When it comes to my story, I always like to start at the very beginning. What can I say, my autistic brain LOVES logic, and what’s a more logical starting point than the starting point of my life?
I was born on November 19th, 1999 (at 11:09, so yeah, I kind of have a thing for 1’s and 9’s!) to two amazing Dutch parents in The Hague, Netherlands. My upbringing, however, was not so Dutch. When I was just 6 months old, I moved to Boston with my parents. What was presumably going to be a couple years turned into 15 years and 2 sisters later. Not to mention, an incredible education, the opportunity to have played loads of different sports, and simultaneously be raised among 2 different cultures!
My most vivid memories of this culture crossover include celebrating “Sinterklaas” St. Nicholas, which is a Dutch holiday comparable to Christmas. However, instead of getting presents under the tree, you set your shoe by the fireplace and get small gifts in your shoe the next morning! Not to mention, loads of yummy cookies called “pepernoten”! I also remember school breakfasts growing up. Most of the parents would bring crappy Dunkin Donuts coffee, muffins, bagels, and all the other typical American breakfast foods, but the real hit of the part was always my mom’s homemade “poffertjes”, which are fluffy little pancakes that are served with butter and lots of powdered sugar. They’d often be gone before my mom even got the chance to put the bowl on the table!
Growing up, I always knew I was different. Yes, I played sports and got good grades and participated in the usual activities kids do, but I never felt like I fit in. I wasn’t interested in small talk or gossiping with the girls, and I often sat alone at lunchtime. I didn’t play with toys like some of my friends did, as I would rather spend my time organizing or drawing symmetrical rainbows and castles. I hated going to parties or really anything out of the ordinary, as I preferred my routine and a life that was predictable. Oh, and I was the pickiest eater. I’m pretty sure I ate the EXACT same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 10 years straight. It was also very evident from the start that I was going to be an entrepreneur because I was always trying to find ways to make some cash. I would have lemonade stands, bake sales, and beg my mom to give me chores that I would be reimbursed for. I even learned how to do origami so I could sell the results of my creative endeavors, including my symmetrical rainbow and castle drawings!
When I was in 5th grade, I developed a special interest for “healthy” eating. We were learning about puberty and nutrition in school at the time, and I just remember taking so much of what was being said literally. Exercise for X amount of time each day. Eat fruit instead of a cookie. Swap whole milk for fat-free, and all of the other diet-culture infused recommendations our world is infested with nowadays. I’m not saying that certain recommendations are necessarily bad. I don’t believe it good or bad, wrong or right, because those are subjective labels, and I’m all about living label free!
However, for children that have perfectionistic tendencies and are prone to obsessive ways of thinking, such education can do more harm than good. This is when I became obsessed with running and only eating what I believed was “recommended”. Instead of eating my usual Froot Loops or Cinnamon Toast Crunch with whole milk, I started eating raisin bran and insisted I come along to the grocery store to add skim milk and fat-free yogurt to the shopping cart. I started packing my own lunch for school, which was no longer going to be the usual white bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I stopped eating my baked goods and became obsessed with feeding everyone besides myself.
Always having had a very small frame, a couple pounds of weight loss was enough to send me into the hospital with a dangerously low heart rate. I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at age 12, which was just the start of my long and painful journey. I went in and out of forced treatment, obeying and following all the rules while there, making sure to eat and rest and be the “perfect” patient wherever I went. But as soon as I came out, it was a downward spiral of restriction and overexercise.
In 2015, my family moved back to the Netherlands. It was also at this time that my parents were fighting a lot, and the move back to our home country was part of a desperate effort to save the relationship. Of course, no change of external location can fix a problem that’s really meant to be healed from the inside out. My mom, sisters, and I moved out of the house in the Netherlands just 6 months later, as my dad had been out of work since 2008 and my mom was the sole breadwinner of the family.
As far as my eating disorder went, I just kept getting sicker and sicker. The international move paired with a new school, people I’d never met, and feeling responsible for my parents’ issues led to me feeling utterly hopeless; so I fully turned to the thing I knew I could control: how much I ate and how much I exercised. I was quickly admitted to an inpatient clinic in the Netherlands, which was honestly the most traumatic experience of my life. I’ll spare you the details for another time, but after 4 months of not only making zero progress, but spiraling even deeper into my eating disorder, I was kicked out of treatment with the parting message “you’re just going to have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get better”.
As I’m sure you can imagine, these words made quite an impact on an utterly fragile 15-year old. I had already lost all hope in myself, and now that the “professionals” were also giving up on me? I was sent home being labeled as “too complex”. What followed, were daily panic attacks and complete entrapment in the deepest depths of my eating disorder. It was right after one panic attack, after I had been calmed down by my mother and two sisters who were shaking of terror, that I lay on my bed, crying, exclaiming that I couldn’t live like this anymore. At this point, I knew I was either going to have to choose to change or have the eating disorder choose for me.
So, I chose to change. On July 4th, which coincidentally (or perhaps meant to be!) I committed to full recovery and assigned myself no choice. Every action going forward was going to be towards the possibility of living. I’m not going to sugarcoat this and say that I didn’t have a war going on in my head every second of every day. Everything was about to change, and I was overcome by fear of the unknown. The lack of certainty or guarantee of the future is what keeps people stuck in the seeming safety of the eating disorder, but in that moment, one thing was for certain: I was miserable and simply couldn’t go on like this anymore. Yes, there was no guarantee of what my future would look like, but ANYTHING had to be better than this.
Fast forward to five years later, and I can assure you absolutely EVERYTHING is better. In fact, it’s better than the best I could have ever even IMAGINED! I do want to note that I had absolutely NO idea I was autistic when I started recovery back in 2017. I believe it’s this lack of knowledge that caused traditional treatment to make my eating disorder worse every time, because the approaches tried to rid me of the very traits that are simply my autistic traits.
When I discovered I am autistic in 2020, I almost want to say that was the cherry on top of my recovery; the trigger that allowed me to go from being “in recovery” to fully recovered. Finding out I have autism made me realize that achieving a state of full recovery WILL be a different journey than for someone who is not autistic…and that realization is the very reason I do what I do today: providing 100% individualized coaching to neurodivergent individuals that want to fully recover from an eating disorder.
I fully recovered from an eating disorder, despite being tossed out of the system and being labeled as a complex and hopeless case…and if I did it, so can you! It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re diagnosed, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been struggling, and it doesn’t matter where you came from. All that matters is that you’re here right now, and that you’re committed to getting better. If you’re ready to embark on your own journey to freedom, schedule a free 20 minute strategy session with me for 1:1 coaching!