Going to College with an Eating Disorder: The Door’s Wide Open

“Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?”

~Rumi

While many incoming college freshman spent their summers making lasting memories with the friends and family they would soon leave behind, I spent mine locked in a prison of great anxiety. The idea of going to college and beginning to write a new chapter in my life was something that absolutely horrified me. It seemed like every waking hour of the day, my mind was tormented with a slew of “what-ifs”.

What if my professors are heartless graders, giving even the brightest of pupils a soul-crushing mark?

What if my roommates are inconsiderate party-animals, obnoxiously making noise into the wee hours of the morning?

What if, despite my best efforts, I am unsuccessful?

WHAT IF I FAIL?

But now that move-in day is right around the corner, I am slowly beginning to walk out of the mental prison I have held myself captive in for all these months.  Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, the great Islamic scholar and poet, said, “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open.”  I now realize that for me college is that  “open door” that  Rūmī spoke of.  By going to college, I will finally be able to freely pursue my interests and walk on the beautiful path of self-discovery. I hope . . . no scratch that . . .I KNOW that the knowledge I will obtain during my years in college will allow me to give back to the eating disorder community. Maybe I will build the intellectual foundation I need to conduct ground-breaking research into the neurobiology of eating disorders or to create a revoluntionary treatment protocol that saves thousands of lives.

Whatever I decide to do or become, I know it will be great.

There’s no question about that anymore 🙂

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Breaking – How I Fell Apart

My mind was like a hamster running forever on its wheel to nowhere. I got down on my hands and knees and pleaded with my mind to stop running. I tried to tell it that it could rest , I really did. But of course, it didn’t listen or maybe it just didn’t care.

It’s almost 4am and it’s a Saturday. Like all other hormonal teens, I should be fast asleep – not to wake up until the burning yellow sun is high in the Wisconsin spring sky.   But though my eyes struggle to stay open and my body aches for rest, I can’t calm myself enough to return to the rat’s nest that is my bed.   Even during spring break last week, when there was absolutely NO homework and nothing to fret about, I couldn’t sleep for longer than 4 hours a night.  My mind was like a hamster running forever on its wheel to nowhere. I got down on my hands and knees and pleaded with my mind to stop running. I tried to tell it that it could rest , I really did. But of course, it didn’t listen or maybe it just didn’t care.

Actually spring break is what I want to talk about with you because even though I was freed from school for that week, my mind was holding me captive.

The original plan for my spring break was that my family and I would drive the 8 miserable hours to my grandparents’ farm in Lower Michigan.  I dreaded the idea of going there not only because my mind continued to inform me that I would morph into a fat pig during the car ride, but also because my mom had a signed me up to visit a few colleges in Grand Rapids.

Now I know most kids are excited about leaving their families and venturing out into the world to start their lives, but I lack that excitement. In fact, the thought of me going to college is worse than my most frightening nightmare.  I’m not ready for my parents to abandon me and I’m not ready to be independent. My mind is still plagued with eating disorder thoughts and depression is like a cancer, taking control of every aspect of myself.  I am so emotionally unwell that I doubt I will be able to survive without the presence of my family.

Luckily, my dad was unable to go on the trip due to his pastoral obligations. I felt so incredibly relieved . . . . until my mom told me she signed me up to visit two colleges here in Wisconsin.

To make a long story short, I visited both the colleges and before I visited each one, I turned into a monster fueled by anxiety. I screamed and yelled about the stupidest things, I withdrew from everyone, I cut my arms, and I cried.

I cried until my hideous face was hidden by a mask of salty tears.

I cried until my eyes felt like they had been set on fire.

I cried until my heart, mind, and body felt completely numb.

Though I survived both the college visits, my emotional instability continued all through the rest of spring break. My parents were constantly furious because of my behavior and they of course expressed this to my therapist.   When I went to see her on Wednesday, she expressed a great deal of anger and frustration at me as well. She told me I wasn’t trying to get better and that I wanted to become a life-long prisoner in the jail of mental illness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I can’t tell you how much I want to be normal. I want to enjoy life and take pleasure in all it has to offer, but it is just so hard to break free from the chains of my diseases and sometimes I wonder if I should just go back to a treatment facility to try to regain the self I have lost.  I couldn’t do that though  . . . it’s too expensive and it is much too scary to give my control to the treatment providers.  I just couldn’t do it.

Why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I just live instead of survive?

Why?

Won’t someone tell me why?