Reflections On 22 years, Hopes for 23

In just a few short days, another year will have come and gone, with a new number that I will inevitably stumble over when asked my age (at least for the next week or two). 

Birthdays have always been my time to reflect on the successes, challenges, and experiences that filled the year before it.  It’s been a way for me to celebrate the victories and learn from the difficulties. 

In some ways, 22 was everything I had hoped for, and in others, nothing like I could have imagined. Reading my reflection post from last year at this time, I wish I could tell myself many things. It will be ok. You are stronger than you think. There will be more important things to focus on. But of course, hindsight is 20/20.

The first half of 22 feels like a blur in retrospect. The uncertainty of nursing school applications, the self-imposed pressure to make senior year “the best” (whatever that meant), balancing school and a relationship, and then...relapsing. Back to old behaviors, back to concerned conversations, back to feeling helpless against my own mind, back to everything I thought I had let go of the year before. This year certainly taught me the insidious nature of eating disorders. You think you are well, but the denial is a mask that’s paper thin. I had been coasting, simply getting by. And like embers turn to flames, this past year fanned the remnants of my disorder back into, at times, what felt like a forest fire. 

That’s not to say there weren’t wonderful, beautiful moments last fall. I fell more in love, bringing my boyfriend back to my hometown for the first time and spending Thanksgiving with his family. I went to concerts that left me speechless, grateful for the once in a lifetime opportunities Nashville can give a person. For a while, I was able to wake up each day and tell myself it would be a good day. A better day than the one before. And sometimes this even worked. But as fall turned to last winter, this became increasingly difficult. 

I spent a good part of the year crawling slowly out of the hole I found myself in. I can’t point to one single factor that brought me to that place, but a pile of pebbles that became an avalanche. 

Amidst the struggle I found myself in for much of the year, there were victories. 

Hearing back from nursing schools, visiting, and ultimately committing to Yale.

Training for and then running my first full marathon in April, an accomplishment I’ll remember for the rest of my life (and hope to someday repeat, as well).

Graduating from Vanderbilt in May, the farewell to a hard, successful, and transformational chapter in my life.

Then, the summer. Sometimes it feels like more growth happened this summer than all my past years of recovery combined. 

The thing about recovery is that you have to actively choose it. And not just once. But over and over, day to day, moment to moment. This summer was one big journey of figuring out how to do that, how to lean into discomfort and anxiety, and know that, not only can I handle it, but I can grow stronger from it. 

It was a much needed break from the chaos of the last year or so, and a chance to reset before beginning my nursing school adventures.

I wish I could sit here and say that I am fully recovered. Or that I am even really close to being so. But the truth is, I still struggle. I still have days that feel like I am trying to move mountains. And I also have days that feel brighter, freer. Healing is such a process, such a journey. 22 was the year I feel like I made big strides. My hope is that 23 is the year this continues, until the days of being consumed by arbitrary rules, days of anxiety, and obsessive thoughts become more of a memory than a present moment hurdle I continue to face. 

What are my other hopes for the year ahead?

Beginning nursing school has been a whirlwind (hopefully more to come in a later post). The classes, the people, the schedule that makes me miss even the longest class days in undergrad. There are days I feel energized, ready to tackle the mountains of information and tests that we will be inevitably bombarded with in the coming weeks. There are also days I already feel like I’m drinking from a fire hose. Or drowning in one. 

I hope to take what I learned from this past year, and use it all (the skills, the life lessons, the self-awareness) to not only survive, but thrive in my new home and my new life as a nursing student.

This year taught me that I am more resilient and capable than my anxious mind allows me to believe. 

That remembering your values- connection, bravery, vulnerability- can allow you to make the right decisions, even when fear is sinking its claws into your back. 

That life is hard, beautiful, a ride to be enjoyed, and, ultimately, so fleeting. Too short to be spent caught up in things I don’t even want to be remembered for. 

That healing is a process, and patience vital. Self-care a luxury, but at the most basic of levels, a necessity. 

These first few months of being 23 will be filled with their own, brand new challenges, but if it weren’t for the ones before, I am confident I would be far less ready to handle them. 

I hope to continue to cultivate this self-love that I have been pursuing. Or at the very least, self-acceptance.

I hope to continue to value connection and the pursuit of my dreams, rather than a smaller body and unattainable ideal. 

I hope to continue to be okay with just being… okay. Knowing that I am worthy simply because I strive to show up for others, for myself, and this life. Simply because I am breathing. Knowing that even the darkest seasons of life will end, to be replaced with something that shines just a little brighter. 

How these things will come to be, I have yet to determine. I only know that this year is going to change my life in ways I can’t even imagine. And that I am ready. 

As always, I’m incredibly grateful for those who stuck by my side, for the new friends who are coming into my life, and for those who have never left it. Life would be far less wonderful without the people who make it so. 

Cheers to another year of growth, laughter, and love. 

LifeEtta EckerstromComment