Self Care First, School Second

Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” -Katie Reed

I love school. I always have. Central Methodist University is my happy place. I love the atmosphere of school, the structure and schedule, the motivation that comes with wanting to succeed, the relationship with teachers, all of it. As much as I love school, I have had to realize something very important.

School is not everything.

This was (and still is) a really hard concept for me to accept. For the majority of my life, one of my biggest priorities has been doing well in school. Getting good grades, pleasing my teachers, never missing a homework assignment, everything that my brain told me I needed to do to be the “perfect student.” And I would do whatever it took to make those goals come true.

I have mentioned before that perfectionism is directly correlated to the development of eating disorders. Of course it is not the only factor, but it’s a big one. Here is what I’ve learned from my experience: the more I listen to eating disorder voice, the stronger my perfectionistic tendencies are. Eating disorders are so ridiculously competitive, that’s what makes them so dangerous and hard to beat. In the height of my eating disorder, my entire day was centered around being the best at everything. The best at doing homework, at being organized, at practicing, at pleasing teachers, at staying up late to be the most productive I could, the list goes on.

Well, guess what? You can’t be the “perfect anorexic” and the “perfect student” at the same time. I tried, it doesn’t work.

When I started exploring the idea of going to treatment, one of my biggest hesitations was leaving school. I told my treatment team that if I had to take time off of school, I wouldn’t do it. I was so afraid of falling behind, but mostly disappointing my teachers. I felt like such a failure. But then I realized something that changed everything. My eating disorder had ruined school for me. School was supposed to be my happy place. But with ED running the show, I wasn’t even enjoying school anymore. I couldn’t focus in class, I never wanted to do homework, I couldn’t practice piano or memorize music. That’s when I realized something had to change.

Deciding to take a month of school was one of the hardest decisions in this process. I didn’t know how to exist without school. But my professors at CMU bent over backwards to make my recovery happen. The plan was to continue school while I was at treatment, mostly through email with my professors. Once I got to TK, I realized that wasn’t really going to work. Recovery was going to be a full time job, and I couldn’t be giving any of that time away to school. My professors were incredibly understanding and said they’d do whatever it took to catch me up when I got back (and they did.) Taking that time for myself helped me realize that school is not a measurement of my worth as a person. Grades don’t measure how much I am going to succeed in life. My life is just as valuable whether I am at school or not.

My happiness and health are more important than my GPA.

As I start my junior year here at CMU, I’m constantly having to remind myself of these truths. I’ve had a really hard time adjusting to being back at school and have noticed myself wanting to fall back into old habits. But, almost 6 months out from treatment and my professors continue to give me grace and show me that they care more about my health than my grades. They have never once been disappointed in me for putting my mental health first. As well as teaching me about music, they have taught me that to be the best teacher I can be, I have to take care of myself first. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Are you afraid of what your teachers might say? I know I was. Just to show how much people care, here are some quotes from my professors when I have expressed the struggles of recovery:

“I hope you know that you can come to me with absolutely anything and I will be here for you. Baby steps!”
“You are a very special child of God. Remember that.”
“Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be thinking of you over the next few days. Sending healing thoughts and prayers to you.”
“I am SO PROUD OF YOU! Focus on you and don’t apologize for it.”
“You are doing so unbelievably well. Try to cut yourself a little slack.”
“Celebrate your baby steps today! Get back up when you fall down.”
“Your health and taking care of yourself is FAR more important than anyone else’s opinion.”

Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. If you need to drop a class because your schedule is too full, do it. If you need to move classes around to have time for therapy, do it. If you need accommodations made, do it. If you need to take an extra semester so you’re not as overwhelmed, do it.

Prioritizing happiness and health doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you successful.

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