Editor’s Note: This letter contains mentions of eating disorders.
For as long as I can remember, Notre Dame has been my dream school. I went to my first ND football game when I was in third grade, and for the next decade I said I would go to Notre Dame. I stressed myself out over making myself the perfect Notre Dame applicant nearly all of high school, sacrificing so much to get here, driving myself damn near insane just to be a part of the fighting Irish community. When I got in, I cried tears of happiness and was so relieved that after four years of hard work and nearly a lifetime of being a Notre Dame fan that I had finally gotten in. But when quarantine started, I started to doubt my decision. I bit my tongue and decided to go, suppressing all my doubts and going full throttle into the semester. What ensued, and what my reality has been for the past two years, was anything but expected.
As a freshman, I believed that Notre Dame would find a way to keep us safe, enforce COVID safety measures and give the class of 2024 something to reward us for all that we lost the last part of their senior year. I came in with the understanding that there were certain restrictions in place, but I thought I would be able to find community HERE within the first few weeks. Looking back, I can say with complete certainty, disappointment and frustration that my freshman year was anything but that.
The academic stress of Notre Dame, the difficulty of making friends and the fear that was testing positive caught up to me. I threw myself into work and what I thought of as “self improvement” (read: waking up early to workout, eating healthy, working 24/7). By the end of my freshman year, I was a shell of myself, I had lost a significant amount of weight, could not function without strict rituals and had left Notre Dame not wanting to go back. If I wasn’t spending my time panicking over food, exercise and deadlines, I was panicking over whether or not I would make it through the night.
The build up to my second year was scary but promising. I had some friends, COVID restrictions were lifted so social activities were back and there were things to do other than the strict rituals I conditioned myself to compulsively complete. As the weeks rolled by, I started to realize that I couldn’t hold onto the work hard, play hard mentality I thought I could. My lifestyle working myself down to the bone started to fail, and so were my organs.
I started to pass out repeatedly. My heart rate was critically low. I could feel the slowness in my chest. I started having “mini-seizures” due to critically low blood sugar. I would walk across campus, feel my legs give out from under me and black out. I couldn’t eat, I could barely sleep and each day I was shocked to find myself alive. On Nov. 14, 2021 my heart failed. I was picked up by an emergency vehicle and resuscitated. I was told it was just a panic attack, that it was normal.
When I went home for the holidays, I finally saw a doctor who, when she took my weight and vitals, told me I was going to be hospitalized and shortly thereafter transferred to a higher level of care for eating disorder treatment, or as I have since affectionately dubbed it: “rehab.” I spent the first eight months of 2022 in a treatment program. In this program and with the connections I made with other patients, I realized that if I didn’t treat this now, I would either live my life trapped in rigidity or I would die. It was kill the beast, or be killed.
I can say that getting back to Notre Dame was difficult and nerve wracking. I no longer had the same coping mechanisms, routines, interests, friends or the same body — quite frankly I didn’t even recognize myself. I was essentially starting from scratch. But as this semester has gone on, I’ve never been more grateful for sticking through the misery that was the last two years.
While not everything is perfect this year, I am ultimately in such a better place than I’ve ever been. The last two years were marked by extreme angst and depression, but if I didn’t go through it I wouldn’t be able to fully relish in all that Notre Dame has to offer. No, I don’t have the same motivations, the same body or the same habits, but at least I don’t have crippling fear over food, exercise or dying.
All this to say that if you’re going through a difficult time, whether it be a stressful week, a breakup or something as dangerous as an eating disorder or addiction, you will get through it. Not only will you get through it, you will also come out on the other side a more impassioned, powerful and strong person. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. It will all be OK.
Thank you, Notre Dame for putting me through hell and back, but for also welcoming me back with open arms and giving me the experience I’ve waited for my entire life.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.