Tuesday 13 February 2018

Returning to uni after eating disorder treatment

Laura reflects on the highs and lows of returning to university after taking a year out to receive treatment for anorexia.

After a whole year at home doing little more than attend therapy appointments, make meal plans, volunteer at my old primary school and do hundreds of crosswords, I was heading back to uni. I’m not going to say that the past year was transformative, or even that it miraculously made me recover, because I am still fighting anorexia day after day. It was a tough year and it tested me, but I realised that sitting around waiting for recovery to come along was pointless, because truthfully it wasn’t going to happen like that. I’m not going to one day decide to get better, especially if I have nothing tangible to get better for. Which is why I decided to go back: for purpose, for direction, for a future.

Nothing was plain sailing, but there were some overwhelmingly positive things to come out of returning to university. And the best? Normality! Finally, for the first time in a long time, my day was not completely structured around when/what I would eat and my mind was not completely consumed by my eating disorder. I was *almost* a normal, 21-year-old student, and it felt great. It was great to be stressed about an upcoming assessment rather than thinking about calories. It was great to talk about something besides anorexia, it was great to laugh and share and have fun. I loved being back in a city. I loved learning again, and I felt excited about learning from people at the forefront of their field. Anorexia had taken so much away from me, and I was finally starting to reclaim my life.

But inevitably, there was the bad stuff. With nobody to be accountable to, nobody to tell me what to eat and when, the ball fell in my court: I was alone, and I struggled, but I had an incredible support system and they were there for me unconditionally. I had bad days with anxiety, I found socialising difficult, but I did it regardless. I pushed through the worry and the fear and the panic and the misery and the negative feelings and I made it through the whole term. I am not ashamed to say, I am proud of myself.

I fully believe that university isn’t easy for anyone. I think it can be a place of loneliness and ostracism and I think it can breed mental illness. The pressure is intense from all angles: you have to be sociable, but also studious, you have to be sporty or talented but academic and conscientious, you have to volunteer and get work experience but also complete every essay by the deadline and get a decent grade. You have to have your career plan sorted, your CV overflowing and your contact list ever-increasing. You are expected to do everything and be everything, but it’s not possible.

Pressure like this is what pushes people to the edge; it’s what pushes people over the edge. It’s important that people aren’t ashamed to ask for help, and it’s important that they know what help is out there should they need it. Because what’s the point of pushing yourself to breaking point for a degree if it has such a detrimental impact upon your health? We need to preach balance, breaks, and better mental health care to stop university becoming such a difficult place to thrive for some.

If you are worried about yourself or a friend please visit here for further support.

Hi, I'm Laura! I’m a final year student at university and after struggling with anorexia for almost two years, I wanted to share some of my experiences with the hope of encouraging students to speak out and helping others feel less alone. 

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