Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole in My Freshmen Year at Duke

Mixed race girls sitting on brick ledge
Mixed race girls sitting on brick ledge

I came into Duke overwhelmed and excited, flying in, ready to go, in full freshman fashion. Three weeks into school I had nothing but positive things to say, raving about the "best friends" I had made, the parties during O week, the classes, the boys.

Three weeks into school I had been slathered in baby oil by complete strangers, attended 16 million "fac-chats" and gotten lost on the CCX one too many times. Three weeks into school, I was posting Instagrams relentlessly, proving to the world that "College was fun!" "This adjustment was easy," and "I wasn't scared at all."

Three weeks into school I had lost 17 pounds.

At first, it wasn't a conscious decision to lose weight. I had no plans to reinvent myself or show the world a brand new (read: skinnier) me. At first, it wasn't a conscious decision to stop eating meals, or quit late night snacking; instead it just naturally became my college routine.

I noticed the weight dropping and did nothing to stop it. But, as most horrible habits tend to do, not eating became a rabbit hole that I stumbled upon and fell into hard, gradually tumbling, deeper and deeper. And, as I explored this new world of skipped meals and a smaller waistline, I felt a sort of twisted pleasure about being there.

In early October, my mom came to visit a drastically skinnier version of her daughter than she had dropped off. The look of shock on her face when she saw me is permanently burned into my mind. I could actually feel the fear radiating off of her, the fear that her previously confident and healthy daughter had been so drastically affected by less than a month at Duke.

It wasn't until I saw her that I even realized that my eating had become a problem. I had become Alice, lost so deep in my own skewed world, that my health, both physical and emotional, were completely ignored. Her visit brought me back into my own reality, gave me the tools to get healthy and to being the process of building back the confidence and stability that I had once considered so essential to my identity.

I now felt myself in a position of heightened awareness. What about coming to college, or more specifically, about coming to Duke, had shaken my confidence so dramatically? So many of my peers were being plagued with the exact same issues.

We walk into freshman year and for the first time find ourselves accountable to no one. Despite the pressure to find instant best friends, it takes time to find a support system that is meaningful and strong. Leaving home, where I had incredible family and friends, for the world at Duke where I knew no one, felt like lunging into an ice bath. There was no one there to monitor my behavior, no one there who I was close enough with to intervene, no one there to even recognize that I had a problem. I think this phenomenon affects a lot of incoming freshman. We are thrown head first into a full week of nonstop social interaction, but our conversations barely scratch the surface. One person can only answer the questions "So where are you from?" "So what dorm do you live in?" "So are you going out tonight??" so many times. (But at the same time, what the fuck else are we supposed to say to each other, like hey please tell me your life philosophy, btw I'm Jessie.) While Duke students create a facade of friendship during their first weeks at school, it can be a very lonely time. This loneliness breeds insecurities, and for me that meant issues with food and eating and my view of myself as a whole.

We live in a culture of expected perfection but very limited control. However, one thing we can control is our relationship with food. We can control what we eat, when we eat it and when we choose not to eat at all. We can control when to push ourselves and when these pushes become unhealthy. At least the unhealthiness is our own doing. Whether conscious or not, we crave some semblance of order in our lives.

At first, I didn't even think about it. My day was such a hectic shit show of things I was supposed to be doing that eating just wasn't on my radar. But as I began to notice my weight dropping, I certainly didn't do anything to stop it. In some ways, I got a sick sense of pleasure out of the fact that I could exist on so little each day. I felt a sense of calmness that at least this one thing, was in my power. Classes are going to be hard, boys are going to be shitty, friends are going to fight, we are going to be stressed, and sometimes lonely, but these slight pushes towards the control of our bodies can ease the terrifying reality that we can not control nearly any other aspect of our Duke experience.

Even now, a full year later, I sit at my computer contemplating whether or not this is an article that I am comfortable letting the world read, or even if it is an article that I am comfortable reading about myself. Admitting that I too, like so many at Duke, have suffered from insecurities and from the pressures that our environment puts on us, shatters the image that I have been effortlessly skating by.

But, let's be real, none of us are effortlessly skating by. Not even close.

Need help? If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.