I used to love school. While I definitely still have a passion for academia, my relationship with it has drastically changed. As much as my mind tends to fixate on the physical complications of my anorexia, one of the most dramatic things it stole from me was my education. This article alludes to eating disorder behavior, please read with caution.
To be totally honest, I was privileged to receive the education I did in my adolescence… Yet, the environment of my competitive advanced STEM academy left me with lingering trauma and mental illness. I survived three years of middle school and two of high school there before I realized the impact. My eating disorder thrived, hidden in the cracks of my busy schedule. I easily wrote off eating in favor of an extracurricular or study session. The rigorous curriculum cultivated a dark pit for my mental state. The stress created a distorted sense of self and thinking. I was capable of the work, so why not challenge myself to do it with less energy?
When my secret got out, my Mom and I decided it was best for me to leave school. This way I could recover in a healthier environment. I inevitably ended up online for my last two years of high school. With my illness, I only managed two credits during my junior year, but miraculously made it up. It was a shock, but admirable feat, that I graduated on time. I counted down the days like it was my job… every deadline mattered.
However, my experiences were different than the average student forced online for COVID-19 related reasons these days. Between 2015-2017, online educational platforms rarely included a lecture or virtual class session. I was able to scrape by, completing my assignments in the wee hours of the night. I coasted by with the knowledge from my ex-accelerated school with little complications. Unfortunately, my love for school was being stolen by my eating disorder. But, a toxic mentality tied my identity to my education, leaving me intertwined with an inescapable lust for academia.
Post high school
After graduation, I was accepted on a decent scholarship, despite educational gaps, to a small college in Notre Dame, Indiana. After two years without brick-and-mortar schooling, I was promised therapeutic support to make sure my eating disorder remained at bay. Tragically, I began to slip and the school decided to remove my support system. I was told it was a “waste of time” for them to give me the resources. My only choice was to withdraw about three weeks into the semester, shamefully making my way home. I felt like my education was a hopeless affair.
Since 2017, I have attended online general education classes, slowly building up my credits and trying to find myself again. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my education or life. I began again from scratch. My ex-peers were rushed into career paths they might not have particularly enjoyed. I was able to find the brightness in focusing on my health. These are the silver-linings I learned to appreciate. I was given time that not everyone believes they have. Thus, I was able to redefine myself and my academic goals at my own pace.
I wrestled with a lot of shame surrounding a non-traditional academic journey. A few of my old classmates even reached out to me, mocking the scholarships I received. They told me that since I didn’t complete “real school”, my achievements were lesser. Yet, I pushed on, passing my classes with flying colors and actually learning for the first time in years. Without this particular experience, I would not have realized how valid other academic pathways are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with waiting for your education, studying part-time, or even taking online accredited classes.
With this, I was able to focus on my eating disorder and later diagnosed (and expected) obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am so thankful I did this because I now am learning to separate myself from my illness. Before, I wanted to study Psychology. The time allowed me to identify this as a way to immerse myself in my eating disorder. However, after almost three years of introspection, I have realized that’s not what I actually want to do… it was what my anorexia wanted. I deserve so much more than my illness allows me.
I have a love for English that blossomed during my recovery journey. Without recovery, I would have never allowed myself to pursue this passion. If I truly want to help people with mental health, I can study English in conjunction with Psychology. I will be able to teach them healthier coping mechanisms than turning to harmful behaviors. I can finally do what I truly want.
Returning to school in person
As I enter treatment for (hopefully) the last time today, I am filled with an eagerness for my education. I decided, with my team, that I should “tune-up” before the spring. Now I can arrive at my new Boston school as a transfer this spring with a healthy mind and body. Taking this time off has left me with the freedom to make choices like this that benefit my sustainable recovery. Now, I can return to my first brick-and-mortar school (COVID allowing) since 2017 in February 2021 with trust in myself. Prioritizing my health was the best decision I made. I am no longer counting the days until the end of my schooling, but looking forward to the experience; there is no finish line and race. School can wait, your life cannot.