Sunday 15 May 2016

Taking Control – Adapting to lifestyle change for a better well-being

Rhiannon writes about her year abroad studying and how she adapted to her new environment to control her eating disorder for the better.
- Rhiannon Long

As my six sessions of university-provided counselling sessions came to an end, I remember feeling nervous. I’d made so much progress during them, and felt I understood my eating difficulties so much better because of these sessions- but how would I cope without them? They were my weekly way of talking through my worries and gaining reassurance. I felt like I was heading back out into the unknown, without my safety net.

The sessions finished as the revision period for my summer exams began. Whilst this period for many can be particularly stressful and triggering, for me it provided structure. Unlike during the rest of the uni term, I was getting up early, going to the library all day with friends, and generally living an organised lifestyle. This was beneficial to my recovery; it gave me guidance for proper mealtimes, and company when I needed it most. I had set times every day for meditation and meals. Whilst this isn’t a long-term solution, for someone just setting out onto the path of recovery, this basic level of structure is exactly what I needed.

But as this period came to an end, and my exams were taken and university finished for the year, something new was on my horizon. My year abroad. All my friends were discussing the excitement of moving away for their time abroad, whilst for me, the nerves returned. Again, I was faced with the unknown, and my lifestyle of careful structure seemed in jeopardy. 

Once I moved, I felt caught between two emotions. On the one hand, I loved the new experiences and culture of my everyday life. But at the same time, I increasingly found myself in situations where my environment was harder to control. Friends were inviting me out for dinner spontaneously, meaning my food choices were out of my hands; my colleagues would suggest after work drinks, so I was unable to do my planned meditation for that night. I was adamant not to refuse social activities as I knew I would only be in Germany for a year, and I didn’t want my disorder dictating what kind of year that would be.

My year abroad has taught me many things- about myself, about another culture, about my language skills. But the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is the one about control. My life this year has progressed unlike any previous years; I’ve been out of a school/university environment, out of that solid structure of education, and there are more factors which I can’t control. My internship as a journalist means I might not know in advance where I’ll be each day of the week, what time I’ll get home or when I’ll be free to exercise or meditate. There’s less of a stable environment that I can plan with a timetable. 

But whilst this may have scared the previous me; the me who was fresh out of counselling and still frightened of my illness, now I face this fact without fear, but with relish.

If my disorder had its way, I would constantly be isolated, scared of the outside world and these factors beyond my control. Unfortunately for my disorder, that’s what life is - uncontrollable factors. And the sooner I learnt that, the sooner I embraced them. Because they are what make life exciting.

Now if a colleague invites me out for sushi at the end of a long day at work, I don’t panic and think of the calories I’ll consume or the jogging session I’ll miss. I look forward to the chance to make a new friend, eat some good food, and have a whine about our impossible boss.

For more information on finding support, click here.

For more information on eating disorders, click here.

For more information on studying abroad, click here.

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