There are many factors that go into someone developing an Eating Disorder. For some a disability might be one of the triggers that influence the development of an Eating Disorder and it may even perpetuate the illness.
Mouna Yassine was born with albinism and a visual impairment. She is very nearsighted and with an underdeveloped iris, glasses don’t help. Mouna says she didn’t really notice she was different until she went to school and kids started bullying her because of her pale skin and hair and inability to see properly. “I started to feel kind of that I was just not right. Something was wrong with me,” she remembers. “I felt a lot of lack of control in my life and my surroundings because of being hurt by others so ultimately I went to food. Food was the only thing I felt that I had control over.”
For 13-year-old Mouna the Eating Disorder felt like an escape. No matter what happened at school, like the bullying or feeling like she was an outsider, she could always go back to Eating Disorder behaviours for comfort. “In a way it just took me to a different world other than my reality,” she says.
Mouna started her recovery when she was 16 but says it was really hard to let go of the Eating Disorder because it had been her comfort zone for so long. Her visual impairment also continued to make her feel like an outcast…even in treatment, where everyone was supportive and welcoming. Because of all the bullying she had endured she felt like she had to keep people at a distance to protect herself. “I think that was a huge factor for me while I continued to go in and out of treatment,” she says. “I kept getting sick again and again because I couldn’t connect with everyone.”
It took Mouna 10 years and 12 rounds of treatment to finally open up about her disability, which she believes was a key component to her recovery. “I think a lot of us with disabilities kind of try to push it away in hoping that’s not the reason why I’m sick,” she says. “It’s not the whole reason for me, of course, but it definitely played a huge role.”
Mouna has been in remission from her Eating Disorder for four years now, and is starting her Masters in counselling psychology in the fall. Sometimes those feelings of inadequacy due to her disability come back, but with the skills she has learned in treatment she is able to move past them and protect her recovery. “I keep pushing through and I keep reminding myself, looking at my life now, every time I feel that way, I am able to go on,” she says. “I have accomplished a lot of things despite my visual impairment so checking those facts was really important for me to keep going.”
Mouna would encourage anyone with a disability who is entering treatment to be open to talking about how their disability has affected their life and Eating Disorder. In her experience there may be a lot of fear and shame involved in opening up, but it is an important part of the healing process. “It really opened my eyes up,” she says. “It made me realize that not everyone is going to judge me because of it. There are really good people in the world.”
In recovery it is also very important to have a support system to validate accomplishments and serve as motivation to keep going. “Let everyone kind of support you and be there for you because that’s the whole point of treatment,” Mouna says. “Tell everyone that that’s how you feel in the moment and work from there.”
Mouna says that for her, it was important to go through a grieving process in terms of her physical limitations; but in the end she came to a point of acceptance with her visual impairment. She is now very focused on living her life to the fullest and not letting her disability or Eating Disorder get in her way. “Eventually you will get to an acceptance point of accepting yourself for who you are and then once that happens, magical things can happen” she says. “You realize that you are so capable of a lot of things.”