Patience...maybe it really is a virtue

Growing up, I was perhaps a bit of a geek. I remember the most exciting time of the year being those couple of weeks before school began. I mean, going to Staples to get new school supplies? It didn’t get much better than that. But I specifically recall spending a good part of those few weeks pacing in my jelly sandals around my mailbox, eagerly awaiting the letter that told me who would be my teacher for the upcoming year. And when it didn’t come, I would call the school and try to coax the crucial information out of those poor secretaries. I simply couldn’t wait.

Sure, this speaks to my unabashed enthusiasm for learning as a young one, but it also points to my greater unwillingness to wait. In fact, nothing bothered me more as a kid than hearing the phrase, “patience is a virtue,” something I was told a lot. Whether it was school starting or waiting to watch the latest episode of Kenan and Kel, I wanted things to happen immediately.

Now that I am older and living in one of the busiest cities in the world, patience has become a crucial part of my life.  I muster up my patience when waiting in line for coffee in the morning, and have to dig for even more when I arrive on the subway platform only to see the doors of my uptown E train closing before me. I certainly do not deal with all of these situations with grace—moving to New York City has allowed me to develop a certain frustrated scowl—but I do in fact deal with them.

The place where I struggle to be patient these days is in my recovery. I have been dealing with a eating disorder, depression, and anxiety for about four years, and every time I struggle I ask myself, “When is this going to end?” Usually there are certain choice four-letter words included in that phrase, but I am sparing the reader the details.  I’ve been through more than a couple of rounds of treatment, and after each stint I wonder if it will truly be the last or if I am being foolishly optimistic. I also sometimes wonder if I will have to deal with these issues for the rest of my life, and facing that idea truly scares me.

However, then I remember that phrase: “patience is a virtue.” Maybe it isn’t foolish optimism to think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; maybe it is simply patience. I did not ask for these issues to enter my life. But no one asks for struggle and seemingly everyone receives it—in the form of loss of loved ones, abuse, illness…the list goes on.

These issues take a great deal away from us. For me, the past few years often seem like a blur. And the reality is that factors that cause us this much struggle cannot be solved in a day. Overcoming any battle takes hard work and perseverance.   I would love to wake up tomorrow and find that I no longer have distorted thoughts about my body, and that emotions such as loneliness and sadness no longer give me an overwhelming urge to numb myself with negative behaviors, but this is simply not the reality.

However, something in my gut tells me to hang on to my optimism. Even in the most difficult times, a small part of me knows that things will get better. I think I have the ability to hang on to that idea because recovery, though it still brings about a daily struggle, in many ways has already made my life better. If I look back at where I was when I was 20 as compared to where I am now verging on 25, I cannot deny the fact that things are different. In those days, my thoughts were so consumed with my body and I was so exhausted from mistreating myself that I couldn’t sustain healthy relationships. I was too exhausted to connect to and give back to others. Today, though I still struggle with isolation and loneliness, I can connect with those around me, speaking openly and honestly. I can go to work at a nonprofit, where I have regained that passion for giving back.  I can go out to dinner with friends without anxiety. I even have many moments where I accept and appreciate my body. Finally, I can laugh and really mean it—I am not masking some inherent sadness.

Recovery takes time, and in the time there is difficulty but also in that time there is more than a little bit of beauty. I find much of that beauty in the relationships that I have formed in treatment centers and beyond, relationships built out of honesty and understanding, that truly fill me with love and appreciation. I also find beauty in the strengthening of my relationships that formed before my struggles. There is a freedom in not having to lie and avoid. Since I started writing this blog, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I have received from people from all parts of my life, some people who I haven’t connected with in years. What a beautiful experience.

This past weekend, I found myself struggling, and in picking myself back up from that struggle I learned many lessons in patience. I had to be patient and gentle with myself, combating the initial frustration at the fact that I am not fully recovered. I also had to be patient with myself in accepting the fact that I am not yet ready to get through this alone. I was fortunate enough to have my amazing sister there for me when I could not fully be there for myself. She distracted me, made me laugh, and proved to me that as long as I keep fighting, the people in my life will be patient with me. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have even been at the point of being able to reach out to her, but look at where patience and perseverance have gotten me today.

Sure, it would be nice if everything were perfect right now. I would love to have fully repaired relationships, to never look at myself critically in the mirror, and I would definitely love if those subway doors stayed open a few seconds longer so that I could hop on the train. But that is not life, and I am trying to accept that, though I can’t promise I won’t always wipe away that New York scowl on my face.