I haven’t written for my blog in awhile not because I don’t have anything to say but because what I know I need to say is so difficult to express—not only because it forces me to put my rawest, most vulnerable layer on display for the whole world to examine, but because it forces me to accept the truth of the situation. For these past few weeks, I have been in denial. I didn’t want to come to terms with the reality that because of my disorder, I was unable to participate in the life changing experience I was so passionately looking forward to all year. I didn’t want to come to terms with the reality that in spite of how important the two-month service trip to India I was supposed to take this summer in order to empower women and educate the youth was to me, I was still unable to control my disorder enough to get me to where I needed to be both physically and mentally. And because I was consumed by my disorder and thus unable to gain the pounds that would get me medical clearance to travel abroad, I stayed back home and sadly watched the rest of the group go on to do this amazing work without me.
At first when I found out I would not be going on the trip organized through my university, the entirety of my body was utterly saturated with anger. How could they do this to me? How could Duke inform me that just one day before I was scheduled to depart halfway across the world for eight weeks, I would no longer be able to go because they didn’t feel comfortable sending me due to malnourishment? And yes, I did have a right to be mad. They shouldn’t have made this decision so last minute (my bags were literally all packed already), cancelling my plane ticket without even bothering to talk to me and my family first. They should have more clearly communicated their concerns and the requirements they wanted me to meet. They should have handled this situation with more compassion, decency, and proactiveness instead of saying “Oops, we probably should have warned you” after-the-fact. But the bottom line is that the main reason I didn’t go on the trip is not because my university was being cruel for no reason, but because of my ED. If there is someone or something that is most to blame for me staying back home instead of travelling abroad, it is not Duke or the healthcare professionals or my parents, but that voice inside my head that kept telling me, “You can start eating more tomorrow, start putting on those pounds the next day. That emptiness you feel inside of you is a luxury you want to preserve for as long as possible.” Well, tomorrow never came, and as the departure date for India rolled around, that inner emptiness was still well-preserved. I didn’t even realize it was too late until it was too late.
That horrible day I found out I would not be going to India, I was hit with a harsh brick of reality—as long as I continue to hold on to my disorder, I will miss opportunities. It’s impossible to have it all….I can either fulfill opportunities to create meaningful change, to feel genuine happiness, and to form strong bonds OR I can remain trapped in the embrace of my ED and the intoxicating, sharp emptiness that comes with it. I can either live a life unleashing my true potential and being the best possible version of myself OR I can exist halfheartedly, dully watching life pass me by. I can either try my best everyday to listen to my own voice OR I can drown in the unstable, abusive voice of my disorder. And although this may all seem very black-and-white, the one unchanging certainty is this: We can only legitimately be free once we rid our lives of our EDs. And to reach this enlightened state of autonomy, we must actively choose recovery.
Now, when I see a diet commercial or when a friend makes the seemingly harmless comment “You look fine to me, I don’t see why they’re making such a big fuss about you gaining weight,” I try to remember this unchanging certainty instead of subconsciously following my impulse to restrict. Now, when my ED tells me to just start eating better tomorrow instead of pushing myself today, I remind myself that the longer I procrastinate beginning recovery, the more opportunities I will miss as I continue to put my life on hold. Now, I don’t just automatically tell myself I’m fine, but I try to acknowledge my struggles so that I can better overcome them. I’m not going to lie—recovery is absolutely the hardest, scariest process I have ever had to face. This summer, looking at photos of my peers engaging in purposeful, worthwhile work and knowing I could have been in them too, I am often filled with great disappointment in myself and my inability to fight harder. But in a way, I too am engaging in extremely purposeful, worthwhile work this summer—recovery. And even though I am not in India empowering women, am I not still practicing women’s empowerment at home as I wake up each morning dedicated to nourishing and healing my own body and mind? The back of the T-shirt I received for my service trip to India reads as such: “Challenge yourself. Change your world.” Although I missed out on the opportunity to do this half-way around the globe, this summer I am still challenging myself and changing my world by focusing on my mental health. And perhaps if I keep following the path of recovery, next summer I too can be in those photos as I engage in advocacy work. Perhaps if I continue to honor my own needs instead of listening to the undying demands of my ED, I too can find opportunity and unleash my true potential.