College is an exciting time, but many of the things that make it feel so exciting (independence, social life, lots of class options, etc) can also make it feel stressful and daunting at times. When I started college, I was overwhelmed with the pressure to do it all; get perfect grades, have a vibrant social life, pack my schedule to the brim, and do it all in a way that appeared effortless. I never stopped to consider that striving for this level of perfection may not be what was right for me, and when I quickly discovered that I was not able to “do it all”, I felt deeply disappointed in myself. I turned to my eating disorder as a way to regain a false sense of control and pursue the unattainable perfection I felt I had failed at in other areas. In reality, my eating disorder only made it more difficult to succeed in school, keep up with my classwork, maintain a social life, and do many of the things that had once brought me joy.
By my sophomore year, I found myself in a position where I had to withdraw from school in order to begin treatment for my eating disorder. I felt deeply alone and had no idea how I had ended up in that place. Making the decision to recover from an eating disorder is often scary, and it felt even more daunting when it meant putting an important part of my life on hold. But I know now that this decision saved my life and gave me the future my eating disorder almost took from me.
When I returned to school the following fall, I was faced with the challenge of managing college while being in recovery. It was an uncomfortable, sometimes lonely, and an often nonlinear process, but it was and is a process that has allowed me to experience so many things my eating disorder never let me. Almost a year after returning to school, it feels like a privilege to now be able to reflect on all I have learned and share my knowledge with others facing similar challenges. So below are the most important things I have learned in the past year as a college student in recovery.
- Your version of success does not need to be built upon how others define theirs. I frequently remind myself that success does not need to be measured in numbers, whether it be my grades, GPA, size, etc. Instead I am working on defining success in the contentment I feel doing the things I love, my relationships, the small steps I take in recovery, etc.
- Your recovery comes first. It can be so easy for school to feel more important than recovery, and this may be something your eating disorder tries to convince you of. Maintaining your recovery while immersed in the busyness of college life can feel overwhelming, but reminding yourself that recovery is even more important to your future than the degree you are pursuing is a helpful sentiment. Recovery will allow you to pursue the degree and future you want, and your future self will be so grateful for the work you are putting in now.
- Find a community. Many colleges have clubs that are beneficial to those in ED recovery, and many college campuses even host NEDA walks. Getting involved in a community of individuals who understand what you are going through can decrease feelings of loneliness and give you the support you need and deserve in recovery.
- Avoid comparison. Being immersed in an environment with so many other people similar in age, inevitably leads to comparison. Comparison is something I struggle with a lot, but I have also noticed that the people I compare myself to often have not endured an eating disorder or had to balance recovery with school. Of course, our lives look different for this reason. Frequently reminding myself that there is no set timeline for my recovery or to build my future brings me peace.
- Reach out for help. Reaching out for help is scary, and can be difficult when your ED tries to tell you things to dissuade you from doing so. But you ARE deserving of help and support. Reaching out to the health center on your college campus is a great place to start. Many colleges have resources available to students struggling with eating disorders, including support groups, counseling, and medical support. NEDA offers various resources to college students as well. Checking out resources on their website and finding what works for you can be extremely helpful.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that recovery is possible (and very important) even as a busy college student. You are deserving of care and support now and there is a community waiting to help.
Margot is a 21-year-old college student in recovery from Anorexia nervosa. Margot is passionate about dismantling the stigma and false stereotypes surrounding eating disorders, and uses her own story in hopes of reaching those who feel alone in their struggles. Margot is also passionate about eating disorder prevention and treatment accessibility, which has led her to connect with NEDA in the past year through fundraising for a walk and joining the Campus Warriors initiative. Outside of school, Margot enjoys reading, writing, drawing, and spending time with her friends!