Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taking the Semester Off

I'm getting to the time where everyone is asking me why I am not back at school. It's not winter break any longer, although it certainly is winter here. And I'm getting asked questions that I usually have no idea how to answer. Things like, "Are you going to school somewhere else?" or "What are you going to do now that you're home?" or "Why aren't you at school?" And I usually respond with the generic, I'm just taking the semester off to figure out some life stuff and I'm going back to school in the fall. It's a perfectly reasonable explanation, I think, especially after the advice that one of my professors gave me: 

"It is difficult to answer people's questions. They never mean any harm by them, yet its very awkward when you don't want to talk about it. You'll have to come up with a short, very generic answer. It is important to remember that people take time off from college for a variety of reasons... A semester off is nothing. I know other students who took off for medical leave, but some just want a break for a while to figure out their path. That is really mature (and wise) to do. So often young adults just jump on the path they think is 'correct' by their parents, friend, or society without looking at all of the options. You get the luxury of looking at your options!"

So I personally think my answer is really good. But then, some people ask me the dreaded question of all questions... 


And it's not that I want to lie to people--I am not a liar (if I was a liar, I would probably still be at school right now)--but I don't exactly know how to read people and judge how they'll react to me telling them the truth. For example, some of the elderly people at church, what would they think? EDs weren't really a thing back then, besides, everyone knows that they all gossip and talk to each other and I don't want anything I say to get misinterpreted and rumors to be spread and whatnot. And a lot of times, people will ask and it won't be an ideal time to share that information because they'll be other people around who I don't want to overhear what I'm saying or there won't be enough time for me to explain the entire situation because you can't just throw it out there that, hey, I've had an eating disorder for almost 7 years and that's why I'm taking time off of school. It doesn't really work like that. 

Also, like my mom told me the other day--it really is none of their business. She was referring to a situation where someone who our family barely knows was asking about why I was taking time off of school. My business is my business and no one else's. 

I do, however, pride myself on being open about my ED because I want to change the conversation we have in society about EDs and the stigma that surrounds them. I am totally okay with speaking freely about my struggles and my illness, but there is a time and a place for it. I know that, and I try to do what I am most comfortable with in the moment. If that means talking about it, then by all means, I will talk about it. But if that means shrugging off the question with a generic answer, then that is exactly what I will do and if people aren't okay with that, well, that's just too freaking bad because it is none of their damn business in the first place. 

I am not selfish for putting my recovery before my education,
my family, my future, and everything else.
Putting everything else on hold to recover is not selfish.
You are not selfish for taking time out to heal.
But there are ways in which I am willing to share what's really going on--through an email, through a text, through a one-on-one conversation where there are no interruptions. Because as easy as it is for me to say I'm taking the semester off, it's a really challenging feat for me, one that I struggle every day to accept, to embrace, and to not judge. 

Most people don't get that I just might not be 100% okay with what I'm doing right now when they ask these questions. And again, they don't mean any harm by them, I'm sure. But every time that I have to look at someone and say that to them, another piece of my heart breaks. 

I sent an email to a high school teacher of mine the other day, sharing a really cool video that I thought she would find useful in her classes. She emailed me back and asked me how school and life were going for me, and I was very open with her about everything. She responded saying: 

"I hope that you can rest in the fact that it is all right to be at home right now.  My youngest also had to take time out from college to get her bearings back, and during that time I know that 'being out' was really hard for her, even though it was the right thing to do.  Life is bigger than our plans, sometimes."

I want people to think a little bit more before they ask questions and pry into people's lives, especially if they do not know them very well. I want them to think about the timing and the location of their questions, especially with something like this. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love school, especially Gettysburg, and that I hate quitting something or not finishing something, so anyone who knows me would know that me being home right now is 1) not a normal behavior for me and 2) not something that I would opt to do on my own free will. I also think people need to be aware of the degree to which it is acceptable to pry into the life of another person in a particular situation. I'm completely okay with telling everyone, in any situation, that I am taking the semester off of school. It's the questions that follow that are not always timed the best, and I'm not always comfortable saying that I don't want to talk about it in that moment. 

And again, I know that people don't mean any harm or hurt to come of their questions, and that usually they are just curious or trying to make conversation, which is fine. I just wish that people would be more careful about when and where they choose to ask things and that they would recognize that this taking a semester off thing isn't as easy as it looks for me, that it pains me to be sitting at home and not in my dorm room or in class and that I'm not just taking a break from school--I'm trying to rewire my brain. And that, my friends, is not easy or simple.