I didn’t know the first day of Chemistry 101 class would be my last as I walked that cold Colorado January day to it. I practically ran the 1600 meters it took to get from my apartment to the science building. My heavy jacket soaked up the pearls of sweat dripping from my body. I tore off my mittens as I entered the building, my hands freezing, but my body overheated. I looked for the classroom number on my pre-printed syllabus, and looked for numerical direction on the walls. Nothing. I hadn’t been in this building yet and I would be late if I couldn’t find the classroom in 2 minutes. I hate being late. I chose a direction and started walking, praying it was the right direction. It wasn’t. I was on the wrong side of the building and would definitely be late now. When I finally found the classroom door I was so frazzled my eyes alarmingly filled with tears. I grabbed one of the last seats in the back, surrounded by complete strangers. I didn’t know a single soul in the class and wanted to run as fast as I could out of there. I didn’t pay any attention in high school chemistry and although my grades would tell a different story, I was lost the entire class; relying on cheat sheet note cards to maintain that A. I was afraid I wasn’t smart enough to figure out college level chemistry.
The instructor began to talk. I could only understand every other word out of his mouth as English was his second language and pronunciation was clearly not his forte. I’ll never pass this class! I’m going to need so much help and I’m not going to feel comfortable asking this teacher and I don’t have time for tutoring and I’m going to fail and not be able to run on the team anymore and…
I was exhausted. I was injured. It was winter training but indoor track was about to start and I was so far behind everyone else because of the injury. I was quickly feeling like I couldn’t succeed at anything. I started to feel miserable and trapped in an eating disorder that had our apartment bathroom smelling like stomach acid.
So I quit.
That day, I left class and walked straight to academic advising. I changed my major to the easiest degree to complete in the least amount of time possible. Not only did I no longer have to take Chemistry to complete it, I would also graduate a year early. I wouldn’t have to fail at Chemistry. I wouldn’t have to fail at running track, or miss the top 7 by one spot in cross country in the fall. All I needed to do was finish that semester. I was done.
I drove to my coach’s running shop and let him know I was done. He barely cared (I wasn’t top 7) but faked a short attempt at getting me to rethink my decision.
Then, I called my dad–the most dreaded part of the whole decision. He was initially disappointed but came around quickly when I told him it meant I was moving on to a really great internship and getting a start on my career–which was the whole point of college, right?
So I missed track that season while I finished my easy classes and started to heal my relationship with running which was badly damaged from feeling like a complete and utter failure at running in college. I ran when I wanted to and slowly healed my injury and started to date the guy I would marry. All of this was so helpful in pulling me out of an eating disorder hole I had dug myself.
Then, I basically went to work across the country in Vermont at a wellness center retreat–for (mostly) obese people. It had many of the same elements of a treatment center, and many guests had diagnosed eating disorders. But the ironic thing is that interns went through the program just like the guests. We were medically assessed, ate on a plan (tailored individually), took all the nutrition classes taught by an RD who had recovered from anorexia, and sat through group sessions with the therapist. We eventually taught the exercise classes. And while some of it was triggering (so much time spent talking about and being surrounded by food and food issues) overall, it was healing. I healed like the guests did. I learned how to be self aware, self-compassionate, how to let go, how to be mindful. I gained confidence and started to take care of myself.
But, the eating disorder had taken my confidence to finish the degree I wanted to and I was left, at the end of the internship, with no direction because I didn’t want to teach group fitness in real life and everything else needed a master degree that wasn’t a low-income desk job.
Nothing I had ever aspired to be. I found myself stuck. Took a job I hated that didn’t meet my values, and only stayed there because it was 2008 and finding a job doing anything in DC at the time was extremely difficult.
Now I am almost 32 and I have no career and no confidence and even less skills than I did when I was 22. Because you know, “use it or lose it” and any certifications I have ever had have all expired. I feel like both my B.S. and my M.Ed. are useless.
My eating disorder has taken a lot from me, but this is one I’m not really sure I can come back from.