Hannerie Gouws, a bookkeeper from Walvis Bay, has been struggling with anorexia since she was just 12 years old. The 22-year-old shares her story with YOU.
It all started with stomach flu when I was twelve. It changed my entire life. I was always the chubby pastor's daughter in my town, but after having the flu my weight just dropped and everyone around me started to give me compliments.
My dad even asked me to stop losing weight, saying he was afraid I would end up with an eating disorder. Being only twelve I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was. All I knew was that I loved all the compliments and that even the cute guy in school I liked started paying me attention.
Things went from bad to worse in my late teens, after my father became seriously ill and had to be hospitalised for more than a hundred days.
My disorder became some kind of comfort; it was always there when I needed it. The following year I went to Potchefstroom University alone to study sport science. All I had was my disorder. So it just grew stronger by the day.
Before I usually ate once a day, now I only ate sweets. I also learned the powerful hold purging could have on a person. I was becoming depressed and tried to commit suicide.
After a week of popping pills and drinking, I decided to return home, hoping that things will get better if I have my loved ones around me.
I was wrong! Doing something that nobody around you approves of makes it almost more powerful, especially because it is something that only you can control.
At her lightest, Hannerie weighed just 30 kg.
To this day, no doctor can explain how I survived it all. I lived on orange juice and coffee for a full nine months while I was home.
In between I was still purging because of all the water weight that came with my disorder. I was ignoring everyone around me; telling them that I will go on until I reach my ideal weight – which was 52 kg at the time.
One day they tricked me, telling me I was going to the doctor for some check-ups. Before I knew what was going on, I was in a hospital bed with my angry sister staring at me until I ate at least half of my mixed vegetables.
When I tried to eat it, I realised I had a fear of swallowing anything. My doctor told me I will have to learn to eat again like a baby. I was so scared. The next day they weighed me and I saw I lost a kilogram in a single day.
"The big problem was that nobody around me knew anything about my eating disorder."
I found ways to keep the people around me happy – thinking that I was gaining weight – while I actually was still losing weight.
I remember telling myself that I will really stop when I reached my new ideal weight of 47 kg. But it came faster than I though and the anorexia had full control over me.
Eventually, she was too week to climb stairs.
I had a routine at night where I would lie in bed, counting my ribs just to make sure they haven’t disappeared. My whole day revolved around the next few grams of weight I was planning to get rid of. I was living inside in my own cocoon. My love for God morphed into my love for being anorexic. However, my parents kept me in their prayers, a big reason I think I’m still alive today.
Doctors told Hannerie's parents they were "washing their hands of her". The big problem was that nobody around me knew anything about my eating disorder; they just thought I was a typical nineteen-year-old girl trying to get more attention from her busy parents. My parents and I lived past each other; moving in different circles in our home. They initially didn’t see any of the signs. Maybe that was the reason why my disorder initially started, but soon it turned into an addiction that was fuelled even more each time I weighed myself. ABOUT two months after I had lost a total of 15 kilograms, I was too weak to walk up stairs or even change my socks. My fiancé, James, had to carry me everywhere.
I realised that I needed to get help.
Hannerie's body eventually started to shut down.
I asked my parents to take me to a hospital. I was admitted less than an hour after my request. I didn’t know in what terrible condition I was. My doctors told me that my pancreas is starting to fail.
My heart rate and blood pressure was of someone who has maybe a few hours left to live. My fragile body, weighing a mere 38 kg, was starting to shut down.
Luckily three of my doctors refused to give up on me after some of my previous doctors wrote letters to my parents, saying they’re washing their hands from any choice I make regarding my health. The good doctors convinced me it was time that I move to an in-patient care facility in Cape Town.
This clinic literally saved my live, helping me along the rocky road to reach a healthy weight again. By the time I arrived in Cape Town, I was in starvation mode. I was dying. I weighed only 30 kg.
By sticking to my meal plan, I started gaining weight again – but I hated myself when I saw my legs getting bigger and bigger by the day.
I was in the clinic for about six months. By that time I missed my family back in Namibia so much, I decided to return. My body was healthy, but my mind far from it.
My father and my fiancé were waiting for me at the airport gates upon my return. I struggled at first, going back to my old ways for a while.
But then I started planning my wedding and working at my new job. My new husband and I went on our honeymoon and even started discussing the possibility of having children.
Planning her wedding and starting a new job was a turning point for Hannerie.
Things where really going well -- then someone told me I was starting to get fat.
My whole world shifted again. I got addicted to diuretics – yes, a person with an eating disorder can get addicted to diuretics.
Luckily my family noticed and my husband refused to have children until I sort myself out. That was the best motivation. I went to a clinic in Durban. There they showed me all the wonderful things I can do if I only left my anorexia at the back door. Finally I listened to someone!
To any girl reading this who is struggling with the same problems that I had, please do not give up.
Hannerie's husband James has stood by her through it all.
I also just saw a number on a scale, but there is so much more to life. I should know, because if I continued to allow my eating disorder to have control over me, I would not have had the chance to hold my son that’s on his way in a couple of months. The best thing one of my counsellors told me was that “anorexia is like having diabetes; if you don’t take your insulin every day, you will die”. So continue fighting it!"
Anorexia: what to do
People with severe anorexia should be admitted to an institution where their condition can be monitored, says Merensia Groenewald, a Pretoria dietician.
“It’s important they see a psychologist to try to find out why they’ve stopped eating.”
Warning signs include slavishly reading food labels, eating only a little and saying you’re full, or saying you’re not hungry and
will eat later – but not doing so.
“[After beginning treatment] anorexia sufferers initially gain weight slowly but in time things become easier,” she says. In severe cases, “there are few success stories as their organs suffer damage.”
Hannerie and James are expecting their little boy in November. This story was submitted to YOU by a reader and has been slightly edited.