A handful of cliché posters papered the walls of each of my elementary school classrooms: a monkey saying “Hang in there!”; a horse, mane majestically flowing in the wind, captioned “Follow Your Dreams”; a team of huskies pulling a sled labelled “TEAMWORK.” My favorite, though, was a fluffy-headed baby, mid-tumble, with the words “The first step is always the hardest.”
Though the posters are corny, I think their message rings true, whether you’re a third grader learning cursive, a college student struggling through organic chemistry, or a an empty-nester planning a retirement party. Everybody, no matter who you are, needs some motivation sometimes.
Recovery can be a scary prospect. Admitting that you need help, acknowledging the problem, letting go of old habits, and finding a whole new way to live – it seems impossibly overwhelming. But that’s why people call it the “road to recovery”. There is no one giant change to make, one big breakthrough to a happy life. There’s baby steps and leaps and lunges, one after the other, and we never know which one will come next.
Recovery is different for everyone. Each person is different; each experience with disordered eating is intricate in its own ways; everybody must start in their own place.
I urge anyone struggling, be it with disordered eating, depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, to seek help. Though recovery is not impossible without professional help, it is far harder and the road to recovery will be leagues longer without it.
But it’s important not to forget about the other things we can do. Talking – simply, purely, talking – is a first step that anyone can take. Talk to your dog. Talk to Siri. Work your way up to other people – start with who you trust. Tell your best friend that you’ve been feeling kind of funny. Open up to the boy you’re just starting to get to know, but who just feels safe. When your roommate says that he’s thinking about going to CAPS, mention to him that you may be interested in going along. Call your mom and ask if she ever felt like this, too.
The moment we start talking about mental illness is the moment we start reducing the stigma. People struggle. Many, many people struggle. One in five college students (some literature is now suggesting the numbers might even be closer to one in four) may struggle with an eating disorder during their time at university. You are not alone.
So talk about it. Talking about it doesn’t have to be dramatic – nobody’s ever required to make a “How I Recovered” video on YouTube, nor share their story on a stage. The first step on your road to recovery doesn’t have to be anything particular at all; it’s your recovery, nobody else’s. There is no denying it: recovery is hard. This, the first step, might be hard. Hell, every step after it may pose challenges in its own way. But when you get there, when recovery finally seems, and is, possible, it’s worth it.