Janet Zhu
JANET ZHU

 

I remember the first time I visited Georgetown. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and the campus was flooded with the incoming Class of 2014.

There was so much life and excitement; balloons, music and cheers surrounded me as I walked through the iron gates. I slipped in with the crowd of new students and was greeted with the satisfaction that I had found “my people.”

My people. That’s what I lovingly called them as I roamed through the crowds of families toting suitcases and stacks of textbooks. I meant it to describe the novel sense of belonging with which the campus filled me, like I had found home for the first time.

That day, as we left this place of glamour and hope, my dad noted that he did not think the people there had looked happy. Was he kidding? Had we been on the same campus?

It was not until three years later, when depression, anxiety and a stubborn eating disorder led me to take a semester leave of absence that I understood the discrepancy: The students had been busy.

Busy, determined and consumed with what needed to be done. And at the time, that encapsulated happiness for me. I viewed this community of worker bees as the pinnacle of success and self-fulfillment, and I made an unconscious promise to myself that day that I would be like them, no matter what it took.

Swept up by an uncontrollable urge to be the best, I twisted and bent myself until I was barely recognizable. I had to have the highest GPA, the hottest body, the most desirable internship, the best sense of humor, the cutest clothes and the most impressive resume. I concocted an image of success that was impossible to achieve: one that idealized perfection above my health and happiness and viewed any mistakes as irredeemable flaws. And it broke me.
I abused my body and mind until I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. Convinced that I had failed, I walked away.

I do not blame Georgetown. Georgetown has delivered me nothing but valuable opportunities and experiences. Yet it is the very traits that draw us to such a prestigious university that often impede us from being truly successful.

I, like many of my peers, have a predisposition to mental health issues that can be exacerbated in competitive environments. My drive to succeed, my motivation to improve, my appetite for knowledge and my conviction that I can have it all and be it all nearly drove me to lose it all.

You see, eating disorders are not about the number on the scale, the amount of calories consumed or the size jeans you can fit into. Eating disorders rely on these arbitrary numbers as a substitute for a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction with oneself.

They are about control when the world feels chaotic, perfection when you feel inadequate and routine when you are faced with uncertainty. They parade themselves as a stress-reliever, a coping mechanism and a flawless path to a flawless life. And they eat away at you — every bit of confidence, self-assurance and pride you held in yourself — until you are hollow.

They skew your reality to ensure that all you see in the world are problems — your weight being the biggest one. They become your own personalized parasite, feeding off your insecurities.

When I left Georgetown, I thought that I needed to fix myself before I could come back — like I wasn’t good enough to be there with everyone else. At some point over my semester leave, my view changed. I didn’t need to fix myself; I needed to heal myself, reconstruct my identity and prepare myself to stay strong in an environment that tempts me to break.

Today when I look at Georgetown, I see just as much life, excitement, glamour and hope as I did on that first visit. But I also see it with a new degree of reality.

Instead of thinking about how I fit myself into this campus, I think about how I can make Georgetown fit me. How this university can help me to realize the dreams I have for myself, rather than how I can mold my aspirations to fit an idealized image of success.

As I stand here just nine months away from my college graduation, it is almost humorous how, after nearly killing myself trying to map it all out, my journey looks almost nothing like the smooth and straight path I had planned. But this road, with all of its bumps and curves, feels much more like me. And I would take that over perfection any day.

Katie DuBois is a senior in the College.

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