Content/Trigger Warning: This blog post mentions eating disorders and suicidal ideation. For mental health resources, visit our Campus Resources Page or call a crisis line, such as 1-800-SUICIDE or 2-1-1 (for people in BC). You can also check out our on-campus resource page for more resources: https://blogs.ubc.ca/ubcmhac/on-campus-resources/
What do you do when your life’s mission, is, well, finished?
Two years ago today, I was fighting tooth and nail to scrabble my way out of an eating disorder that had consumed my life. I had been admitted into an eating disorder treatment program a while earlier after battling issues with food and body image for years. Every waking second of my day felt like I was on a mental hamster wheel of the same five obstacles – they were called breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. I listened exclusively to self-help and eating disorder recovery podcasts, deleted all my social media, and read book after book on recovery.
I had been incredibly lucky – at the young age of fourteen, I had quickly realized that my lifestyle habits and suicidal ideations were not unrelated, and had a striking thought one day while walking down the staircase of my house: I cannot see myself alive at 40 and still living, feeling, and eating this way. It was that moment that I realized I needed to get professional help, and that my will to live, though dim, was much stronger than my will to continue having an eating disorder/depression.
To live a life unhindered by an eating disorder became my life mission for the next years. Before that, my life mission had been to sustain my eating disorder with more and more drastic techniques. Which, a few years into what I consider a full recovery left me in a strange situation: For years, I had been propelled forward in life by an eating disorder. Then I made it my purpose to destroy it. Now, without this iron-hot focus in life, I was mentally careening about, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do now with this freed mind. What was I to do when I could accomplish more every day than simply survive? When eating disorder literature no longer made me weep over the pages of my own symptoms reflected back at me? When I could eat every single one of my past fear foods in a row without batting an eye? Unwittingly, I allowed this to open a door to mild mid-life crises wherein I played ping-pong scenarios in my head of all my life choices. What should I have done differently? What if pursuing psychology was the wrong choice for me? What job could I possibly get in the future? Will I be happy? Satisfied? Content? Should I have children? (Note: I have been single my entire life and am still technically a teenager.) Where will I live? How much money will I earn? Was university even the right choice? I can spend hours agonizing over scenarios in my head while my textbooks lie open a few feet away.
My dilemma was that when there is more to do than survive, the possibilities opened up so suddenly and ferociously that I didn’t know how to comprehend them or how to deal with the fact that the choices I am making at the age of eighteen are cementing me into narrower futures. Whereas five years ago I could have dreamed of being a vet or an authour or a pilot, the reality is that the more I wander down my path, the more I am confined to it. Yet somehow, I feel simultaneously directionless. When Robert Frost wrote,
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
For me, the question is – has the difference been good or bad? And the agonizing part is that I won’t know until I reach the end.
This is why, after a semester of deliberation and repeating the same worries to my therapist, I’ve decided to go on another self-help journey, but instead of madly clawing my way out of a mental illness, I am doing something much less drastic: Journaling. With a new, ridiculously overpriced “success journal” by my side, I’ve made it my new purpose to find one. (A purpose, that is). What’s kept me going for so long is having something that’s kept me going. And I think that figuring out exactly what that is for me post-eating-disorder is a great motivator all by itself.