Friday, 5 March 2021

My experiences of university and an eating disorder

Sarah shares her experiences about completing her MA while battling an eating disorder. 


- Sarah


Studying for an MA is hard enough but trying to study in a pandemic, while trying to battle a number of mental health difficulties is even harder. The battle between university work and demons is exhausting. Waking up every day, not knowing how it’s going to pan out is frightening. I have always struggled with my anxiety and depression after trying to come to terms with my adoption and the abuse I faced during my childhood. Being on medication helped settle my worries and insecurities and allowed me to flourish through my academic work. 

However, what I didn’t know is that my relationship with food started to become a problem. I didn’t realise it at first, but I had started to skip meals, make excuses, and go down a route of bad habits. Without the friends I surrounded myself with I would never have sought help. I was finally diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa, and my road to recovery started! I went through many stages of denial, anger and upset, but in the end things levelled out and I became two years clear of habits. 

Despite all my improvements, at the start of my MA course, old habits started to creep in as my physical health took a turn. I became more depressed and I started to believe that my medication was making me put on so much weight. I went into a spiral of depression and I couldn’t shift the thoughts. My whole world turned black, and I felt so alone, even though I knew I wasn’t. Days became longer, and nights became sleepless. Every thought I had was about what excuse could I make next. 

Moving back to university put me back into complete control over what I did and didn’t eat. Restriction became easier, I didn’t have my mum around to voice her concerns or cook any meals for me. I found it easier to keep my eating habits a secret. No matter how hard I tried to persuade myself that food wasn’t the enemy, I couldn’t shift the unhappiness I was feeling. My real smile replaced with a fake, I just lost myself completely.

When my MA workload kicked in, my shifts at work increased, and my PTSD became worse, everything started to spiral! I would tell myself on a daily basis that tomorrow would always be better. But the stress and worries of every day became too much. I wouldn’t eat, but I couldn’t shift the guilt I would feel. I would constantly feel that I was letting my eating disorder win. I would try so hard… I became so good at hiding how I truly felt, I had years of practice. My roller-coaster of emotions meant I was miserable and insecure the majority of the time. I gave myself high standards, which resulted in constant self-criticism. 

It took me a while until I realised that my thought process and my relationship with food was in fact my eating disorder returning. This time it was bigger and more dangerous than before. I ended falling into avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) alongside Bulimia Nervosa. It resulted in me consuming very little a day, and there were even some days when I wouldn’t eat anything. The power of food and thought took over. 

Having this battle, while trying to get through an eating disorder, while writing a university essay is not only daunting but it is exhausting. Every part of you is consumed by body image, food consumption and weight. It is merely impossible to write a sentence without pausing.  I eventually started to seek help again through the counselling team at the university and reached out to my Personal Academic Tutor to make sure that I had the support regarding my academic studies. It was the best thing I did. I knew I had someone who would listen and not judge. I knew I didn’t want to fail – especially after fighting so hard to gain my undergraduate degree. My counsellor recommended I reached out to my doctors, however despite all this, I was and still am in quite a bit of denial about actually having an eating disorder relapse. I am just too embarrassed. But the first step is always the hardest. 

I am in my final stretch of completing my MA degree, and I know nothing will stop me from completing it. I just don’t know what it will cost me. I want to make people proud, especially my Personal Academic Tutor as the support they have given me has been more than enough. Not only have they supported me through my academic studies, but they have supported me through every personal bump in the road that I have had to face. No words would ever come close to the thanks I have for them. I am planning on going ahead with my PGCE and I would love to do a PhD in the future, but for that to be accessible I need to make sure I have my mental health difficulties under control. 

I want to get better. I want to be happy. My advice to you all is never feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness! You are not alone! It is never too late! 

For more information or support with your mental health, see the Student Minds website or Student Space



I am Sarah, and I have studied a joint BA (hons) in English Literature and Educational Studies at the University of Worcester. On completion I have gone onto study a MA in English at the same university. I want to share my experience hoping it will help someone to seek help before things get too far.

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