Saturday, July 2, 2022

Losing Control to Regain my Life

My name is Hanne Arts. When I wrote the first draft of this piece, I was 23 years old and a final-year Psychology student at the university of Bath. Now I am 25, starting my own business. I am someone -- I have been someone for some time now -- even though for the longest time I didn’t think I would be. For the longest time I thought I would never make it. For the longest time, I wanted to disappear. 

You see, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder at the age of thirteen years old. Back then I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was, and yet the label became inexorably attached to my thin body. ‘Anorexia,’ the doctor had said to me. I had anorexia. And that’s when my world fell apart. 

I first started losing weight in early 2009, gradually self-destructing without knowing it. I was convinced that it was the only thing in life that I could control, and that it was a good thing. Having moved to the other side of the world, started schooling in a place where I didn’t know the language, and scrambling to keep up with the fast pace of life, weight loss promised to be the one act over which I was the master. 

And so I lost weight. And, somehow, everything became more bearable. The pressure on my shoulders became lighter. Not eating became my safety blanket; it kept out the pain. 

I started losing weight in early 2009. I started losing friends in 2010. I hadn’t anticipated this side effect, but bat this point it no longer mattered. I no longer cared. I was diagnosed with anorexia and shut away in hospital for a solid part of that same year. I lived in my own cocoon, and even after stumbling out of the intensive care department, being summoned back in for inpatient treatment, and being spat back out again, I remained in my own protected world. Certainly, it was a painful world. But surely it couldn’t be worse than letting go of my obsessions? 

At this point, I was unable to explain what was going on inside my head, even to myself. I shut people out. I shut myself out. Nobody could read me, but neither could I read myself. I became trapped, isolated, and forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: to give up control and gain weight. Initially, I refused. It was only in 2015 that I realized that something needed to change. It was only after harboring an eating disorder for six whole years that I began to comprehend the weight of its impact. There had been innumerable times where I got close to dying – and so many more where I wished I would have – but now I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. My parents had shed too many tears over me, and I couldn’t bear it to break their hearts again. When my dad whispered that he loved me, I knew it was more than just that. It was a final goodbye. They were ready to let go. As ready as ever they’d be. And I felt ready to die, too, but I also knew that it was not yet my time. I wanted the relief, but I also couldn’t let go. There were so many things I hadn’t yet experienced – so much of life I hadn’t yet lived. But I was weak. I did not have the control I had convinced myself was in my hands. 

Because I felt unable to snap out of it alone, I gave up the reigns and opted for inpatient treatment in my home country. And, gradually, I came to life again. I put everything on halt for a year, and I focused on myself. I focused on my health. I embraced treatment and rediscovered who I was, what I liked, and what my body needed to thrive. I had never known as many lows. I had never known as many highs. 

In 2015, I started gaining weight. I started gaining confidence. I started gaining friends. Most importantly, I started gaining health, and life, and happiness. I experienced a happiness I had not known and experienced for over half of my lifetime. 

My treatment and recovery were by no means perfect. For three whole months, I was forced to surrender, to live by the rules, and to succumb to the one-size-fits-all approach. The system was flawed, I was frustrated, and more than once did I let this be known. I would shout and hit the walls. I would argue. I would break minor rules (enough to let my frustrations be known) and sneak out and smuggle in and blame it all on them. Never on me. It was easy to fight the system, really. 

After my discharge, the hard work began: I could no longer blame it on them. It was time to fight a part of myself. It was time to fight a part of myself that was stronger than ever I had given it credit for. However, the fact that there was a fight told me all that I needed to know: there was still life within me; there was still a flame. I kindled this flame into a raging fire. I developed real passions, and my love for words led to the publication of my first novel. Since then, I started a YouTube channel and wrote another book. I am currently writing a third, whilst simultaneously setting up my own coaching business and balancing family time with friends, hobbies, and self-care. I am no longer held back by my demons; I am no longer caught obsessing over food and calories, without room for anything else. I have control over my life – real control – no matter how impossible this had seemed not too long ago. 

Looking back at past images of myself, the sick girl I was nevertheless remains vivid in my memory. Half of my life, wasted. Half of my life, hell. The way I cupped my wrists with my hands. The way I cried myself to sleep. If I think hard enough, I can still feel the needles in my veins; I still wince as my parents pulverize my boney hands, trying to hold onto the life they feared they would lose. I still acknowledge the touch of death, remember the way its breath felt against my sunken cheeks as it attempted to lure me from my agony. 

Every day was worse than the last, and yet I crawled toward the light even when I couldn’t believe there was any. It was possible to swim to the surface even when I didn’t know I could break through the ripples. It was possible to reach a light even when all I could see was darkness. But I needed to accept others to guide me there. As impossible as it seemed, it took one step after another. A slow forward shuffle into the darkness ahead. 

If you are struggling, you can do so too. No matter what you are facing, you can do so too. You can make it, as long as you accept the occasional step backward, without judgment, and then keep pushing yourself forward. As long as you dare to jump into the unknown waters, you can make it to the other side.

Recovery is possible and now, in 2022, I can say with confidence that I have started the next, better, decade of my life. Today, I am able to let go control, I am able to embrace spontaneity, and I am able to LIVE.

Note: I first posted this story, in 2020 at a

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