I'm "That" Girl: Owning My Story For A Second Time

Happy Saturday everyone!

I say this every week, but this really has been one heck of a week. 

Monday marked the start of orientation for Yale School of Nursing. The best way to describe it would be hopping on a rollercoaster with a blindfold on: lots of ups, downs, uncertainty, and adrenaline. The days were informative, but also draining- mentally, physically, and socially. From day one, they reminded me why I chose this profession and their program, emphasizing again and again how we will be the “mavericks and change makers,” how we will grow through all of this, and learn more than we thought possible, as long as we keep our eyes open. That’s not to say this year won’t be long or difficult. I think the two standout quotes were, “You are ours til December” and “A kick in the ass is just forward momentum.” 

The highlights of this week, however, had a lot to do with the wonderful faculty, professors, and fellow peers that I got to meet. It was an exhausting week, but I feel so grateful to be part of such a unique experience and be surrounded by so many wonderful, kind, passionate people going through it together.

As our cohort has been getting to know one another, a question I got over and over again this week was “why did you choose psych for your specialty?” 

The answer should have been easy. Should have rolled right off my tongue. How many times have I typed it, said it in an interview, or read it over and over as I proofread yet another application? 

But this week, I found myself pausing, panicking even. Do I tell them the truth? Do I slide around the issue? What if it’s awkward? Suddenly the experiences, the story that I have owned, the one that got me into this program in the first place, felt like a shameful secret. What if they become uncomfortable? What if that’s too much to share for someone you just met? What if they judge me? I’ve found myself telling everyone everything from, “I’ve just been passionate about mental health since high school” to “Oh, friends struggling and personal issues brought me into the field.” 

Since sharing my story and starting this blog, I have brushed off countless comments along the lines of, “you’re so brave” or “I could never be that vulnerable.” I have never seen it as such. Perhaps it was the fact that when I arrived at Vanderbilt, people could see the physical manifestations of my mental suffering. Perhaps because I went through so much of my journey at Vanderbilt, because so many people witnessed the change for themselves, I felt like I had nothing to hide. In some ways, I felt as though I cemented my identity there, through both personal and on campus-involvements, as the girl who overcame an eating disorder and who found healing and strength in sharing her story for others to do the same. This was a label I wore with a certain level of pride, but an even greater sense of responsibility. 

Arriving here has left me wondering- do I still want to be that girl?

Regardless of the reasons for this newfound silence, this week and the question of “why” has left me tongue tied over and over. But this silence around my journey has also left me feeling inauthentic. I wouldn’t be here, surrounded by the individuals asking me, if it weren’t for my eating disorder. I wouldn’t have the drive, the desire to heal those who were once where I was, if I hadn’t walked through the darkness myself. This desire is what gets me up in the morning, it’s what lights me up when I talk about my future, it’s what will get me through the long days, nights, and weeks to come. I’m doing a disservice to myself and to those who continue to struggle by hiding my story, reducing it to a mere “personal issue.” I’m proof that recovery is possible. That there is hope, even when you thought that you wouldn’t make it. 

For better (and sometimes for worse), my eating disorder recovery has shaped me, strengthened me, made me the person I am. The way I’ve allowed it to shape my journey and my passion is what makes me unique, at least compared to some around me. There should be no shame in the work, the tears, and the pain it has taken for me to come from a place of darkness to walking onto Yale’s campus, a happier, healthier, stronger woman. There should be no shame in owning my story, in continuing to allow it to, if not inspire and help those around me, then to at least allow it to exist in the open. 

So when people inevitably ask me, I will tell them the truth. I had an eating disorder. I am in recovery. And, one day, I’m going to take all the pain, the hurt, and the darkness it bestowed upon me, and turn it into something beautiful.

At the end of the day, I do want to be “that girl.”