Control is a funny thing. I believe as humans, we are all entitled to it in small doses. With the right amount, you have the perfect equilibrium. Too much or too little however, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The logical place to start would be the beginning, but lets fast forward to the teen years because that’s where things get interesting. At 13, I was starting seventh grade at a new school in a different city, country, and continent. I had lived in four different cities, three different continents, and moved houses on nine separate occasions. While some look longingly at global childhood, for someone who struggles immensely with change, this was not the ideal upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the experiences I’ve had: I have seen parts of the world I still can’t label on a map, and been fortunate enough to study four different languages. Moving has introduced me to interesting people around the world, and brought me immensely close with my family. Being a third culture kid is incredibly propitious, there’s no doubt about it. But it simply wasn’t the right lifestyle for me. I was the child who cried every time I got a haircut or lost a tooth, as even those simple changes were too overwhelming. So naturally I didn’t respond well to moving 9,000 some miles across the world on numerous occasions.
The summer before my freshman year at Midd, my family was in the process of yet another move. By August, everything was boxed up and shipped off to England… including my parents and my little brother, who was going to be starting high school there. Anything I wanted to bring to college with me was kept with me in several small suitcases. For the next two weeks I rotated between different peoples houses as the days before my college debut grew smaller. It was fun at first: I would call my closest friends and ask if I could stay with them for a few nights. However, most of them were travelling, working, or already moved in at their respective colleges. Before long, I was alone and lost in a city that I still called home. Lonely doesn’t even begin to capture what I was feeling. One night I couldn’t find anywhere to go, and after debating my options, simply slept in my car with only the packed suitcases to keep me company. Evidently it was not the exciting, sentimental summer most people have when they part ways with friends and family before going off to college.
The next week my mom flew back from London to drive me down to Midd and help me get settled. As an athlete, I was there for preseason about a week before the rest of the freshmen arrived. Aside from the anticipation of settling in with my new team, roommate, friends, and professors, I’d say my first couple weeks as a Middlebury student went pretty smoothly. When people asked me where I was from I would laugh and say, “well I live in England…but I’ve never been there”. More laughs, more smiles. Until one day it stopped being quite as funny. I was on Skype with my parents and they were giving me a virtual tour of the new house. My mom showed me the room my sister and I were going to share, and I was struck by how wrong everything felt. That was not my bed, not my pillow, where were my posters on the wall, where was my desk, my clothes, my bookshelf, and everything that was distinctly mine? That night at dinner I told a few friends that I was feeling homesick, and we reminisced about what we were looking forward to upon going home for break. And then it hit me: me going home meant travelling to a place I had never been before. Hell, I didn’t even know my own address. Despite the sadness, what I felt more than anything was helpless. Everything seemed to be out of my control.
Over the next four months, I attempted to regain power in anything I could. Primarily, I became hyper controlling about food and exercise. By choosing not eat something extra, or worse, something I classified as “unhealthy”, I felt a surge of relief that allowed me to numb out from the whirlwind of pain I had around me. Restricting calories became a high, and soon I felt unbearable amounts of guilt for eating even a single piece of fruit. And that wasn’t enough. I would spend hours at the gym hungry for the endorphins that could settle the anxiety. I began to shrink away, mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. Nothing was more important than the schedule I had in place for myself, even if it meant abandoning friends or prior commitments. What started as a simple defense mechanism against my depression and anxiety became a demon known as anorexia. And that little bugger landed me two weeks in the hospital, six months in residential in-patient treatment, and two months in an outpatient program.
The saddest part about it for me is that through it all, I knew something was wrong. I remember one night over Christmas break lying awake on my bathroom floor googling the symptoms of Anorexia. I identified with every single one, and the best thing would’ve been to march into my parent’s room right then and there to say, “I’m struggling and I need help”. But what are the chances a Midd student confessed to that huh. Nope, I vowed to make things better myself. I was going to return for j-term and find myself again. But at that point I couldn’t fight the disease alone. It had completely taken over my brain and there was no escaping the hell I was putting my mind and body through.
When I got home at Feb break, my mom cried when she picked me up at the airport. My gaunt, lifeless face was too much for her and within two days I was at the doctor’s office. Just like that, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, as well as depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I needed residential care, and I needed it fast. Then came the tough part, the logistical part: finding a treatment center, withdrawing from school, and worst of all, telling friends, family, teammates and coaches that I would not be returning for the semester. I was ashamed to tell my team because I felt like I had failed them. I was embarrassed to tell high school friends because they were all seemingly loving college, and now I was the screw-up who couldn’t even make it through freshman year. And my family? I was so mad at myself for putting them through all the heart-wrenching pain that comes when someone you love suffers from a mental illness. I tried to reassure them that none of it was their fault – I was the perpetrator and more than anything, I was to blame. All in all, those were some of the hardest conversations, phone calls, and emails I’ve ever delivered.
I’m not going to share what I experienced in treatment because that is irrelevant. It was undoubtedly the darkest period of my life. Rebuilding your body, physically and emotionally, is a one hell of a process, but luckily for me, it was attainable. Anorexia wins in 1 of 5 of cases, and I recognize now that I was almost the “one” in five. My fourteen days spent at Cardinal Glennon hospital were filled with IV’s, feeding tubes, blood tests, ultrasounds, and heart scans – they simply didn’t know if my heart could continue beating. I’m fortunate that my body isn’t suffering any lifelong repercussions from my run-in with anorexia…the only baggage I still carry is mental.
Every day I make the conscious choice to counter whatever irrational thoughts enter my mind. When the anxiety rises, I have to cope through different mediums instead of running back to the safe habits. Middlebury is a tough place to be sick with my kind of illness what with all the fuss on natural, organic, healthy, granola-obsessed eating, and I definitely have had bad days upon my return this fall. But it’s also a place for healing and recovering. I’ve learned that I never have to be alone here, no matter what my struggle is. I lost my entire self at Midd, and it took twenty boxes of tissues, forty regained pounds, and five hundred and eighty hours in therapy to reclaim my happy, healthy self. I was miserable for probably five hundred and seventy nine of those hours until I finally realized I didn’t have to resist it anymore. It was okay to have sadness, and grief, and insecurities in life. What wasn’t okay was to shove it away and pray the feelings would never resurface. Because they do from time to time, and they are usually unannounced. Being diagnosed with a psychological disorder is something I would never wish for anyone, because unlike a broken bone, there really isn’t a straight path to recovery. Every day is a new battle, and another chance to grow. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was learning that mental illness is an inevitable part of my life. The best thing I’ve ever done was accepting it, because the benefits are everlasting.
-Middlebury College, ’17