Jan 14, 2022, 10:32:06 AM CST
Rania swirled the black paint around the circle until it was a solid black. Meant to depict the new moon stage of the lunar phase, it represents a time of new beginnings for the 19-year-old, who is studying physics in college and wants to explore space.
Because as a high school student, Rania spent years wanting to be anyone but herself.
A refugee from war-torn Yemen, Rania’s childhood was chaotic, and she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Searching for control in an unpredictable world, she focused on one thing she could determine: how much food she ate.
“I set these rules and expectations for myself, and I told myself that if I didn’t engage in these binging and purging behaviors then I wouldn’t be who I wanted to be,” she said. “But these were unrealistic expectations.”
She was 13 years old the first time she was admitted to Children’s Health℠ for mental health struggles. And for the next several years, she found treatment and healing from team members in the Children’s Health Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders in Plano.
Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, but serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors, thoughts and emotions. They can affect people of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and genders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states.
“Regardless of how good or bad I was doing, my doctors, therapists and treatment team never stopped advocating for me,” Rania said. “They never gave up on me.”
Even when she cried from an in-patient bed. Even when she told them how much she wanted to leave.
They told her she was amazing. They told her to take it one step at a time. They told her she was going to recover.
“The team at Children’s Health never lost hope in me. They saw a future for me,” Rania said. “And that motivated me.”
Therapists introduced her to art to help her process her emotions. They taught her how to sketch and paint with acrylics.
There was group-based painting in the art room with other patients, and during individual therapy sessions, Rania would paint while she talked.
They explored her past and her relationship with food. They talked about the future. And Rania would sometimes ask, “Why me?”
“I haven’t met a lot of Muslim women or men with eating disorders, and that’s something we need to talk about more because I had the privilege of a diagnosis,” she said.
“And now, my goal isn’t to be someone else; it’s just to be me.”