Today I wanted to talk about battling Anorexia whilst at University. This isn’t to say that other Students don’t battle with other Eating Disorders or that Anorexia is more “severe” – it isn’t. I’m just speaking from my own personal, and current, experiences.
Battling an Eating Disorder prior to beginning my journey as a University Student proved to be difficult and challenging in a series of ways. I became bed ridden, anxious and a shadow of my former self. Though I learned coping mechanisms (such as the ability to reach out for support) to guide me through the days with the assistance of Therapy, support from my Teachers and loved ones. Though every day is a battle, I certainly have gained strength and resilience throughout the years.
The isolation you feel whilst being surrounded with friends and family, abundance’s of support, care and compassion can not distinguish the constant torment of your own mind which leaves you feeling alone, trapped and frightened. It’s unimaginable. It’s terrifying and a daily battle: But one I can accomplish.
Imagine being faced with your biggest fear 6 times a day. Meal times and snack times filled with fears, doubts and tears. The fear of an element known to keep you alive and well. The worry of eating whilst attempting to retain new information, whilst trying to be a better student, whilst trying to thrive.
Studying whilst working my hardest to engage in my recovery journey for real, and not so much quasi recovery is a tough challenge. Though, I constantly remind myself of my abilities and the concept of recovery not being linear, or a simple overnight process.
Admittedly, I encounter my bad days and my better days and times where I have to seek encouragement (and reminders) to eat for the benefit of my studies, energy and ability to concentrate: which are factors always at the forefront of my mind. I constantly seek support from my Tutors and I have every trust in their willingness to listen. And am totally mesmerised and inspired by their kindness and support. I became distressed over my body image before my exam which I totally didn’t need when my head was full to bursting with Biology facts. Preoccupation is easy. But unfortunately, mental illnesses don’t consider that and it was up to me to persevere regardless of how down I was feeling in that moment – to power through and to believe in myself.
People struggling with Eating Disorders are ultimately some of the most intelligent, resilient, brave and compassionate people that I know.
I quickly become preoccupied with high intensified thoughts and worries over food and my body image which makes it progressively harder to concentrate at times. I constantly feel not good enough, or incapable. I can easily become distracted with the enjoyment of completing assignment work and engaging heavily in my studies. The preoccupation is an Autistic trait of mine and I find it hard to maintain a balance between work and other things – Eating included. I can become caught up with spending hours in the library where the task of eating hasn’t crossed my mind as it seems far less important, following my lack of hunger cues and the resilience of the Anorexic voice.
Still, this is something I have acknowledged and am working to overcome.
Funnily enough, being a University Student surrounded with others my age has taught me more about my relationship with food and how much I’m yet to overcome both physically and mentally. How I aim to enjoy pizza dates with friends or picnics on the beach. The acknowledgement that I have a long road ahead of me. I do lack freedom extending beyond the rules and the harsh grips of Anorexia and I find it strange witnessing just how freely other people can eat as I panic if it’s gone over my “safe time” to eat: with students stumbling into takeaways at 3am or eating ice cream to ease exam stress. At times, I realise how large a role eating plays in our lives and in society and it makes me feel completely alienated.
As a Scientist, I should appreciate the purpose food serves our bodies. The energy it allows us to thrive on, calories being energy sources and not indicators of greed and the benefits it holds for our traits and characteristics. I am well aware, after studying animals and dietary requirements. But thinking rationally isn’t always my strongest point. And providing advice is a heck of a lot easier than taking it and applying it to myself and my own circumstances.
I get that surrendering to your recovery seems terrifying, but where has surrendering to your Eating Disorder gotten you so far?
But most importantly, it’s taught me that there can be a normality surrounding food. Yes, I have fear foods. But fears are made to be broken and I believe I can do that. A positive step being, I wrote a list of my fear foods with the intention to challenge them all! Whether that’s eating breakfast at 10am, eating cake as a snack without the worry of calories or sitting in cafés for lunch. No two people have the same eating habits. And I guess it’s the diversification that makes life interesting! There shouldn’t be rules surrounding food with labelling them as good or bad and there ought to be more awareness of the benefits of food, and not so much the damaging reasons to avoid it.
The love and support I receive from my fantastic Friends and Tutors has been (and continues to be) amazing and I cannot express the gratitude I have that I am able to speak to people if I need to, or if I just need a shoulder to cry on. People who understand and issue me with advice and reassurance when I fail to embrace them myself. I believe that it’s due to the support I receive that I remain *mostly* positive, which is why I highly encourage others to seek support if and when it’s needed.
Though every day is a battle, I am determined to carry on, to find positivity on my fight to health and happiness and to ensure I no longer suffer alone or in silence.