While this post is somewhat of a personal update, I also discuss recovery, therapy, and the concept of slow change and goal-achieving. I believe you can get something out of it, even if you don’t relate to the recovery aspect of it. I hope it leaves you encouraged!
When I was a senior in high school, I was struggling with panic attacks, anxiety, and an eating disorder. But during my senior year I was also accepted to my dream university. At some point I realized that if I didn’t get professional help for the things that were ailing me, I would probably hinder myself from getting the most out of my time at the wonderful school I wanted to go to. Or maybe I wouldn’t be healthy enough to go at all!
So, with new motivation regarding my future, I began seeing a therapist. It happened to be during the first week of my freshman year of college. I had always planned on going to community college for at least two years, so this worked out just fine. Going to my dream school as a junior was still a possibility, as long as I was well enough!
My plan became to fully recover from my disorders before transferring to the university. I became motivated by the image of my future self walking onto campus, being a totally new woman – completely free, happy, and healthy.
I fully expected to “get better” in at least two years, before moving away for my junior year. In the beginning I thought, “Oh yeah, I got this! Two years is more than enough time to do this recovery thing!” I remember telling my mom, “I bet I can do it in like 6-12 months.” But as I came to find out, recovering from an eating disorder and anxiety disorder together is like a full-time job! I totally underestimated how long and hard the process was going to be…
Now, as I’m writing this post, I’m a few days away from my long-awaited Junior year. So I can report that my time in therapy actually lasted 23 months (that’s only one month less than the full two years I had available)!
Something I learned during those 23 months – 99 weeks – is that sometimes change takes a long time, especially in the case of recovery. But in a more general sense, sometimes the things we want to accomplish – the goals we have – take a long time to achieve. If you’re like me, having patience in the waiting and through the struggles is difficult. In the process of waiting for something good, there can be a lot of disappointment, pain, anxiety, and self-doubt, along with the effort we’re trying so hard to put in to our goals.
If you’re in the process or the middle of some kind of waiting, changing, recovering, or goal-achieving, I would really like to advise you to be realistic about a possible timeline, and to give yourself grace when you feel like you are the thing hindering the process. I wish I would have done this!
You see, I wasn’t very realistic about my own timeline. I had sub-consciously created one in my head. As a result, I remember multiple instances where I felt extremely disappointed in myself for how long recovery was taking. I cried to my therapist and my parents, “I should be better by now! I shouldn’t still be struggling with X, Y, and Z!” Everything took longer than I had expected.
As motivated as I was to get better, I wanted it to happen too quickly. I was making black-and-white “should” statements. So when I evaluated where I was at in recovery, and what I had left to accomplish, I would feel overwhelmed and call myself a failure. My frustration would cause me to temporarily lose steam. The mean little perfectionistic voice in my head would shame me.
And shame is not a good motivator for change. It certainly set me back. I think a better motivating voice is one that sounds like encouragement, gentleness, and grace.
Thankfully, whenever I was hard on myself, my therapist would be that voice for me. She would graciously remind me that there’s no such thing as a perfect timeline. In my case, she wanted me to remember that recovering from a deeply rooted mental illness is pretty hard work!
By creating my own timeline and making “should” statements, I was setting myself up for anxiety and disappointment. She would tell me to give myself grace and to remember that, in the grand scheme of life, two years (or a little more) was nothing!
She assured me that every minute of effort now was going to be worth it later on. This helped me to persevere.
When I began to be a little more gentle and gracious with myself, my goals became smaller, more realistic, and less daunting. I began to recognize and celebrate the small victories and to tell myself “good job!” At some point, I was able to say, “Okay, even if I’m not 100% ‘better’ by the start of my junior year, that doesn’t mean I have failed. Realistically, recovery is still going to be an ongoing choice for me to say ‘yes’ to every day, even when I’m done with therapy.”
My anxiety about the process decreased, and I started focussing on the tangible steps that I could take in the next few months, to get to an even more secure, stable place. I decided to meet myself where I was at. It made a significant difference in my attitude and outlook!
So, here I am, about to start this next chapter of my life. But you know what? Being done with therapy doesn’t mean that I’m 100% free from some disordered, unhealthy thought patterns and urges. However, I am healthy enough and equipped with enough “tools” to be able to go to away for school and to continue on my journey. I’m not where I had expected to be when I was a freshman. But now I see that the past two years of effort were a tremendous accomplishment, I worked really hard, and I get to be proud of myself for all the things I have overcome and improved on.
I recognize that I’m still in an ongoing process, and I’ll have to keep saying yes to recovery every day for a long time. But because of the work I’ve done in the past two years, the decision to say yes is much easier and quicker now.
So, I want to encourage you to be realistic about how long something might take in your life. Embrace the process of waiting or changing, and soak up all that it has to offer you. Don’t rush yourself; be gentle; be gracious; and be your own cheer leader! Whenever you hear that shaming, self-doubting, impatient voice, remind it that there are no perfect timelines in life.