RECOVERING FROM AN EATING DISORDER: DID I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION COMING BACK TO SCHOOL?

Author: Val Berenshtein

AS I BEGIN MY SPRING SEMESTER…

of my freshman year of college, a big part of me wonders if I made the right decision coming back to school.

For the past month and a half, I have been on self-recovery from anorexia nervosa and restrictive eating disorder. I like to classify this form of recovery as recovery without an official treatment team, specialist guidance, doctors’ appointments and the like. Recovering in this way has been very difficult and challenging – and will continue to be this way; however, it helped tremendously being around my family and my home for the past month, as I was on winter break. Family provided me the love, support and reassurance that I needed to get through the most difficult physical pains and discomforts and emotional turmoils.

PRIOR TO MY SELF-RECOVERY…

I went through various treatment programs. My longest program was about seven months long and took me through partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and regular outpatient, after which my case was closed; however, a closed case did not equate to complete recovery. In fact, it meant nothing.

Coming out of formal treatment, I was still mentally ill. I was still hurting and confused, questioning why seven months of treatment barely improved my mental state. Anorexia and restrictive eating, still very much present in my post-treatment days, prevented me from moving forth on my recovery path, overwhelming me with fear of further weight gain and physical changes.

The problem back then was that recovery for me was all about the number and what my final physical appearance would be. Reach this weight range, and you will be cured, is what my illness seduced me into believing. I wish I could have recognized what recovery was really about: letting that control go and learning to live and appreciate life for the beauty that it it.  

DURING MY FIRST SEMESTER OF COLLEGE…

after hitting what-I-can-wholeheartedly-call rock bottom, something inside of me changed or, perhaps, clicked. In November and December 2017, these illnesses that I so effortfully tried to ignore led to my first ever panic attack, which persisted over a three-day period, and severe disassociations. They led to a fear of food and fullness that was incomparably grotesque to the fear I experienced in high school. They led to anxiety in both academic and social settings and a returned suicidal state, in which I simply could not handle the internal turmoil anymore. I thought that this was it: there was no way out.

And, then, suddenly, I felt like there just might be a way out. Something inside of me shifted because, with tears in my eyes, I finally admitted to myself that I deserved more than just survival. I deserved life and happiness and freedom.

I, therefore, put myself on self-recovery during my final week of the first semester and have been on it for the past month and a half. Although initially I did not think I could ever recover on my own, I had the comfort and safety of my home and the support and love of my family to help me along the way. Through all of the meals and snacks and activities I challenged myself with, my family was there to love, support, understand and distract me. It made things a little bit easier for me, especially as the physical changes – the weight gain – piled on.

NOW, THOUGH, THAT I AM BACK AT SCHOOL…

nine states away from my home, I am questioning whether I will have enough strength to get through the difficulties of recovery, academics and social interactions. I am scared that I will not be able to get through additional weight gain and physical changes as my body and brain still crave an upwards of 10,000 calories a day. I am scared that I will once again feel alone, unsupported and unloved and scared that I will one day wake up and have overwhelming anxiety and distress over the progress I have made so far. I am scared I will not have people there to listen to me, to understand – or at least try to understand –, and to remind me that they love me for who I am on the inside, not for what I look like on the outside.

SO, DID I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION…

coming back to school, leaving the comfort and safety of my home and family? Will my recovery continue? Will I find the strength inside of me to grab my life by the horns and guide it in the direction that I – and not my illness – want it to go in?

I do not have the answers to these questions, and that, in itself, scares me.

But, I know that staying in comfort and safety does not always equate progress. In fact, I believe that the two leave a person in stagnation more so than they move him or her in the right direction. Recovering from a mental illness is not easy. It is the hardest battle that one may have to endure. But, it is the strength that emerges in the face of challenge that ultimately heals a broken state.

I believe in myself and my strength. I trust that I will find my people, my passions and a love so big that I will be able to extend it both to myself and to another. My recovery is still in its infantile stages, but I trust that it will turn out just the way it is supposed to. Perhaps my beliefs and my trust are what I need to continue progressing, challenging myself and building a life rooted in happiness and laughter. But, only time will tell.

-Val Berenshtein

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