School has just begun, and already we are seeing a number of clients in high school, college, and graduate school seeking eating disorder treatment at our program. Many require partial day, residential, or inpatient treatment. But our recommendations for level of care often fall flat for one reason alone, “I can’t leave school!”
Here is the reality – you are more important than a grade, an athletic team, or a school.
Perfectionism is a major component of eating disorder pathology. Eating disorder clients across the spectrum of diagnoses have this in common. From the third-year law student to the ninth grader trying to earn straight As, the drive to be “excellent” is powerful and overwhelming. The thought of not being in school and being a high achiever is a sign of their weakness and lack of control in life. But if you’re not healthy, how can you possibly give your best?
There’s another piece that you may be forgetting. School is supposed to be fun too! High school, well, it’s a challenging time socially of course. Finding out what’s important to you and how you fit into the world is hard for everyone to some degree or another. But it’s also filled with incredible moments of bonding, growth, discovery, and adventure if you embrace life without an eating disorder.
And what about college and graduate school? Those are often described as some of the best moments of people’s lives! The first taste of independence. Love. Friendships that move into adulthood. Futures begin to come into focus. Careers begin.
But how is that possible if you’re never really moving beyond your anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or compulsive exercise behaviors? How can you possibly create a vision of your independent life if you’re continually beholden to a dictator in your head?
You may think, “once the school year is over, I’ll get treatment during the summer.” But the longer you let an eating disorder go untreated or undertreated, the more ingrained it becomes and the longer and harder the road to full recovery becomes. The data is clear that those who do not fully treat their eating disorder are more likely to suffer the medical and mental health consequences for a lifetime – a lifetime much shorter and unhappier than most. At some point, you’ll have to make the decision to dig into the work of recovery which will require you to put treatment, and you, first. Why wait? That’s just more years of ill health and unhappiness. That’s more life lost.
There never really is a “perfect” time to seek treatment. Relationships, goals, expectations, obligations, holidays, tragedies, celebrations, and other roadblocks pop up constantly. Mental health issues are brain diseases. If you have a kidney disease, heart issue, or cancer, you don’t wait for the right time to treat it. You treat it now. The brain requires the same immediacy. Once you’re healthy in mind and body you can get back to your life and live it fully. Take the time off you school you need to recover. You deserve it.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.