Delayed graduation shame

I tend to push away anything that’s uncomfortable and makes me think about the hard things. I’ll completely “forget” about it, only for whatever emotions to bubble up due to some trigger. Today, that happened in regards to schooling. I wanted to share my processing of this and what I’ve come to.

I graduated in 2014. In the perfect world, you spend exactly four years in undergrad and come out with your degree and all is well. With how competitive my high school can be, this plan usually includes amazing opportunities, scholarships, honors societies, and varsity athletics. Just like high school, it isn’t enough to simply graduate. If you would have asked me sophomore or even my 6th grade year, my plan would be exactly like everyone else’s. The expectation in our school was to go above and beyond if you wanted to prove yourself as one of the “smart ones.” By junior year I had a new, more prestigious and impressive plan. I was part of early college which meant taking half college and half high school classes junior/senior year, then doing one more year at community college to get my associates degree a whole year early. I clung to that idea and goal, right up until it wasn’t possible anymore.

Switching to nursing was absolutely the best decision I have EVER made in regards to academics, but this meant having to accept that I was no longer above and beyond. It meant having to do lots of prerequisites and instead getting my degree on time. I learned to be okay with this, considering I was on track still.

I am no longer on track to graduate with my class. I haven’t been for over 2 years now. I’ve been shoving those feelings of disappointment, shame, frustration, and inadequacy down ever since then. I’m able to forget about it most days. Today was not one of those. I logged into Facebook (which is an absolutely terrible place if you want to feel proud of your own accomplishments and not play the comparison game). A friend from high school posted a status update about his events today, including the last meeting with his advisor and trying on cap and gown. It brought up everything all over again.

I immediately went to all of the reasons I’m not enough. How could I be smart if I did really poorly in classes, couldn’t even handle my first college semester away, and am not in the honors program? The only conclusions coming from this line of thought put all of my worth in school, and since I “failed” there, I must be a complete failure of a person. I sat here for a while. I wallowed. I cried. I felt super shitty about it all. Then, I really started thinking.

Besides my eating disorder in itself as a barrier to my education, quitting halfway through my first fall semester is the reason why I had to take an extra year. I could do a few things with this information, but today I chose to explore why things are how they are from a lens of understanding and compassion.

I can’t deny the facts that I dropped a semester or had a terribly low GPA last spring. I can pretend all I want that I was this perfect student who never missed class, gave 110% in all work, turned in everything, and didn’t even need to study. I could sit there and lie to everyone about how amazing school has gone, but I don’t want to now.

I hate the idea of ever using my eating disorder as some crutch or excuse for my behaviors, but it truly did/does impact my schooling. Not a single moment of the past 3 years have been easy from an academic standpoint. Instead of the normal college experience, I got constant ED thoughts and behaviors that took over my life. I look back at this time and wonder how I even got through it.

The fact that I’ve gotten this far isn’t a miracle, but a culmination of a lot of hard work. I overcame every battle to get to where I am today. This isn’t the route I would have chosen, not even close. No one wants to actively seek out the most difficult path, but it’s what I was given.

I choose to stop the comparison game and look towards my future. In 5 or 10 or 20 years, no one is going to care what my college GPA was or how many years it took me to finish.  What truly will matter is what kind of nurse I have become, who I am as a person, how I treat others. School is important and will allow me to pursue my dreams, but it’s only a stepping stone. In 5 or 10 or 20 years, I don’t want to be able to brag about what I did in college. Instead, I will speak about the roller coaster of a journey it took to get there.

Comparison is the thief of joy

“I wish I was more like her.” “She only went to treatment x times, why am I still here?” “I’m sicker than you because xyz.” “I wish I could go back to how I looked 6 years ago, before starting recovery.” “Is he thinner than me?” “You must be bulimic right? You don’t look like most anorexics.” “Why is her meal plan smaller?” “Why can’t I eat like him?” “I’m eating better to make up for yesterday.” “I’m the smallest/largest person in this whole place.” “What if I end up like chronic ED patient x?” “I’ve been to more/less treatment centers than everyone else.” “Why is her weight so much less/more than mine?” “My life isn’t tragic enough for me to end up here.” “I should be in such a different place than I am now.”

To these thoughts and many more I’ve had/heard: SHUT (the fuck) UP!!!

Eating disorder recovery is tough shit. Believe it or not, comparing ourselves to our past, where we “should” be, other people’s body/recovery/”sickness”/etc, on and on and on is NOT healthy. In fact, it really just keeps you in that lovely ED mindset. These disorders love comparison. They live for it. Letting go of comparison is not easy but I believe its so essential to recovery.

I’m a work in progress in this area, but I want to share some steps I have taken to help inspire anyone else facing it as well.

  1. Focus on the present moment. Seems obvious I guess but also, it makes a whole lot of sense. Spending your time worried too much on the past or future takes away from where you are in that very moment. Does it really get you anywhere other than stuck in various comparisons?
  2. Get self-centered. Sounds weird, I know. Technically all recovery should be centered on YOU, but this especially. If you put on blinders and try not to worry so much about where other people are, what they’re doing, how they look, etc, then you have more time to worry about yourself. You should be our own priority when it comes down to it.
  3. Stop shoulding on yourself. This could be a whole post for another day, but it so relates here. The second you mutter should or its cousins could and would you have a comparison that most likely is demeaning. Don’t even consider them part of your vocabulary.
  4. Let go of expectations. Expectations aren’t always a good thing. When they’re self-directed it can cause plenty of negative thoughts if not met. Especially in recovery our expectations aren’t always feasible or realistic. Slipping, relapse, shitty days, and a million other things get in the way. That being said, throw your expectations out the window! That way you will find neither disappointment nor excitement but deal with and accept everything as it comes.
  5. Find the good (and bad) in where you are now. Most of the time, comparisons come because you feel inadequate or superior in some way. If you take a second to evaluate where you are in that moment, listing both the good an bad, it can help prevent any comparative talk.
  6. Take a deep breath, repeat after me, tell the thought to go away. As you begin to have these thoughts, you can still stop them! First, breathe, and just breathe, or a bit. Next, repeat the mantra “comparison is the thief of joy.” Silly, yes, but saying something enough times at least partially makes them true. And finally, tell that thought to shut up (or whatever language you choose)!

*this post dedicated to my friend who is currently in the hospital*