An incredibly brave and honest chat with inspiring performer, Hannah-Grace Lawson.
A few months ago Hannah shared her story with her eating disorder journey on social media. I was truly taken back by her courage and I am so grateful she shared her story, as I know many others are too.
Hannah has recently started a healthy food and fitness instagram account as well as releasing a recipe book raising money for Black Lives Matter. Go on girl! Follow @hanalicious.food for delicious, colourful recipes!
I wanted to chat to Hannah to give her a chance to tell more of her story, and because I think it could really help those struggling to find light at the end of the tunnel.
Hey Hannah! When did you first notice a change in your mental health?
"I first noticed a change in my mental health when I started high school. There was so much pressure to have the perfect pencil case, the coolest/designer school bag. It soon became the figure…. There was a lot of pressure for you to look good in a blazer or PE kit at the age of 12 would you believe it?!
Just the tiniest comment about me having a big bum or curves effected me. The diets that were filtered round my friendship group was draining, the constant effort you had to make to impress the boys or be the most ‘popular’ ’10/10’ girl in the year was too much. I soon started to diet within the first term of year 7. Lunch times were a scary time, overwhelming with the constant comparing of lunches. The little comments of ‘Ooo you have a salad, gosh I feel fat I have a sandwich, will have to do extra sit ups later’ OR ‘I have an apple and a lunch bar because I never feel hungry at school’. For others they would make up for what they did not eat at school where’s I did not. I had this determination from the get go and I was not giving in. Maybe it was in my genes but I have never given in to anything and at the time the dieting culture was strong and I wanted to be the most successful of them all.
I remember the first Christmas of being at high school is when I started to struggle mentally with my body image. I kept wanting to aspire to be like all the beautiful actresses off 90210, I wanted a flat stomach, to loose my chubby legs, my big bum. Now this all seems crazy, because I know full well I would die for a big bum and thick thighs!! After New Years Eve I set the goal of loosing a lot of weight and sticking to a diet. I binged soo much during the Christmas holidays but I was sneaking up to my room doing obsessive exercise to make up for this. I would then jog around the field behind us on only a celery stick then would binge a left over roast dinner. It was unhealthy and out of control. Which is when it all went down hill. I lost weight rapidly dropping down to nearly 5 and a half stone. My mum took me to the doctors immediately, I was then referred to a eating disorder clinic in Chester. In 2010 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa."
Have you found your mental health has ever affected your performing? If so, have you found ways to combat this?
"I have found that it has affected me sometimes. I know that when I was very ill at high school I would not have enough fuel in my body to perform to the best I could. I would be light-headed and feel even more on edge. I would constantly worry about what everyone thought of me, I felt ugly and lifeless but I still carried on punishing my body.
At drama school I did struggle, and would not have enough fuel in me to perform a dance assessment, therefore I would be even more of a failure. But then the only way to cope with this is punish myself even more.
I soon began to find a balance and managed to overcome this issue. I would always refuel a few hours before performing or auditioning I would not allow myself to feel that lightheaded and fuzzy feeling. I wanted to have all the energy in the world to give the best possible performance I could. However dealing with the constant doubts and comparing as a performer did take over slightly. I always had to ask for reassurance and it became a chore rather than something I looked forward to. My OCD would get there better of me and I would have to start doing routines on stage which became tedious and not efficient at all. I managed to break out of this by slowly introducing change, and working on living in the moment of the character I was portraying."
If you could, would you like to say something to your younger self?
"Yes I would. Hannah please think about what you have always dreamed of. A career in Musical Theatre everything you have worked hard for since you were a little girl. If you carry on with this destructive behaviour you will only disappoint yourself, everything you have worked so hard for will be down the drain. Remember what your therapist said (he was being cruel to be kind) ‘You do not want to end up on a slab do you?’ The harsh reality of that does not scare you? Use your determination in the positive sectors of your life to conquer ‘the bitch’ (this is what me and my family would call anorexia). Make that change now, for the better, for health, happiness, to pursue all you ever wanted in life."
Is there anything you have come to realise whilst battling your eating disorder that you wouldn't maybe have known before?
"I wish I had been as strong as I am now at the start of my recovery journey just purely because I think I would have not suffered for the many years after that I did at drama school say? I feel like I could have maybe blossomed more whilst training and not beaten myself up when auditioning as much. Because now I tend to go in with the ‘what’s for me won’t pass me by’ and ‘Ah well, I tried my best. Maybe next time’. I know deep down I would’ve had better relationships at college and let my hair down more if I hadn’t let the controlling mindset take over me whilst training. I feel so strongly about having a balance in life now, if I want to work hard for a day I will but in the evening or at any point later I will then treat myself, do something nice, try not to over work or do everything I physically can before the day is over. I am learning to not do this but I will take each day as it comes."
Thank you so much for your honesty and bravery Hannah. Is there anything else you would like to share about your story?
"Definitely I would say that I have learnt during my recovery that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I have become stronger as a person mentally and physically. I honestly have improved massively in so many ways not just around eating but just ensuring I surround myself with positive energy and if I ever feel I am having a dip I take myself out of it. If anything its usually when I am hungry so for instance last night before dinner at home, I was hungry and felt really low. The rest of the day had been amazing I was on the go, had so much energy and then I had a slight dip in confidence. Doubting myself for trying to film a ‘day in the life’ for Youtube. I was tempted to not carry on filming and give up. Then I was like NO I had wrote a post earlier that day saying that anything is possible and we should never give in, if we fail keep trying. So I turned some music on- Stevie Wonder to be exact and had a good old dance with my Dad as he put dinner out. We then sat with glasses of wine and ate good hearty food and then continued to boogy whilst clearing dinner. I felt so much better and I got it all on film haha it was brilliant. Those times I cherish because I forget about any worries or little negatives, I push them aside and move forward. I hope this can inspire others to do the same. If you ever feel low think of something fun or creative that you can do to pick yourself up again. For me its food&good energy but it might be different for others."
- Paris Hoxton
Illustrations by @red_cheeky_drawings
* If you have been affected by any of the above, please don't be afraid to reach out for support. Visit the 'Need a chat' page above for more information. You are not alone. *