I want to talk about battling Anorexia whilst at University.
Initially, it was something I wanted to keep hidden from those around me. But then I figured it was pointless (and ridiculous) attempting to shy away from a huge aspect of my life. I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed of the things I am going through.
It’s common for Students to develop mental illnesses whilst at University due to many different reasons. Not because they’re weak willed, lazy or unable to cope. However, I had been diagnosed several years beforehand so I had the advantage of developing my own coping mechanisms in order to help me manage my personal situation.
The pressure of studying, meeting deadlines and achieving “the best” grades. Being away from home, finding feelings of loneliness and increased anxiety levels when faced with a new situation. There are lots of factors which can trigger somebody becoming unwell.
I’m not a typical student, you could say. I don’t order pizzas and I tend to avoid eating out, or doing anything other than sticking to my *very* strict eating regime. I can spend lengths of time breaking down in my room due to my horrific body image or intense feelings of guilt. I have difficulties concentrating in lectures due to exhaustion and a tendency to reflect upon my darkest thoughts. Having an Eating Disorder does restrict you in many ways past eating and it tends to alienate you from those in your presence.
I turn to my Anorexia as a means of coping, a form of punishment, particularly when things go wrong. Such as receiving a slightly lower grade than I anticipated, fall-outs with friends, exam pressure and so on. Reminder: regardless of whatever happens I still need to eat.
I made it a goal of mine to allow those around me to know about my struggles, to avoid any awkwardness if I were to be asked to go out to eat or to avoid questions about my “abnormal” eating patterns. Opening up isn’t easy, I often worry about judgement or the fear of abandonment, worrying people will no longer wish to be associated with me. But, thankfully, the love and understanding I have received has been incredible and I am exceptionally thankful and filled with gratitude for that.
Battling Anorexia is a continuous, daily enervating task which takes significant amounts of strength, courage and determination. Even whilst studying something you’re truly passionate about, it doesn’t (unfortunately) ridden your illnesses. I’ve found it almost impossible to stick to a regular eating pattern due to my forever changing timetable and my other commitments, only motivating me to try harder (and to challenge my disordered thoughts) in second year.
Recovery and education are just as important as each other.
Waking up every morning to fight the demons which left you exhausted and agitated the day before….
That is bravery.
Eating Disorder recovery is often perceived as eating and being given a meal plan, when in reality, it’s often including battling excruciatingly painful and loud thoughts, relearning what a healthier relationship with food is, past diet culture, restriction and calorie counting. Alongside finding body acceptance, tackling the voice that continuously nags at you for not being “good enough or thin enough”.
Managing this on top of studying, a social life, volunteering and hobbies is still something I am learning to apply to myself. It takes a remarkable amount of power in order to do so. Ensuring I am busy enough to spend less time dwelling on my thoughts, but also finding the time to eat, even when I don’t particularly want to.
On my down days, I have the confidence to confide in those I trust as a reminder that I am not alone.
My marvellous dance teacher, and friend, Lucy has always been somebody I’ve felt able to speak to when I’ve needed somebody to listen. A very kind-hearted, beautiful person who inspires me daily with her strength, hard work and determination. Providing me with love, understanding and acceptance. Alongside two of my lovely tutors who have assisted, and advised me in countless ways.
Battling any Eating Disorder isn’t a quick fix. Or something that happens magically overnight. It takes years and years to recover, with every individual sufferer having their own unique recovery journeys, some people may never reach a full recovery due to the nature of the illness. But it’s key that baby steps are taken daily to challenge thoughts, behaviours and rituals.
I highly encourage everybody struggling to open up to those you trust. A tutor, a friend, or a family member. It helps to lift a huge weight from your shoulders and it acts as a constant reminder that you are not in this battle alone.