Missing (Yo)Umass

So it was requested that I talk about my upcoming transition back to UMass. And that actually works relatively well for me, since that’s something that’s been weighing on my mind lately.

College is where I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s where I started to discover who I truly am, and really started gaining ground on the path towards doing what I want to do for the rest of my life. But it’s also where my eating disorder started to really spiral out of control. It’s where I spent days holed up in my dorm room, too depressed and anxious to make an appearance and face the world. It was where I retreated into a shell of myself.

So, I suppose it’s understandable that I would be simultaneously nervous and excited about going back. Those two feelings are rooted in the same kind of emotion anyways.

I really miss college. I miss all the amazing people I met there. I miss the laughter and the late nights spent staying up laughing and talking. I miss learning about things that really interest me and the ability to take classes that expanded my knowledge of things I never dreamed I’d be learning about. I miss the freedom and the sense of identity that I managed to attain even while attending a university populated by thousands and thousands of students.

But in my sophomore year, my anxiety and depression started to creep back in as if they were almost unchecked. I started to isolate myself and became, essentially, a slave to routine. Every day I would go to the dining hall by myself with the intent of eating the same small amount of food, maybe go to a few classes if I was feeling brave enough, and then go to the gym near the end of my day before returning to my dorm. It was my own little bubble of safety; but at the same time, it was a world in which I was dramatically harming myself.

There are still boxes lying around my house full of things that I brought with me to college, remnants of having to suddenly and unexpectedly move out and return home to seek treatment because of the seriousness of my condition. I left behind my friends and my education. Really, I left behind everything. I stepped out of my life and into a new world where the focus was entirely on the glaring issue of my anorexia nervosa.

The other day I was poking around some of my stuff and couldn’t fight this overwhelming feeling of sadness. I’ve missed out on some of the greatest times of my life because of being ill. I’ve lost time that I will never be able to get back. Yet at the same time, there is a part of me that longs to go back to eating restrictively and exercising compulsively. My eating disorder is still a loud voice reverberating in my head. And I know that I cannot safely return to school until I learn how to truly fight that voice. If I were to head back now, I have no doubt that I would lapse back into behaviors and familiar patterns. This isn’t because I want to be sick. There’s nothing about having frail bones, no energy or happiness, and a hospital room as my home, that I miss. It’s because having an eating disorder isn’t a problem that can just *poof*, be fixed. It’s something that takes months and months to recover from, and that’s not accounting for any lapses or more frighteningly, relapses.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like without having an eating disorder. I addressed that in this postWould I have been happier? More successful? Would I have more happy memories to look back on? Would I have more friends and a stronger sense of who I am?

Because my eating disorder has, unfortunately, sort of become my identity. I’m sure to many people I’m “Emma with anorexia” or “Emma, the girl who’s sick”. Last night in program we were talking about how perfectionism sort of manifested itself in the form of an eating disorder, and how we didn’t want to be defined by our illnesses or our shortcomings. I don’t want to be “Emma with anorexia” or “Emma, the girl who’s sick”. I want to be something more like “Emma, the girl who makes really funny jokes” or “Emma who’s always happy” or “Emma who seems really friendly”. Something like that. I want to be known for who I really am, without the fog of my eating disorder, depression, and anxiety, clouding my identity.

I know I’m so much more than the person to which anorexia reduced me. And more than anything, I want to be well enough so that I can go back to school and continue discovering who I truly am meant to be. I want to get back to my education and work on pursuing my loves of writing and art. I want to be free to follow my dreams, meet new people, and have amazing experiences, without my eating disorder getting in the way.

But like I said, I’m nervous to go back. Nervous because I fear relapse, but also nervous because I will have been away for so long. And I’ve been “Emma with anorexia” and “Emma, the girl who’s sick” for about half a year now (really, it’s been much longer than that, but I’m referring to the time I’ve spent in treatment). 

Who am I without my eating disorder?

This is probably the biggest and most frightening question that I could be asked. And it’s why it’s so hard for me to truly let go and embrace recovery for everything it is. Because I don’t know who I am without my anorexia. I don’t know if I’ll like who I am, or if others will. I’m terrified that I will end up lonely and unhappy and then resort to behaviors again to get that sense of fulfillment that doing so provided me.

My anorexia is like that friend that you’ve had for so long that you don’t remember a time without them, but who has become toxic and a hindrance to you. Yet you can’t let go of them, because you don’t know what’s left to occupy the space that they’ll leave behind. I would love to think that this space would be occupied by fun new experiences, amazing new friends, and the kind of memories that I want to keep with me and look back on always.

However, I’m fearful that this won’t happen. Fortunately, with every passing day, even every passing minute, that I battle back against my illnesses, I gain back a little piece of who I am.

I hope I like her.

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