'I didn't know I was killing myself': Dubai teacher tells of bulimia battle

'Sarah', from Canada, suffered with an eating disorder for more than a decade before seeking help

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On World Eating Disorders Action Day, The National reports on how social media could be fuelling eating disorder fears, how one of the type, orthorexia, is still not medically recognised and the struggles a teacher faced when seeking help for her crippling bulimia in Dubai.

A Dubai teacher left on the "brink of self-destruction" by her struggle with bulimia has spoken of how she got her life back on track.

"Sarah", 31, moved to Dubai from Canada in 2011 to make a new start, only to find that her problems had followed her across the world.

She has struggled with eating disorders since she was nine.

"Food or the absence of it was the centre of my life," she says.

“I began to lose weight quickly in my teenage years. My family was very worried and I felt I was a burden on them.”

As a juvenile Sarah was in and out of hospital. She would gorge on food and then force herself to be sick to lose weight.

At her lowest point, aged 16, her weight dropped to 40 kilograms, and she was taken to hospital several times as doctors were concerned that her heart could stop due to severe complications.

"I was at the brink of self-destruction."

"I did grade 10 and 11 schooling when I was in and out of hospital," she says.

“The teachers were a big help getting materials for my exams and to study, but it was very hard to go through.

“I looked terrible, my skin was yellow and I was losing my hair.

“My teeth were going bad from all the vomiting. I had all the typical symptoms.”

In Canada, Sarah was pushed towards treatment by her mother and sister. When she became an adult, she refused help.

After graduating from university, she decided to go to the UAE to take up a teaching job, as she felt her mental turmoil was becoming too difficult for her family.

"I did not want to get better," she says. "It is a debilitating illness. You don't think rationally.

“I had no idea I was killing myself. It was not something I could comprehend.

“I continued to be the same for two years in Dubai before finally deciding to seek treatment and take my life seriously.

“The issue is very stigmatised here. I found I did not have access to the same services as in Canada, and it was not normalised or accepted.

“I almost lost my job, and I was at the brink of self-destruction.”

Doctors told Sarah she should just eat and get over her issues.

It took some time before she found a specialist psychiatrist who understood her problems.

Her therapy has continued since then.

"When I started putting my trust in someone else, things began to change," she says.

“I didn’t know how to help myself. It is not a choice to have this disease, but it is a choice to recover.”

World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2, is a movement designed for and by people affected by an eating disorder, their families, and the medical professionals who support them. It aims to expand global awareness of eating disorders as genetically linked, treatable illnesses that can affect anyone.