Sunday 30 September 2018

#DearFresherMe: Eating disorder recovery, finding balance and self-compassion

In this blog, Ana reflects on the advice she’d give her younger self on starting university with a history of mental health difficulties and learning to thrive in a time of big change and transition. 

Moving to university having suffered from an eating disorder can seem an anxious and lonely prospect. Universities place a big emphasis on socialising, which inevitably includes eating and drinking. This terrified me before leaving home: what if my eating disorder stopped me from meeting new people and not being as social as I was expected to be? Making your own food can also be really hard. The newfound independence and responsibility makes it easy to revert into old habits, and the fear of people watching me eat or commenting on my food preferences all played a part in the nervous emotions I felt leaving home.

So, as I head into my final year, what would I say to my fresher self now?

First of all, everyone has their own thing going on. People aren’t really too bothered about your odd habits or irrational insecurities. Everyone is scared, everyone is anxious and everyone is probably in the same boat, having some sort of fear. In a kind of weird way, it’s nice to remember this because it can make you feel less alien, and less alone. So just trust yourself!

Secondly, and most importantly, I would tell myself to have fun. University is a once in a life time experience. There’s so much to learn, so take advantage of that. Keep busy, find new hobbies, meet new people, and soon enough, the fears you had leaving home won’t seem so scary. You’ll end up spending the holidays waiting to go back to your student city, back to your friends, and back to studying what you love!

Having said all that, there will be days where things are difficult, and you can feel lonely. It may seem like no one understands what’s going through your head. Sometimes you just want to stay in and have time to yourself or do something to unwind. This is totally normal, and Yoga and Meditation societies often have plenty of members keen to take a step back and enjoy some time to chill. 

No matter what you feel, there is always support and someone you can talk to. There will always be someone who ‘gets’ it, whether you final them in a mental health society or amongst your flatmates. The wellbeing departments at university also offer amazing support: they understand that university can be a fun but challenging time, and the big changes can continue to affect you even once you’ve settled in. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s normal to struggle sometimes, and as much as everyone else seems to be having fun, almost all of us will feel a bit blue at some point throughout the year. 

Finally, find the balance of you-time and having fun. They’re both as important as each other. Before you know it, you’ll be in your graduation gown thinking, where did the time go?!

I’m a third year Drama student at University of Exeter, and have loved my time at uni. There have been ups and downs but I wouldn’t change a thing. I am hoping to share my experience of my own mental health struggles in order to reassure someone moving to university that everything always works out!

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