When Aisha Alloughani first approached bazaar with her story, I thought, this is unusual. Seldom do people want to bare all about their personal struggles, and she was a girl, an Arab girl at that. I jumped on the idea and said to myself; let’s see how deep she’s willing to dig. I asked Aisha to send me a little something about herself, just so I had some background information to be able to put together an introduction for this piece. What she wrote requires no ‘fluffing up’ on my part. This is Aisha’s story, in her words:
When I first read your question, “Who is Aisha?” I thought answering it was going to be effortless, but I realized that it’s hard for me to know that. I’m on the journey of discovering who I am and where I stand. My eating disorder took control of me at a very young age. I kind of lost my identity to it. But I’m never giving up. I’m a fighter and will always be one no matter what.
I guess, from the very beginning, I was very mature for my age and always wanted to be the ‘tough’ one – the one who never cried when she fell down. I’m a perfectionist. I remember being such a people-pleaser and wanting to leave the best impression even when I was as little as 5. I was the one who would be in charge of the kids at family gatherings even though they were my age. It’s funny… looking back now as I’m understanding myself more, and healing. I was definitely one of the people who were at risk of having an eating disorder. My personality was the right fit.
I did everything perfectly. I was an A student, an artist, an athlete, you name it! I did it all! I participated in every school activity even if I didn’t enjoy it just because I wanted to be known as ‘perfect Aisha’ and it worked! But it was never enough for ME; I always wanted to do more. I always got that ‘high’ after achieving something. I never wanted to stop. It felt great!
I’m very friendly and social. I love being around people. I make people laugh easily. My eating disorder took that away, but I’m seeing myself blossom now that I’m in recovery.
I’m in love with babies. I believe that the world would be such a dark place without the existence of babies, haha. I have a little niece, she means the world to me; I remember being in treatment and having her picture in my name tag as my motivation. I never want her to grow up and wonder, “What’s wrong with Aunty Aisha?” She’s 2.
I’ve always been creative and very into art. I currently use it as a way of healing. I used to want my art to be so perfect and precise. After doing so much art therapy I learned that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I just let myself go and let my emotions reflect on my canvas boards, and the results look awesome.
It was devastating to learn that there was something wrong with me. That idea of being perfect had taken over me. I wanted to control everything around me and turn it into the so-called ‘perfect,’ and my weight was my perfect escape. I didn’t know what an eating disorder was until my family intervened and got me medical help. I was so underweight and sick that I couldn’t go to school or even get out of bed. It was terrible. I wouldn’t want even my worst enemy to go through this. Eating disorders are so sneaky… it’s so hard to catch yourself before you fall into a dark hole. I never expected myself to go through this, whatsoever. I went to treatment when I was only 13. It was the first time I was away from my family. I stayed there for 3 months. I remember my first phone call with mom, I had a breakdown. It was the first time I really believed something was very wrong. The thought of gaining weight freaked me out. I literally had nightmares.
I’m so thankful for everything I’ve ever been through; the good and bad. I wouldn’t appreciate the little things in life if I didn’t gain this insight from the process of recovery. I learned a lot about myself and people around me. I’ve been taught coping skills to deal with daily life stressors. I’ve learned that it’s ok to fall as long as you eventually get up.
I’m so passionate about helping people. I actually LOVE helping people. When I graduate from high school, I want to specialize in treating people with eating disorders. It would be amazing! I’m going to do what makes me happy.
I don’t mind not being that perfect ‘A student’ again. I’m healthy now. I’m perfectly imperfect.
What kind of eating disorder do you suffer from?
I suffer from Anorexia and I suffered from Bulimia at some point.
When did it start, and how long have you been aware of it?
I remember always being self-conscious when it came to food and the way I looked, especially when I was 10, but it became a full-blown eating disorder when I was 12.
Do you know what triggered it?
I can’t name one thing that triggered it. There were so many things that provoked it. I’ve always been a perfectionist and that put a lot of pressure on me as a child. Also, one big thing that contributed to my eating disorder was the fact that I was emotional but never allowed myself to show it, so the way I reacted to certain situations made it hard for me to cope. I guess being a people-pleaser never works.
Can you please describe the mental process you go through when justifying your actions?
I call the disordered thoughts, demons. Those demons that keep telling me that I don’t deserve health and happiness – that I shouldn’t take that bite, and if I did, that I’d be the biggest ‘failure’ and that people shouldn’t see me taking that bite because that was ‘weak’. Now, as I recognize those demons, I fight back. I’d be lying if I said I’m always winning the fight, but that’s how recovery goes. It’s a rocky road. It’s not easy at all, but it’s worth it.
Are you seeking help?
Yes, I first got help when I was 13, in 2008, in Rhodes Farm in the UK and then I went to the Renfrew Center in the US in 2009, 2010 and this summer. Currently, I’m doing outpatient treatment here in Kuwait.
Does your family know?
Yes they do. They’re actually the ones who realized the fact that I have an eating disorder before I did.
How important for your healing do you think it is for your family to know and acknowledge your problem?
My family is the reason why I got help in the first place. They’re extremely validating and supportive and it’s so important for me to have that, and I believe that having that is one of the main elements to a successful recovery.
Do you think this is something that you will have to deal with for the rest of your life? As in, will the mental struggle be something you will constantly need to manage?
Yes, I think that the mental struggle will always be there but I believe that as I move forward in the journey of recovery it will be less loud.
Do you feel that talking about it is important for the healing process?
Definitely! We live in a community where eating disorders and mental illness, in general, are very taboo to talk about, so it’s extremely important for me to raise awareness which, in return, will help with the healing process.
Without naming names, how many people do you personally know with eating disorders?
I know a lot of people with eating disorders seeing that I’ve been to treatment multiple times. I also know a lot of girls here in Kuwait who struggle with eating disorders.
Do you think this is only a ‘girl problem’?
Not at all. I’ve seen an insane amount of boys dealing with eating disorders of all ages. Yes, girls are more likely to have eating disorders but that doesn’t mean that boys don’t struggle with eating disorders.
What can we do to help those already suffering with eating disorders?
I guess, be understanding and supportive. Also being aware of the struggles a person with an eating disorder goes through so that there is no judgment or stigma attached.
How do you think we can prevent people from developing eating disorders?
In a society where food and weight is constantly talked about, and beauty ideals are distorted and unachievable, raising awareness is crucial to preventing people from developing eating disorders. Awareness will help people stay away from unpleasant attitudes related to food, weight and body shapes.
Some see it as a ‘trend’ or a ‘diet’ while it’s not at all. No one ever chooses to battle this vicious demon. The consequences and the complications of this deadly illness are not to be underestimated. I’ve lost friends to this illness. We have to raise awareness.
For more information and support, please visit the Kuwait Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention. Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/kuwaitedap/.
For anonymous support, please note that there is an EDA (eating disorder anonymous) group at Soor Center every Sunday from 6-7 pm led by Riham AlReshaid.