**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.
Erica Sunarjo is a professional writer and editor with a Master’s degree in Marketing and Social Media. She writes thought-provoking articles for publications in a variety of media. Even though she is an expert in numerous fields of business, Erica is always dedicated to learning new things. Add her on Facebook and Linkedin.
My parents were hesitant about letting me attend college three states away. They let me go because I convinced them my eating disorder was under control. I lied, sort of. Maybe it doesn’t count as lying since I also convinced myself that I was perfectly fine.
In fact, I told myself that college would offer the autonomy I needed for my life, my schedule, and my eating to progress. After all, was I really recovering or recovered when my parents were so carefully monitoring and managing everything from my calorie intake to my therapy appointments?
In the months before I left for school, I connected with the three students who would be my roommates. We hit it off beautifully. All of us were student-athletes, we lived in small towns, and this would be the first time any of us lived on the coast.
The only thing that gave me pause was the fact that the conversations turned to food and diet so often. I expected it, though. After all, food is a popular topic among students, especially those looking toward new independence. And any student-athlete knows that carb-loading, weight loss, protein intake, and other habits are simply things that are part of our daily conversations.
Still, I powered through the summer before freshman year with a positive attitude, convinced I had it all under control. (Narrator: She did not, in fact, have it all under control.)
Move-in day was amazing. My roomies were as awesome in person as they were online. Even my parents seemed at ease, and ready to let me experience some independence. Then, classes began, practice started, and I began to feel the pressures of it all. That was on top of the triggers I experienced from all sides as I tried to live in between the free-for-all eating of late-night pizzas and ice cream, and the diet regimen that athletes are pressured to maintain.
In an ideal state of mind, I would have leaned on my parents for support, found a local therapist, and stepped away from triggering situations instead of powering through them. When I failed and fell back into unhealthy behaviors, I would have seen this as part of my illness, not a personal failure.
Unfortunately, that’s not how ED works. Instead, I tracked calories and became obsessed with my body fat percentage. Then I exercised. I worked out with my team, in the dorm gym with my roommates, and then I would sneak across town to a park where I would run until I could barely walk. When my roommates wanted to hang out or share a pizza, I made excuses. That allowed me to isolate myself in my room where I wouldn’t have to make excuses for not eating.
When you’re an athlete, you notice changes in your body quickly. Two months in, my muscles were getting weaker, my speed and reaction time were down, but I convinced myself I would bounce back with this new body. You know, the body I convinced myself was becoming more perfect. I also convinced myself that I was expertly keeping all of my secrets from my roommates, coaches, and family.
Well, I wasn’t. My roommates were the first to confront me. I didn’t handle it well. It got ugly, and in my defensiveness, I said awful things. Sometimes I’m amazed they are still my closest friends. Then, I remember that I do deserve things like unconditional friendship and acceptance. My coaches also noticed. They pulled me off the field pending clearance from a physician that I was fit to play. At that point, I knew I would never pass. So, I quit playing a sport I had loved since elementary school, because my inability to come clean and ask for help was so compromised by my eating disorder.
I never found out who called my parents and told them I needed help. I can’t describe how grateful I am that they did. By the time they came to see me, I was miserable. I felt like a failure because I let my ED take over my life. I also felt like a failure because I hadn’t achieved what my illness convinced me was a perfect body. Whatever energy I had to lie and cover up dissipated the moment I saw my mom. I told my parents everything, and it was absolutely relieving.
They took me home for two weeks where I worked with my doctor, an ED specialist, and the most amazing therapist I’ve ever met. When I returned to school, I connected with another therapist, an ED support group, and arranged continued therapy sessions, this time online.
I also made adjustments to my academic schedule. I arranged for a lighter course load. I also took advantage of help with tough math and writing assignments. I learned there are so many resources available to help with writing papers, including Grammarly, Trust my Paper, Evernote, Supreme Dissertations, even the student learning and success center on my campus. For some people, part of having an ED is dealing with perfectionist tendencies and struggling to ask for help.
Instead of hiding from my roommates, I communicated with them. They helped me stay on track, but let me manage my ED. Eventually, I returned to sports. I took a very slow path, though. My sophomore year was spent training with the team, but I stayed off the roster. My coaches couldn’t have been more supportive. I walked on junior year and earned a spot on the team. But I made the tough decision to give up my leadership position on the team. Right now, my recovery is my top priority, and that doesn’t leave room for that kind of commitment. Sports are fun again.
I also learned that there really weren’t many resources at my school for students with eating disorders. That’s a scary thought, considering that there are so many risks and triggers for college students. I’m proud to say that as part of my recovery, I’ve worked with my university’s mental health services to establish on-campus support systems and education for students who are struggling with ED.
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