Every year when Ramadan comes around, I am faced with a tough decision. Actually, it isn't even my own decision. It is the medical professionals' decision, on whether I can start fasting or not.
This year, I personally don't feel ready and again, I am still medically advised not to fast. For the past couple of months, I have been doing "okay" in recovery. I have been working so hard to fight the thoughts and not starve myself. I have been going to the gym and trying to eat regularly – or as regularly as I can manage.
But every day I am still disgusted with myself. I still feel fat and ugly and want so badly to lose weight and become hospital bound, again. On some days, I still starve myself. This confirms that if I start fasting, I know I'll be back to square one. The last thing I want is a massive relapse and fasting gives me an excuse to start losing weight again. The fact that I am recognising this is a massive step. My mindset is much more rational.
However, the unfortunate thing is, I don't think I'll be mentally or psychically healthy enough to fast in Ramadan ever again, without being triggered into a dangerous path. I want to fast but as I said in previous years, I want to fast not for the religious reason, but so I can feel empty and 'in control' again. I want to fast to see the number on the scale going down. Losing extreme weight to me means people can see that I am not okay – that I am still struggling with this awful illness. Losing weight to me means that people will be concerned about me, and if they are worried, that means people care about me. On top of that, the physical effects of my illness is still prevalent. I ache every day, my bones are very weak and brittle, I suffer from extreme fatigue VERY quickly, and of course not eating makes me dizzy and I am prone to collapsing.
A lot also depends on the reasons for fasting, whether one is fasting purely for the sake of God or to satisfy the demon of their eating disorder. We should also not forget that fasting during Ramadan is advised only for those who are healthy. Those who are sick in any way, shape, or form are exempt, and that also includes those who are mentally unwell.
Fasting in Ramadan is so much more about the act of physically refraining from eating. As it is a religious duty, it is primarily about spirituality, to feel closer to God. For those afflicted with eating disorders, spirituality is the last thing on their mind. For me personally, I am so mentally damaged after years of listening to the voice of my eating disorder telling me how I should act, feel and what I should do, that now, the act of not eating is always seen to me as a self-destructive thing. For me, it is a bad thing. I associate starving as something that is evil and demonising because it has destroyed my body as well as my life, and every day I still continue to fight it.
When Ramadan comes by every year, I am still so saddened by why eating disorders are still not talked about and why there is still a lack of awareness and help before the month begins. Ideally, I would like to be more well-equipped on how to deal with people making insensitive comments and how to deal with triggers around meals, especially at Iftar (the meal when the fast is broken). Ramadan may be all about fasting, but ironically food is the main topic of conversation, and everywhere you look, there is food.
For those of us who also come from a past of binging and purging, this can be a very overwhelming time. It is inevitable to be ravenous after 18 hours of not eating or drinking anything, so when it is time to eat, even non-eating disorder sufferers can end up eating a lot of food at once. It's what our bodies do. After months of trying to stop this behaviour, do I want to revert back to it?
Even though it is clear that I am mentally and physically not ready to fast, this Ramadan will be another battle, another fight to resist the urge to go back into old habits.