I met her today. She was an ordinary woman, not a celebrity not some politician or some fighter, she was just like you and me. Rather, I would say she looked like you and me, but she is not.
No, no, this is no sci-fi, action thriller novel preview. This story is true and maybe more scarier than any other horror movie you and I might have ever seen. My mother always used to say: Truth hurts and sometimes unbelievable. What you’re about to read now is somewhat like that.
Before I tell you anything more, let me tell you who this story is about. She is Mehak, Mehak Bharma (name changed to hide the real identity) . She is 23 years of age and is an event manager. She is not just a case study here to help you understand the seriousness of what I am about to write, but also a dear and close friend of mine.
Without any further delay, I will give you excerpts from the conversations I have had with her lately.
Mehak: I am fine yaar, job is a little stressful right now.
Vinita: Yup, I know. I am a writer and there is never an easy time for us. For us, our career is a long path of struggle until, of course, we publish our books and become something big!
Mehak: What is your weight, vini?
Vinita: ummm…. It’s around 50-53 kgs, why are you asking?
Mehak: Wow! You are so lucky; I am unable to lose weight yaar.
Vinita: But you are looking wonderful, I was just about to tell you to gain some weight, you have become quite pale and thin.
Mehak: No way, are you crazy or what? You must be blind! Thin and me, I wish!
I didn’t think much of it that day but I noticed some changes in Mehak’s overall behavior, I chose to talk about this to my family doctor. I shared my concerns about how Mehak, a dear friend of mine had become obsessive about her weight. I told him about how when we were at a local coffee shop, she drank her coffee without sugar and milk, and balked at the thought of consuming anything solid!
The doctor advised me to keep a close eye on her, to look for signs like frequent visits to the restroom, increasing dark circles, ill-fitting clothes and so on… (Please do not judge me on being nosy and discussing such private matters with a doctor, I did it for her and would do so for anyone I consider my friend!)
Mehak: (coughing terribly) Excuse me yaar, vini, I will use the restroom and come.
Vinita: I will also come with you, need to wash my face.
(Behind closed doors- I could hear puking noises)
Vinita: What’s wrong? Are you okay?
Mehak: Ya, I am okay. There is something stuck in my throat. Stop being my mom!
I could hear the accusation and irritation in her voice. I knew she was lying, knew what she was doing and waited outside the restroom to confront her.
Vinita: Mehak, I know you from 8 years. You are lying but I just don’t understand the reason why. What’s wrong with you? Are you sick? Why don’t you drink or eat anything? Why do you look so pale and ghastly skinny? Just take a look at yourself; your clothes are hanging on you. Please tell me, Mehak, I can help you, I won’t tell a soul.
Mehak: Are you crazy? I am okay. And my clothes are not loose, they are fine, you have gone insane, I want to go home.
She stormed out of our regular hangout and I let her go. The situation was serious and it was time to discuss it with the elders. I immediately called up Mehak’s residence, her mother answered the phone and I decided to tell her everything. Her mother admitted to have noticed the same changes that I had and despite constant arguments, Mehak never admitted to any problem. She was always behind closed doors and rarely ate more than a morsel or two.
I told her Mother about my discussion with the family doctor and we decided it was time to take Mehak to a doctor. I took an appointment for the next day and literally ‘kidnapped’ Mehak in order to keep the appointment. The doctor did a full body scan, check up and countless tests. The gist of which is as follows:
- The white blood cells were more than the red blood cells. The red blood cells which protect our body from diseases were almost next to nothing!
- She had a stomach infection, the reason why she was coughing always and was having a constant stomach ache for nearly a fortnight.
- Mehak stands 5.4’ and she was almost twelve kilos underweight!
- The Gynecologist reports showed that because of her poor eating habits, she had uneven periods, a probable reason for the stomach ache.
We had a long talk that day- me, Mehak and her parents. The doctor had a name for what she was going through- ANOREXIA.
Truthfully, while reading it in school textbooks, a disease does not intimidate you. The stark truth hits you only when you see someone dear to you suffering what you till today had only read about.
My next conversation with Mehak was the most difficult one I have had with anyone till date:
Mehak: I don’t have Anorexia. So what if I eat a little less or I puke because my stomach’s aching. I am not eating because of a stomach infection, nothing else.
Me and Mehak’s parents: Then why didn’t you ever tell this to us before? You skipped your periods for nearly three months and you didn’t even discuss with your Mother!
Mehak: I know I did nothing wrong. I had nothing to worry about and did not want to worry any of you, either.
************** Mehak started crying*******************
Between unstoppable sobs:
Mehak: Fine, I was not eating. In my office, everybody is so skinny, I feel so fat and unhealthy. (Telling her parents) You don’t allow me to diet. I don’t have time to go to the gym. So what do I do? I wanted to lose weight, this was the best way.
Vinita: What was the best way?
Mehak: This! Eating to keep you happy and puking out whatever I ate. Caffeine has calories; I researched online, so I didn’t drink caffeine. When I drink something, even water, I feel fat so I decided to stop consuming tea and coffee. In the beginning, it was tough, my stomach growled constantly, I had a numbing headache but slowly I got used to it. I felt good, I looked good. My jeans is looser, my stomach is flatter, it motivates me to continue what I am doing.
US: Sweetheart, this is not right. This is abnormal. You are an educated woman and you know what you are doing is wrong. You have anorexia, you look anorexic and you must be feeling that too. This is not healthy, you might lose weight now, but pretty soon you will become terminally ill and we will have to admit you in the hospital. The weight you’ve lost in these months would be fed to you intravenously- through glucose, soups and salads. You will put on more weight than what you lost. What would you do then, Mehak?
Mehak: (crying and angry) Shut up! I will never become fat. No way, will I ever become the old fatso again. I am happy with the way I look now, why can’t you let me be happy?
Mehak was admitted to the hospital. Slowly, but steadily she was recuperating. She hadn’t gained any weight but she didn’t lose more either. The Hospital ensured she was never left alone, never a chance to puke or throw anything that she was fed.
She continues to find nothing wrong with what she had done. Anorexia has affected her physically and mentally. Psychological treatments are on.
Luckily, for her, her strong willed parents didn’t break down and motivate her constantly to overcome this battle with her weight, with her self-image, with herself!
What I Feel:
What happened with Mehak really shook me to my very core. Despite knowing her for 10 years, I never saw it coming. I never noticed her transformation from a tom-boy to a weight obsessed woman. These thoughts keep me awake at nights.
I know it is not my fault. I am not the one to blame. After all, when a person is eating and drinking with you, you don’t assume that she would later puke it all out. That thought, unfortunately, never occurred to us.
For now, I pray for her recovery and to give her strength to overcome this phase. Anorexia is not a disease, a disorder but a phase which every woman goes through. It’s how we overcome it which matters, that makes all the difference.
Mehak has lost her fragrance but I am sure with love and support, she would find her lost fragrance, her lost identity soon…