Tuesday 26 March 2019

'I am using my voice to make a difference'

In this blog, Hanne describes how she uses her voice, and shares tips for others.

I am using my voice to speak out and break the stigma around mental health issues. I am using my voice to discuss eating disorders, depression and anxiety. I am using my voice to make a difference.

Eating disorders, depression and anxiety are all issues that I, myself, have struggled with, bringing them close to my heart. I understand their severity, but I also realise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is something I am passionate to share.

Initially, speaking up felt uncomfortable. What would people think of me? Would I be seen as strange, and would I be ostracised? I hid my struggles from everyone, including some of my closest friends. I felt ashamed and didn’t want anyone to know about my problems. I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. However, as time passed, I started to question these ingrained beliefs. Why would disclosing my struggles be weak? Wasn’t it an indication of strength? Gradually, I became less averse to sharing my past. After all, it is from my experiences that I have grown.

It is around this time, in 2015, that I published my first novel, followed by a second in 2017. In my books, I talked about my struggles with anorexia through the eyes of the protagonist, Christina. Whenever people asked me how much of myself could be found in the protagonist, I laughed it off and said that the work was just fiction… well, with a lot of my experiences incorporated into it.

Initially, writing had been a way for me to deal with my struggles and to gain a better full-picture view of my situation. However, once the first book was published, it became a means to break taboos. Once the prying questions streamed in, however, I reverted back to my hiding self, yet I realised that that was exactly what I was trying to overcome. Mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of, and if people show an interest, all the better! From my own experiences, I was able to share so much!

Hence, when I started a YouTube channel shortly after the release of my debut novel, that is exactly what I did: share my experiences. I shared my experiences, as well as the tips and tricks that had helped me navigate my mental health journey. My creative self-expression was no longer just a way to write things off and help myself, but it now also became a way to help others. What I discovered was that the response was largely positive. People were relieved to hear that they were not alone in their struggles. This, in turn, provided me with all the incentive I needed: if I could help or inspire even a single person by using my own voice, it would have been worthwhile.

Now, my channel has been running for four years. Its subscriber count passed hundreds and then thousands of followers. I get messages daily with questions and support. I know I am making a difference. Being able to make this difference by using my voice is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

For this reason, I urge you to open up too. I know how easy it is to say you’re fine, and to hide behind your smile. But speaking up can be liberating. Speaking up can raise awareness. And speaking up can help others.

The first step to opening up is being open to yourself. Start a journal. Pen down your thoughts, your worries, and your ideas. Be honest with yourself. Learn to understand yourself.

Once you understand yourself, you can make yourself understood to others. Realise that mental health struggles are nothing to be ashamed of and allow this knowledge to generate conversation about these struggles. If anyone asks you how you are doing, dare to tell them you are not fine. Dare to tell them what is really going on inside your head. Moreover, as you become more comfortable with your own feelings and with sharing them, maybe you, too, will get the wild idea to start a blog or a YouTube channel. Maybe you’ll publish your own books. Go for it, and don’t second-guess yourself. One thing is certain: you can make a difference. And that is an incredible thing.

Hanne Arts is a twenty-two-year old student, YouTuber and author. She currently lives in the UK, but has previously lived in Slovakia, Belgium, Holland, and Hungary. Being passionate about breaking the stigma, she openly shares her own experiences suffering from depression and an eating disorder.

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