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Overcoming My Addiction to Control: A Dancer’s Story

Grace Bradley

Control.

We all want control.

Control over our lives, finances, friends, family, day-to-day tasks.

Control begins with us, with our bodies.

When everything else in our life is out of control, we seek control of our body.

My addiction to control began in 2014.

It was my senior year of high school. I had spent countless weekends traveling up and down the east coast, auditioning for dance departments at prestigious colleges in the hopes of solidifying a plan for my future. I’d sit in the car, usually with my mom, in the Sunday afternoon traffic, feeling numb. Eventually, the novelty of performing my solo for these schools had worn off. I was exhausted, unenthused, drained. If I couldn’t get through a weekend of dancing, how could I get through the next four years and beyond?

When I noticed that my hair was falling out more so than usual, I wasn’t that phased. It was when I would sleep for nine or 10 hours every night and still wake up with a lifeless look in my eyes, that I began to worry. I had finally settled on a college that I was sure would make me happy and bring me countless opportunities to make the next four years all that I had imagined it to be, but instead of being over-the-moon, I felt like I was shrinking away.

I lost my appetite. I kept dancing for my pre-professional dance program, despite the unbearable aches and cramps I felt. I wanted to quit the independent study I had been selected for because I didn’t see a point to it anymore. I could hardly stay awake during the day, but it would take me an eternity to fall asleep at night. 

Right before graduation, I would be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the thyroid gland (which is responsible for the rate of my metabolism and hormone production) is gradually destroyed. At the age of 18, the two major issues my doctor told me I would have were with weight gain and exhaustion. There was a lot going on in my family that year, and this would be my first summer staying at home in six years. I couldn’t fix what was happening in my family, so I decided to fix my disease. I needed to do something. I needed to regain control.

But as is the case in most stories of control, especially of the body, I became addicted to it and soon it took over me. I began to fear certain foods, and going out with people for meals often provoked anxiety attacks. My thoughts were constantly clouded by food and exercise. Those constant thoughts only made me more tired.

About a month ago, my endocrinologist informed me that not much has changed with my thyroid function. But, since 2014, a lot has changed with how I view this disease. I’ve discovered that one of the best cures for my exhaustion, is going out to dinner with my friends. I’ve discovered that yoga and dance are my favorite modes of “exercise” because I go at my pace, and they’re equal parts mental and physical exercise. I’ve discovered that I’m going to have bad days where I’m going to be frustrated about what I can’t control, but instead of punishing my body, I’m going to work with it to see what I can do to make it feel better in that moment. Most importantly, I’ve discovered that not only was I wrong at the age of 18, but I was just terrified. No amount of starvation or overexercising would cure me, and my strategy only made it worse.

Here I am at the age of 21. I still take my thyroid medicine each morning with an enormous glass of water. Yes, I’m cautious of what I eat but not because I worry about how it will affect the number on the scale (and I avoid scales like the plague), but because I want to do everything I can do to give my body energy. I care more about how I feel than how I look. I care about the longevity of my body, and since we only get one body in this lifetime, being forgiving of the missteps and imperfections is important. I see that now.

Part of being in control is knowing when you have lost it. I tried so hard to take control of something that sounded like the end of the world to me, but I was blinded by my own insecurities and fears of facing other issues, that I didn’t even realize when I had lost control. I feel in control today because I have accepted this daily challenge. I listen to my body more so than I ever have, and to me, that is a type of control I never thought I would be able to gain.

Grace Bradley is a senior at Connecticut College majoring in dance and sociology. Working with the Active Minds chapter at Conn College and NEDA, she is an advocate of mental health and eating disorder awareness after personally dealing with both. Grace is dedicated to raising awareness about both of these issues, specifically within the dance community.