Like many of us, I always spent the month of August wondering who my teachers would be, what kind of homework I’d get, and who might be in my classes. In the past, the ambiguity made me a little nervous about going back to school, until I faced the most nerve-wracking August of my life. That August, I was preparing to go back to school after receiving treatment for my eating disorder.
I was terrified.
I was going to be entering my second semester of college; it should have been my third, but due to the severity of my illness, I had taken off half of my first year. As someone who has always loved and valued school, I hated knowing that I was behind and needed to play catch-up to keep up with the fast pace of college. As if I had not suffered enough the past few months, I was punishing myself for circumstances beyond my control.
Luckily, my treatment team noted this, and immediately forced me to take charge of this attitude and change it. There was nothing I could do to change the series of events that occurred, and I needed to understand that, while these events were unfortunate, they provided me with more tools than I ever had before. In fact, I made what a therapist called a “mental toolkit,” where I outlined my coping mechanisms, like sitting outside and reading book (which I still use to this day). Once I did this, I noted the strength I do have; this made going back to school a whole lot easier.
Yet, I also know that, especially for those of us in recovery, reminding ourselves of our strengths can be easier said than done. This is why it is just as important to remind ourselves that we are not alone. For example, at school there are resources such as guidance counselors, health centers, and even mental health facilities. In fact, when I returned to Rutgers, I found comfort in an academic advisor who helped me transition back to school full-time while still maintaining a stable recovery. However, please note: even if you cannot find these resources at your school, you can contact your treatment team or locate resources here. There is always someone or something to help you through this tough time, and you are worthy of each one.
To those going back to school for the first time after treatment, please know it is OK to be nervous. It is OK to be scared. These feelings are natural. But from enduring treatment, you should know that you have strength to overcome them. You are a person who challenged the most invasive challenge in your life—your eating disorder—and took it head on. Trust me, if you’re strong enough to do that, school is the easy part.
You got this!
Holly Chok is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University pursuing a degree in Information Technology and Informatics. She is an advocate for both eating disorder and mental health awareness, using her past experiences as motivation to help create a world without stigma.