As I walked across the stage last spring to receive the USA Today Student Leadership Award, I was overwhelmed with feelings of surprise and excitement. This honor was awarded to me by Penn State University for my contributions and dedication to the foundation for Jewish life on campus, Hillel. Beginning my freshman year, I became very involved with the organization and was the first person to ever challenge the Executive Director on program ideas, marketing campaigns, and the structure of Friday evening services. During the time I served on the student board as Secretary and most recently, Vice President, Hillel's attendance at weekly social events as well as religious gatherings had nearly tripled. I have been in close correspondence with many alumni and after hearing about my personal connection to Hillel as well as the direction the organization is headed in, I managed to raise over 3,000 dollars. Hillel has provided me a home away from home and I wanted nothing more than to give back by becoming a leader and spokesperson for the group. Although I was overjoyed and extremely proud to win an award for the role I have played, I also experienced a sense of emptiness.
Throughout my life, I have always been a go-getter. Often times, I find it difficult to actually sit down and just relax as I always feel I should be doing something more productive. On top of the various organizations I am involved with including Hillel, Tikkun Olam, The Presidential Leadership Academy, and Centre County PAWS, I added a second major to my plate this year. Yet the more that I take on and the more people I reach out to and touch, I still feel that there is some sort of void, which must be filled. These activities I love participating in and the courses I have taken thus far, enhance my leadership skills, sense of responsibility, focus, and communication abilities, which I will benefit from for the rest of my life; however, I am sad to say that they have no effect on how I view myself as an individual.
This semester I came to a huge realization that while I am passionate about everything I do, the more I take on, the more I am burying what is a huge problem in my life, my eating disorder. Up until now, I thought that the more I did, the less time I would have to think about and deal with my anorexic and bulimic behaviors. Yet the deep emotions began to intensify and I could no longer conceal my disease under achievements and awards. Everything I have ever set my mind to, I have accomplished, with the exception of learning to love myself. I feel so proud for having earned the Freshman and Sparks Awards in lieu of a grade point average of 4.0 and co-founding a Jewish community service organization on campus; however, these challenging endeavors can no longer define me.
I believe my most meaningful achievement occurred just one month ago when I contacted an eating disorder treatment center out west and inquired about an inpatient program. While this was not in my original plan, it is a huge investment in my future. I have plenty of time to finish my degrees and pursue my career goals yet without my health none of that will come to fruition. Once I remove the many layers covering up deeper issues of lack of trust, guilt, perfectionism, etc. and stare my eating disorder straight in the face without any distractions, I can begin to fill the void I speak of with self-esteem, self-respect, love, and joy. I will see the world through a whole new perspective. It took an enormous amount of courage and strength for me to recognize that I had hit a wall and to reach out for help. While this rehab facility is a huge, scary step, it is also a huge relief because I feel like there is finally some light in the dark, narrow, and frightening tunnel in which I have been traveling.