By: Sarah van de Weert, Project HEAL Guest Blogger & Libero Network Assistant Editor
One of my biggest struggles in life involves asking for help. I would rather struggle on my own and fail than admit I don’t know something or that I can’t do everything on my own and this mindset spans asking for directions or assistance with a math problem to recovering from my eating disorder and taking care of myself.
My parents raised me to be independent, so I have never really felt like I needed someone else to take care of me. I also had (and still have) the belief that no one can take care of me as well as I can take care of myself. As I got older, I started to believe that I cannot count on people to be there for me because something will happen and they will inevitably leave me, probably because they don’t like me or I’m not good enough for them or something equally ridiculous sounding (I tend to take personalization to the extremes).
When I started college, I began to teach myself how to ask for help with small things like biology, statistics, or understanding an important psychology concept. But more importantly, I began to learn how to accept help from others when they offered it.
Last year, I made the decision to leave school mid-semester in order to focus on my recovery, which is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. In my time at home, I learned to allow those people who had always said “Let me know if you need anything,” actually help me. It was painful and not as easy as it sounds.
In spite of how difficult that process was, it was leaving my support system at home that terrified me about returning to school this fall. I wasn’t afraid of the whole being back at college thing because I totally had that under control – I’d simply fall back into my friendships, be enthralled in my academics, and change my campus community through my extracurricular experiences, no extra work required. I could come back to campus and be a ‘normal’ college student, not a girl in recovery from an eating disorder.
I don’t think I have ever been more wrong about something in my life.
I had some understanding of how difficult it would be to return to college, but the challenges would only last a few days and then dissipate. My need to continue seeing a therapist and a dietician would go away after a few weeks and I would be fine. I would be free of the chains my mental illnesses force on me and most importantly, I would be able to do things on my own again, without help from those around me.
But after a few days, I discovered the full extent of difficulties caused by major life transitions, especially mid-recovery. I learned that time changes things, especially in vibrant communities like college campuses. I learned how hard it is to be healthy in a place where you have always been sick.
And I had to relearn that sometimes I need more help and support than I want or think I need – and that’s okay.
In talking with a treatment friend concerning my distress over needing more support than I had counted on, she reminded me that I won’t need this much help forever and that just because I need help, it does not mean I am helpless.
I’m still going off-campus to see a dietitian and therapist every week, just like I had planned on doing, but I’ve also allowed myself to become okay with needing that support indefinitely. But I’m also meeting weekly with a counselor on-campus, checking in with academic advising and a professor about how things are going, taking one less class than I’d planned, and being honest with friends about what I’m feeling and what I need, even though all of this is usually excruciatingly painful.
I have learned to remind myself that I am in recovery first and a college student second. Sometimes I have to actually sit down and say, “This is the best I can do. I am not slacking off. I am not using my mental illness as an excuse. It is okay that my best is not the same as other people’s bests.” Sometimes I say this a lot.
But what I’ve learned being on campus these past three weeks is that it is perfectly okay to ask for help in order to maintain my recovery. It doesn’t mean I’m failing, it doesn’t make me weak, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be in school. It means that I am taking care of myself. It means I’m making progress. It means I’m not letting my illnesses win.
It means I am healing.