The Power of Graduating In Spite of ED

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I stare at myself in the mirror, smoothing out the wrinkles in my black gown. With one last glance in the mirror, I place my hand over my heart, feeling for the small blue pin clipped to the black fabric. The pin is shaped like a ribbon and contains the letters “N-E-D-A,” National Eating Disorders Association, written in green. Feeling the cold medal of the pin beneath my palm, I know I am ready.

It is my college graduation day, or the day that my eating disorder promised me many times would never come. Today is the day that I will walk across the grass stage in the outdoor amphitheater, shake the hand of my college president, and officially accept a piece of paper which promises me a whole new world of opportunities—a world of new paths and experiences that exist beyond my eating disorder.

“Today is a celebration of new beginnings. It marks a new journey where my eating disorder will no longer be in charge.”

And yet, I can’t imagine walking across the stage to accept my diploma without a small personal symbol of my battle with ED. To me, wearing the blue pin is honest to all I have overcome. It gives a voice to the behind-the-scenes, non-academic struggles that made up my and many others college experiences. As someone who was accompanied by ED during all 4 years of college, a diploma signifies more than pushing through late nights writing papers or studying enough for my final exams. It represents surviving late nights sobbing, questioning if I was good enough or strong enough to fight through an eating disorder. It represents powering through challenging meals, even when I felt like I had to compensate for how much I already ate or like I simply didn’t deserve to eat.

“Graduation day was not just a culmination of the college experience. It was evidence that I am enough and that I can conquer any challenge, including my eating disorder.”

Still, when I get stuck in the depressive grasp of ED, I can’t help but wonder if I wasted my college experience. Perhaps I missed out on amazing opportunities or didn’t form enough potentially life-lasting friendships because I was too self-obsessed in my eating disorder. To other recent college graduates who have experienced an ED and may have similar thoughts: it’s okay that college probably wasn’t the best four years of your life. I’m sorry if many of your college memories, like mine, are clouded by the demands and actions of ED. I know it sucks that your extracurriculars might have been therapy and practicing self-care after stressful meals instead of joining a club, volunteering, or just hanging out with friends.

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But you know what? You still did it. You accomplished an impossibly difficult journey, which many people may never begin to understand. You pushed through classes, homework, exams, and social events, all with ED demanding your attention along the way. In spite of everything, you did it. You fought ED and fought in spite of ED. You made it through perhaps the worst 4 years of your life. To be clear, graduation was not a culmination of my eating disorder, and it might not be for you either. I still have difficult days when all I can think about is food. Most days, I still actively fight to ensure I’m eating regularly and eating enough while also trying to eat socially and with flexibility. It’s exhausting.

But, graduation did provide closure that the worst of my eating disorder is behind me. The accomplishment served as a reminder that an eating disorder can only have so much power—that I, like everyone, have strength and value outside of my eating disorder.

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“It’s a reminder that there is a life outside of ED and, even on the worst days, it’s always worth the fight.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOr: BRITTNI TERESI

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Brittni Teresi is 21 years old from Las Vegas, Nevada. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in the sun, reading, and hanging out with friends. Music, writing, and inspiring people have been essential in her recovery journey. She recently graduated from Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia, where she received a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies. She hopes to one day work in clinical psychology, with the goal of helping people as much as others have helped her.