
Not saying I don’t have anything anymore but the worst is behind me Alhamdulillah. It’s still a constant struggle because it’s like I am wrestling with a beast (which is very slowly becoming weaker). It’s at the end of the day a mind game where you realise your demons are coming and prepare for dodging them.
We may not know the exact pathways as to how shaytan does it but having gone through this I feel it is shaytan and that it was my sins which caused me to be overcome by him. Because Rasulullaah saw even said anger is from shaytan. Not in the sense that it possesses us but then again we don’t know exact mechanisms so we just believe and at the time of anger we rein in our intelligence to control it.
My experience with scholars was that they never said it’s a spiritual problem. They wanted me to believe it’s got nothing to do with shaytan. Told me to consult all doctors. Maybe i had a swelling in the brain they suggested.
don’t know what’s jihad’s like in reality but it sure is something of a great struggle.
Waalaykum assalam wa rahmatullaahi wabarakatuhu..
PS. Came to know about your story in 2012 through Islamic awakening forum. Seriously used to become angry( for Allaah’s sake hopefully) and emotional. Used to pray for you