Today, I got in to my second university, which I should have gone to in the first place. This morning I checked my admission status, and saw that finally, after waiting and worrying non-stop for the past two months, I had been admitted to the school that I wanted to attend. The amount of relief I feel about this is indescribable- I feel as though I’m suddenly lighter despite the weight I’ve recently gained. And much like that weight brought me back to health, this admission furthers my pursuit of balance and happiness. I feel as though I’ve really made the right “big decision” for the second time in my life. My first foray into decisions that serve me well was my choice to return home for the summer, to stop co-op prematurely and to seek help for my eating disorder. This second decision involves staying at home in the company of my mother and attending the university in my hometown.
Three years ago I thought that it was my destiny to escape small-town living, to move on to bigger and better things. I thought that I could only be happy living in the big city, skyscrapers towering down over me, casting shadows of the success I would become. I was headed for law school or government work- a steady, well-paying job at 60 hours a week. I was heading for bilingual certification by taking my schooling in my second language, claiming that I loved toiling away for hours on the French texts I had to read and correcting again and again the work of which I was not proud. I was going to save the world by taking International Development. I would be the fit forty-year-old woman in a pantsuit, perfectly manicured nails belying the sweaty gym session at 5 am that preceded her day. I would have a six-figure income and a penthouse apartment in a swanky building with a famous postal code. How could I not be happy when I had it all?
When my world began to crash down, I still clung to the dream, my version of success. In my frail fingers I grasped at the only definition of success that I saw possible- the money, the glamour, the security. Despite my experience with despising a government job, in spite of my perpetual stress over the schoolwork I did not enjoy, I still saw myself waking up to abundance. I still pictured my future in the accolades I thought I would achieve. My anxiety and unhappiness were, in my mind, just the price that one had to pay for the achievements of the finer things in life. I was headed for the future I thought the world had mapped out for me, and I was not willing to take a step back and evaluate the why.
Though I didn’t admit it at the time, I was angry. I was furious that the life I had worked so tirelessly to cultivate throughout my young existence was not any fun at all. I was so very angry that I couldn’t keep it together enough to stay in school, to be socially involved, to have a job. Even when I admitted that I needed help and returned home for a brief stint, I was so adamant that after a few months of “recovery” I would be ready to return to the big city and do it all on my own. To take a year off of school was weak, to enter into treatment was cheating the fates. I had had my chance to fly and I had fallen deep down into the depths of failure.
I distinctly remember sitting outside a classroom, waiting for class to begin, sipping Powerade Zero, and waiting for the electrolytes to wake me from my fog. Unable to take a deep breath, I let a few errant tears leak from my eyes as I willed the room to stop spinning. The chapter of my life in which I clung to my erroneous version of the right thing to do was punctuated by dizzy spells, and feeble attempts to counter them with calorie-free versions of “medicine”. Sitting in the empty lobby twenty minutes before this course began, I pondered the why of my presence in the looming building that surrounded me. The tiles on the floor danced in my periphery as I attempted to make sense of the text I was reading- one of seven-hundred and ten pages I was required to read before the end of the course. When class finally began, I drifted in and out of attention, barely hearing the words the professor said. Trying to keep up with the steady stream of unintelligible Québécois, I feigned interest while at the same time contemplating dinner.
That class was the last one I attended at my big city University. When the next day I found myself on the treadmill despite promises to take it easy, tears streaming down my face parallel to the beads of sweat, I knew that whatever it was that I was doing it wasn’t achieving. By eleven o’clock that night I was at my mom’s house, tucked into my bed, holding up the white flag of defeat and unsure what the next day would bring. In order to get home, I had enrolled in one online course before dropping the other five I had begun- one final attempt to pursue the success that had as yet escaped me.
Between the twenty-one year old who sits at a café window looking out onto a beautiful spring day and eagerly awaits the rest of her life and the shell of a person who collapsed into her mother’s arms on a rainy day in September lies months of denial, anger, sadness, and pain. Even admitting those emotions demonstrates the growth that that person has seen over the past year. Surrendering to fate, to destiny, or to reason, I’ve begun to reevaluate my prior definition of success. No objective standards would recognize the growth of the past months, as I have been out of school, out of a job, essentially fallen off the map of achievement. To anyone else, I was just another patient, spending my days in a hospital and living with my mother. To me, and my family, and the friends with whom I now surround myself, the past year has meant so much more than that. Ironically, moving back home was the bravest and most adult decision I’ve made thus far. And now, as I bask in the glow of my acceptance into the school where I will begin anew, I face my future, as different from my previous conception as could possibly be. And I smile.