Good news: I’ve been cleared for light exercise! I went to see the sports doctor today and he did a bunch of the same tests on me. My memory for numbers is still not really there yet, but my memory for words has come back completely. I also find that focus and concentration are not quite as hard to maintain when I’m trying to do work.
All I have to say is – thank God. I believe that eventually my mind will be completely back to normal, which is without a doubt the best news I could ever imagine. I have always taken my mental abilities for granted – until they were, however briefly, taken away. I realize now how blessed I am to have been given the ability to understand hard scientific concepts and to be able to read, write, and speak with intelligence.
After writing that, I realize how odd the reason is that I’m writing this post right now – I originally sat down to do some genetics, but found that I couldn’t focus. I just couldn’t. But I know the reasons have nothing to do with my concussion. I’m just plain burnt out and exhausted right now. I really wish Cornell was on the quarter system, because I always hit a block around the 12th or 13th week of class. It’s so hard to maintain such a high level of stress all the time, day in and day out, trying to study for impossible science exams and to excel at athletics while holding together everything else.
The fact is, I’m ready to move on from Cornell. I’ve been doing this for 7 semesters now, and realize that the level of stress placed on students and especially on student-athletes isn’t healthy. However, I’ve accepted this as just a fact of life here – I have finished almost 7 semesters and I’m going to graduate from here, so the only thing I can do at this point is make the most of it. As much as this is really not a healthy environment, I have met so many people from different backgrounds, learned so much about life, and made a few friends that I know I will be close with forever. As much as the past four years have been a series of failures and stresses, I have grown in so many different ways and really learned a lot about who I am. If I had gone to a different school – where I would possibly be at the head of the class and fastest person on the swim team – I would not be as strong of a person as I am today. Life came really easy for me the first 18 years. The last four have not come easy, but helped shape me into a strong woman with ambitions beyond swimming fast and a 4.0.
We are now writing short stories in my creative writing class, and for each story have been given a prompt. Today, our professor brought a shoebox to class and handed out an index card to each person, telling us to write an interesting secret about ourselves and to place the card in the box without showing anyone. Then we would each take a secret from the box, and we would have to write a short story about the secret.
I wasn’t really sure what to write. Naturally, the first thing that popped into my head was “eating disorder” because that is definitely my biggest secret, something I only tell people very very close to me. I ultimately did not write that, and instead wrote “I’m scared that I’ve made so many mistakes I won’t be able to do what I want to do with my life.”
I didn’t write “I have an eating disorder” because I don’t want to define myself by a disease anymore. Yes – I do things that are not healthy sometimes. However, I am not my disease. I am a product of so much more than an illness. I am a product of millions of yards swum, thousands of minutes spent in Catholic school, years spent living with my two sisters, mom, dad, and quite a few different pets. I am a product of triumphs as well as failures, happy memories as well as very sad memories.
I’ve realized over the past week that I cannot have my life both ways – I cannot simultaneously move forward while still holding on to the disordered identity. I can’t continue to make choices about what to eat based on how I think it will affect my body. I can’t hold onto the clothes I used to wear, “just in case.” I can’t restrict foods or name them as good or bad anymore. I have to accept that my body is at a natural place where I am finally healthy – I’m getting my period again. If it does happen to settle at a little lower weight after the effects of my hormone pills wear off, then so be it. I cannot be actively trying to change my body from a place that is healthy. And I do not have enough brain space or energy for entertaining disordered thoughts /a negative body image while doing the things I really love, which involve learning, connecting with people, growing and making a positive contribution at swimming, in school, in relationships and with strangers. There are so many more important things out there than the fact that I am uncomfortable with a little womanly weight gain. My body is a healthy woman’s body now – and there is no rational reason for me to be actively trying to force it out of it’s natural place.
Onto my real secret – what I did end up writing. I hadn’t admitted this to myself until today, and I think a part of that is for the last year and a half or so I haven’t felt anything other than anxiety about food, and then over the last three weeks have been too stressed and involved in disordered thinking that I hadn’t come to this realization. One of the main reasons I need to move on (aside from the obvious physical reasons of giving up an eating disorder) is that I’ve made so many mistakes over the last two years and have had so much taken away. I spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas trying to arrange an exercise plan as well as figure out how not to eat “too much.” I spent my junior year of college and junior swim season so wrapped up in getting skinnier I didn’t realize how many people I had pushed out (here’s a clue – everyone) and how I had lost interest in all of the things I used to love. At swim practice I would motivate myself to swim faster not because I wanted to improve and swim well at the end of the season – I’m ashamed to say it, but I motivated myself to swim faster in practice in order to burn the maximum amount of calories possible. I wasn’t voted captain because my coaches and teammates had just found out about my disorder. I had to drop my physics class when I was halfway through, and my therapist had to send a letter to my college telling them why. People had to make accommodations for me, because I was so weak at the time – not that I thought that. I knew my weight was the lowest it had ever been in my adult life, and so thought this was a sign of strength. I lost everything that I had been, and lost the person had grown up to be.
My recovery has been centered around me getting the good parts of myself back, while growing into a better person at the same time. I’ve learned what I love, what I’m passionate about, who I care about and what really is important in life. I’ve learned that people aren’t perfect, and I can’t control my relationships. Sometimes people will do things that I will never be able to understand. I’ve also learned, however, that this is not necessarily a reflection on me. For example, my older sister and I have never gotten along and it took me this recovery process to realize that it really bothers me and makes me sad. Growing up, I got a lot of attention for being good at sports and for getting really good grades…and finally for ending up at Cornell, where my grandfather and father had both gone to school. As many mistakes as I have made, and as much as I know that I’m not perfect (and never have been), she still maintains that I get preferential treatment. Whenever I go home, I notice the rise in tension when I enter a room she is in. Something about me just bothers her, as much as I try to be nice and engage in conversations with her. But I realize now that we are just very, very different people, and if she has to hold onto her resentment against me there is nothing I can do to change that. I just have to be the best sister I can be in spite of our hard relationship.
As far as my secret goes – I have made a lot of mistakes. And I will continue to make mistakes throughout my life. I think the difference between me letting my mistakes prevent me from doing what I want to do – becoming a pediatrician, raising a family, etc – and actually doing those things is my response and attitude. I can no longer beat myself up for my mistakes, and I have to accept that making mistakes are part of being human! I’m not a machine. I have emotions, I get tired. There will be times that I will go skiing instead of studying for whatever med school class I’m taking. There will be times where I cannot put my absolute best effort into a test because I was sick or injured or had something else going on.
I think above all, I can be happy and successful by reacting in a healthy way to situations that do not go entirely as planned. There is no control over these situations – any control I feel is false. I only have control over the way I perceive a result and my reaction and attitude after the fact. I only have control over the decisions I make regarding a situation, and the only control I have is to search my mind and heart for what I feel is right for me and to make the best decision based on those feelings.
Lots of information, I know, but I think writing it out helps me cement it in my mind!!!