Two years ago, at this exact time, I was preparing to leave my home in West Hartford and move into the dorms at Emerson College. I’d bought all the necessary school and board supplies, I had a single room waiting for me in the brand-new Little Building, and I was ready to break free and embark on what I expected would be an exciting chapter in my young life.
I didn’t know then that after a mere two weeks at college, my mostly dormant eating disorder would rear its ugly head again. I didn’t know that I’d sink into such a deep depression that just getting out of my bed would be a struggle. I didn’t know that in late September, my mom would have to drive to Boston to take her empty shell of a daughter back to Connecticut to heal.
You can do your best to prepare for the worst, but bad things can still happen. The best thought out plans can fall through. The college of your dreams can turn out to be a living nightmare.
My college experience reinforced for me that mental health recovery isn’t linear. It reminded me that I’m always going to need to be vigilant and aware of my personal limitations. On the other hand, it also taught me that I’m more resilient than I previously gave myself credit for.
Two months after having to medically withdraw from Emerson and come home, I was back in a healthy weight range, I was writing a new book, I was working two part-time jobs, I was getting my driver’s license, and I’d decided I still wanted to pursue a college education and was looking into online schools.
Two years later, I’m the healthiest I’ve been—both mentally and physically—in nearly a decade, I’ve written an entire young adult trilogy, I’m a mental health and animal rights activist, and I’m coming up on my final semester at Southern New Hampshire University with plans to relocate to Los Angeles when I graduate in December.
Last week, I visited Boston for the first time since I’d left Emerson. I was initially nervous that I’d be bombarded with flashbacks of those painful times upon returning, however the trip was a success. I explored the city with my mom, enjoyed delicious vegan food without worrying about the calories, and collected research for a new writing project. Above all, I left with a kinder feeling towards Boston and some much-needed closure from that difficult period in my life.
Traumatic memories of my mental health struggles—both at Emerson and long before—used to flood my mind so frequently that, at one point, my psychiatrist unofficially diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For years, fall was my most-dreaded season because it was dominated by flashbacks of starving myself for weeks on end, psych ward admissions, running away from home, and all the occasions I wanted to die, to name a few. Until recently, I couldn’t drive through certain towns in my state without remembering the Intensive Outpatient or Partial Hospital Programs I’d endured there, I couldn’t listen to certain songs without thinking about where I was mentally the first time I heard them, and I couldn’t eat certain foods without being reminded of my dreadful re-feeding days.
There’s a saying that time heals wounds, and I believe this to be true. In the year or so after I left Emerson, I regularly struggled with reminders of my dark dorm room days and feelings of shame and inadequacy for not being able to survive the transition, like most everyone else. I’ve learned in recovery that comparing myself to others and dwelling on the past rarely do me any good; rather, it’s better to accept and address my unique circumstances and live in the present.
Achieving this has been a journey that’s taken me years. I’m still not entirely there, as to this day, I continue to go through periods of resenting my mental illness for “ruining” my adolescence and feeling guilty about choices I made or things I did years ago, but I’ve come a long way. Just like those wounds don’t heal in a matter of days, progress doesn’t happen overnight. That being said, that doesn’t mean progress is impossible (it’s not) and unworthy of fighting for (it completely is).
One day at a time, I’m moving on from my messy past. I’ve found that focusing on what’s good in the present and what I’m looking forward to in the future helps me stay grounded and in the moment. I’ve also accepted that it’s okay to stew in an occasional bad memory or moment of sadness or regret as long as I’m able to pull myself out of it and carry on.
I’m so glad I went back to Boston despite my doubts and reservations. I can now walk past Emerson College, past the dorm where I once slept to escape reality and the dining hall where I’d nibble on undressed salads, and see it as just a blip in my past; a snippet of my life that I’ll likely have forgotten all about in a few years down the line. That chapter is finally closed once and for all, and now I get to start a new one.