I wish that someone had told me that it’s okay to slow down. I’ve had a set course for success since I was 10 years old, crying in my fifth grade class about getting a 71 percent on a social studies test. It’s been full speed ahead since then, always rushing towards the next achievement. The sprint towards superstardom kept me in survival mode—too focused to feel my ribs crack under the weight of my mother’s suicide, too tenacious and forward-moving to let the sensation of unresolved traumas break the surface of my consciousness. More of a human doing than a human being, I was desperate to earn my safety and belonging in the world by remaining astounding, precocious and determined at all times.
My feet didn’t stop when I made the move from Albuquerque to Claremont. Off I went from day one at Pitzer College, desperate to prove myself, to have fun, to make friends, to be brilliant. I succeeded in some ways. My time at Pitzer gifted me with the most heart-swelling, growth-inducing friendships I’ve ever known. My classes excited me and I excelled academically. I loved my professors, traveled to D.C. my first year, got moderately involved in extracurriculars, and landed an intensive fellowship in grassroots organizing in the summer before my sophomore year.
From the outside looking in, everything looked vibrant and positive, a festival of success for a girl who’d had a remarkably difficult upbringing and had come out swinging on the other side.
Internally, my life force was quickly deflating under the weight of an eating disorder that had defined my sense of reality since I was thirteen. Like many of my fellows who suffer tremendously in what is coined “The Happiest Place on Earth,” I did so silently, with a smile on my face. I tried many means of healing myself—meal planning, self-medicating, exercise, spiritual exploration, trading food for alcohol, and back again. The unmanageability of it all quickly came to a head. By the end of my fall semester in sophomore year, my previously immaculate external charade was deflating. I submitted final papers worth 40 percent of my grade without editing them, I missed classes and vanished from the social scene almost completely. My face was swollen, my room was a disaster, and my body was deteriorating. After over a decade of sprinting towards the unnamed success that would finally bring me peace in myself, my legs began to give out.
I’ve embarked on the journey of recovery and sobriety since then. I’ve done deep, heart-searching healing work on the trauma and loss that I ran from for so long through my various maladaptive coping strategies. I’ve experienced an internal paradigm shift, where learning to exist peacefully and embrace myself in wholeness takes precedent over proving myself to the outside world. The process has been ego-shattering and immeasurably painful at times, but if I hadn’t made the decision to stop abandoning myself for the sake of achievement, it's likely that I’d be dead today.
I wanted to write this article as a nod to those at the 5Cs who are struggling with mental illness, eating disorders, substance abuse or alcoholism. This is for all of you who know you have a problem but feel powerless to fix it because you have to finish your degree first, or because you’re so lucky to have been chosen for one of these schools that you won’t even consider giving up your seat. Some of you will have to take an early exit—not because you aren’t brilliant, passionate, or capable, and not because you don’t belong amidst the sparkling mosaic of accolades that make up your class, but because there is deep healing that you need, and you won’t find it unless you slow down. These are the truths I wish someone had told me as I sprinted towards a conditional sense of belonging in myself that was based off of the lie that I had to be excellent, constantly, to have a chance at the type of success I wanted. I wish someone had told me that my healing, wholeness and serenity was worth more than getting a degree by the time I was 22.
I want you to know that you deserve the time and space and recognition to heal. And needing this time and space does not make you any less brilliant, capable, tenacious, precious, unique, or inspiring. Living a double life, tirelessly maintaining appearances while utter powerlessness wreaks havoc on your internal landscape, is not the only way.
Finding my purpose and passion in life has transformed from a fear-based sprint to prove myself into an adventure of finding what will bring the greatest joy, deepest meaning, and most resounding presence for today and all the days that follow. I am no longer hurried, for I find solace within myself as I am, right now. The healing I’ve done has opened me to a sense of compassion, connection and longing for healing in the world like I’ve never known before. Owning my darkness and commencing to heal has increased my confidence that I can achieve success and make a far-reaching impact far beyond what I ever thought was possible in my illness. My road map to success was tossed out the window long ago. My return to academia is approaching, but slowly, and with no specific deadline. I have emancipated myself from the notion that I must earn my right to belong in this world, that I will only be safe once I perform or excel sufficiently. Existing within myself feels like home at long last. You can find home, too.
Sara Blanchfield would have been a Junior at Pitzer this year, double majoring in Political Science and International/Intercultural Studies. She's currently embarking on a vigorous experiential research study in the lucrative fields of soul nourishment and self-love. She looks forward to merging her own personal healing with community and grassroots empowerment as her life's work and exploration evolves.