I grew up constantly hearing about was how amazing my brother’s college experience was – how it was the best four years of his life, how he made the most amazing friends, had the most amazing experiences, and would do it all again in a heartbeat if he could.
My brother went to college when I was 3, almost 4, so when I say I heard about this my whole life…I mean it. My brother has always been my biggest role model. I’ve looked up to him my whole life and have always wanted to be just like him. Because of this, living at college was always the plan for me. When it came time to graduate high school I had a few friends that wanted to live at home and commute to school. I honestly thought they were crazy. What was the point? They wouldn’t be getting the “real” college experience – the experience that I had dreamed of my whole life. The one where you go off to school and it’s the best thing ever and you make your lifelong friends and life finally seems to be falling into place and you’re making these amazing memories with these amazing people and… you get the point.
But for me, college wasn’t quite like that. When it came time to graduate high school, I was at a very unhealthy place with my eating disorder – struggling both mentally and physically. Instead of going off to college right away, I was forced to take a gap year. I ended up spending 5 months of that gap year in eating disorder treatment so that I’d be ready to head to college. When it came time to choose where I was going, I ended up choosing Keene State College – one of the biggest party schools in New Hampshire. I honestly didn’t even put much thought behind it. I was just too excited to be like a “normal” teenager and head off to school like everyone else did.
The truth is, I didn’t really spend the year off getting myself healthy. I spent it staying healthy enough to slide by and get to college – but I had made no mental progress whatsoever. I remember thinking about how excited I was to get to college and lose all of the weight that I wanted – be as skinny as I wanted to be because no one was there to control me. Sad, right?
And that’s pretty much what I did.. went off to college, lost a ton of weight, turned back to all of my unhealthy habits, and wound up leaving by February of second semester – back to treatment
So WHY didn’t college work for me? What made it so difficult to stay healthy?
1.) The comparison trap: I’m the type of person who compares herself to anyone and everyone, in every little way. And when you’re surrounded by girls 24/7, it’s hard!! “What time did she eat breakfast?” “how much ___ is she eating” “did she go to the gym today?” “what did her workout look like” “how many workouts has she done this week?” “how many meals has she had today?” It’s obsessive. I would think about all of those things in my head, and then compare myself. How many workouts did I do? How much ___ did I eat? I always wanted to be the one working out most and eating less. And sadly, a lot of girls think this way. It’s hard to stop comparing when other peoples lives are thrown in your face all day every day. I also had a roommate who didn’t really eat much, and living in such a tight space with someone who I felt was under-eating was extremely triggering to my eating disorder. As the days went on, I began to eat less and less, and workout more and more.
2.) The space: I am very much someone who needs her own space and alone time or I start to go a little crazy. At college, I got no alone time whatsoever. I was constantly surrounded by people and it was very hard for an introvert like me. I couldn’t handle the constant social part of it. I literally had nowhere to go to even talk on the phone in peace. I had so much I wanted to vent about to people back home but it was difficult when you live in such close quarters that people can hear your every little move!! I am not someone who likes to be around people 24/7 and that’s okay. I felt weird for it, and different, but that’s just not my style and I’ve come to accept that. Just because others like to be social 24/7, doesn’t make you “weird” for needing your space.
3.) The lifestyle: As most of us know, the college lifestyle isn’t always the healthiest. I was basically waking up, going to class, and coming back to my dorm to nap/watch Netflix. Although I was working out, I just felt lazy and unproductive. There is nothing wrong with just hanging out, but that was basically what I did all day every day. I would sleep my days away, stay up till whatever time I wanted, and drink all the time. Like I said, nothing wrong with that, and I’ll be honest – I had a lot of fun. but I’m sure most of you have realized – that is just NOT me. For my mental health, it’s best for me to keep busy.
4.) The talk: When you go to college, you’re ALWAYS hearing girls talk about things like calories, weight loss, “I skipped lunch today”, etc etc. It was hard for me to continue eating and trying to be healthy when I heard people talking like that all of the time. and it made me question myself – “should I have skipped lunch today too?” “was my workout good enough?” “am I eating too much?!”. Not only that, but I was constantly hearing girls talk about other girls that they knew who had “gained the freshman 15” – aka went off to college and gained weight. I was in a place where I needed to gain weight. I was losing weight at an alarming pace, but was so fearful of being talked about in such a way. I was not about to be the girl who gained the freshman 15. Girls can be mean, and when we hear talk like this all of the time – it’s hard not to question yourself. I knew in my head what was the healthy and right thing to do, but hearing things like this all of the time made it too difficult to do it. Getting out of an environment where talk like this was so frequent was extremely important in order to protect myself and my mental health.
5.) The comments: I went off to school about 5 pounds underweight, and from there it just kept slipping off. People kept commenting on how skinny I was, and how good I looked. I remember walking into a party and a girl across the street screamed “OMG you are so skinny. You look so good! I wish I was that skinny!!”. This was a normal thing for me. It was pretty much the first comment anyone made. The thing is.. I knew I had to gain weight, but HOW was I supposed to do that? If people noticed how skinny I was, they sure as hell would notice if I gained a few pounds. So, I got trapped in fear. I knew I wasn’t healthy, but I had no clue where to go from there, or what to do, so I just kept on doing what I was doing – barely eating, overworking my body, killing myself from the inside out – and I kept on losing pound after pound. People always think that commenting on how skinny someone looks is a GOOD thing, but no one stops to think about what that person may be going through, or what it took for them to look like that.
6.) The drinking: This is a huge one. When I was at school, I was drinking every Thursday Friday and Saturday. And when I say drinking, I mean until I was black out – every night. But it wasn’t the actual drinking that made college unhealthy for me, it was the behaviors around it. I was already restricting my food intake on a normal day, but when it was a drinking day, things got worse. Obviously I wanted to “look good” when we went out – duh. I hated tight clothes and crop tops but I wanted to wear what every other college girl was wearing, so I filled my wardrobe with skimpy tight clothes and because of that.. I was so afraid to eat on days that I would be going out. I couldn’t risk being bloated and looking bad in that nights outfit!!! So what did I do? I barely ate. On the good days, I would allow myself coffee with a splash of unsweetened cashew milk and some stevia, breakfast – usually hard boiled eggs – and sometimes a light dinner of lettuce and chicken.. yum!!! I used coffee as a laxative because I knew it would go right through me (sorry TMI) and make me look even leaner. I let myself drink about 3 cups to keep me full. I had no energy on these days so they typically involved laying in bed watching Netflix until it was time to drink. My first “halloweekend” (halloween weekend) at school was one of my lowest points – but hey, at least I had fun! If you’ve seen college girls on halloween you know how they dress – tight ass costumes that show a lot of skin. I had to look good in my costumes. I had to look as skinny as possible. So, I ate even less. The first two days I allowed myself coffee and breakfast. Maybe one snack 4 hours before I had to be in my costume. But on actual halloween.. I was wearing a tiny little crop trop that pretty much exposed my whole stomach.. I didn’t eat a single thing the whole day. And then somehow I went out drinking?!?! I had to be carried back to my dorm at like 11 pm from the party (like 1 mile away) – fun night right?!
What was supposed to be the “best four years” of my life almost killed me.
I had lost close to 20 pounds in just a few short months. I was running myself ragged. Staying up till all hours of the night, forcing intense workouts on my tired body, drinking 3 days a week, and barely eating. I thought that I was happy – I mean, I was supposed to be having the time of my life, right? Everyone did! I was having fun…but at what cost? The fun didn’t last all that long because depression set in real quick.
I was just a shell of a person. I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. I was sitting below 90 pounds. People from home started to notice the weight loss. My friends were worried. I was worried. I would cry all of the time because I could feel my body giving up on me – I could feel how weak I was. I was afraid of my heart stopping. Whenever I went to sleep at night, I was afraid that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I was dizzy, miserable, and absolutely freezing all of the time. I couldn’t focus on a single thing. I would cry when trying to do my homework because my brain just couldn’t function normally. I began to isolate myself from my friends and spend hours upon hours in bed. My health was taking a serious toll and I couldn’t live that way anymore. After much hesitation, many tears, and months of putting it off – I left Keene in February 2016 and checked myself back into treatment.
The thing is.. I was living the life that others wanted for me. At a huge expense to my health, I was living the life that I thought I should. But what if it wasn’t the life that I wanted? What if it wasn’t right for me? During the months that I was living at school, I KNEW how unhealthy I was. I knew that my mental health was severely struggling and that my body would soon give out on me. I knew that moving home was the right thing. But how could I do that? My whole family was so proud of my brother going off to college, and I couldn’t be a disappointment. I was living out of fear and I was afraid to admit that it wasn’t the life that I wanted – because what would people think of me?
College can be a hard environment to thrive in. Living at school is not for everyone, and that’s OKAY.
After leaving Keene in 2016 and going to treatment, I took some time off of school completely. Now? I live at home and commute to community college, and I’m happy with that. It took me some time to realize that I didn’t have to live at school – that while maybe I wouldn’t be getting the true “college experience”.. I was totally okay with that. I didn’t need to live the way a “normal” person my age did. At first I felt so embarrassed. I felt like a disappointment to my family and a disappointment to myself. I spent days and days in my bed crying thinking things like – “why can’t I just be normal?” “why does college work for everyone else, but not me?” and feeling like a total freak for doing things differently than most people.
I think the problem is that we come up with these crazy ideas of what others expect of us, when the truth is they just want what is best. I lived months and months of my life trying to live up to the expecatations that I THOUGHT others had for me – when in reality, all that they wanted was whatever would make me happiest. College isn’t for everyone – and that’s totally okay. I tried to force it for so long. I worried so much about what others would think of me. I worried so much that I would be looked at as a failure.
But you know what happened once I left? Once I finally let go of all of the fears that I had? Once I finally decided it was time to live the life that I wanted to live? NOTHING. Well, nothing bad.
I stopped living out of fear and started living authentically. I didn’t disappoint my family – if anything, I made them proud by getting myself out of an environment that was so detrimental to my health. I started to get myself back on the right track. I started to get myself healthy again and feel healthy again. After months of forcing something that just wasn’t right, I finally started to feel like myself again. My smile became real again. My laughs became authentic. And I still had all of the support and love from everyone around me. My fears did not come true. My eating disorder and mental health issues are still an every day struggle, but had I stayed at school I truly don’t think I would have survived.
Stop living life how you think you’re supposed to live it. The good people in your life – they will stick by you no matter how you decide to live. Get rid of the ideas of how your life should look. Get rid of the thoughts about what others want for you. What will make YOU happy? What is the healthiest thing for YOU? Are you running yourself ragged trying to live up to expectations that you feel like people have for you? STOP. Let it go. Stop living out of fear of being a dissapointment. Stop caring so much about what others think. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you are truly happy, in whatever it is you’re doing! Don’t let society – or your family, friends, anybody – pressure you into living a life that doesn’t feel right for you. This doesn’t just go for college, it goes for whatever it applies to in your life. You only have one life and you deserve to spend it being truly happy.
Had I kept forced myself to live the life I thought I should be living – I would have never even started to discover who I truly am. I would have never discovered that I love blasting Drake and baking in my kitchen. Or that slow sunday mornings with my pup are my favorite thing in the world. Or that I’d rather spend a weekend discovering new coffee shops or going on hikes than drinking at a party. I would have never discovered my true passion for health and wellness, and I would have never started Allies Eats.
Be yourself, unapologetically. Realize that there is no “right” way to live life. In the end, all that matters is that the decision you make is the healthiest and happiest for YOU. Who cares what the “norm” is – YOUR health and YOUR happiness come above all else. And the people who truly matter will support you no matter what.