Content warning – this article contains references to anorexia and eating disorders. If you are struggling with similar issues, please use the Beat Helpline: 0808 801 0677 for advice and support.
2017. The year I made the biggest leap in life yet to move to University and begin a new journey. For four years prior to this I had been in treatment for anorexia, something that had controlled my life for many years. I had always continued to be ‘high functioning’ as such even during the darkest periods. Despite how difficult this was being in and out of treatment and constant days of therapy I was offered places in all five of my University choices. My family travelled with me around the country visiting the cities in which I strived to live in once I moved to Uni, despite their obvious worries that I would not be well enough to attend. This time is pretty much a blur to me, however, I do remember attending a meeting with my therapist a few months before I was set to go off to Uni. She gave me the go-ahead that I would be allowed to go and that I could be discharged from the treatment I was currently in. I felt a whirlwind of emotions because I was so excited to move on, do the course of my dreams and finally have the Uni experience I had dreamed of, but at the same time I was not ready, I was nervous and still needed further treatment as I was nowhere near 100% recovered.
Fast forward to September 2017.
I moved to Huddersfield to study ‘Fashion Communication and Promotion’ (which then changed to ‘Fashion Brand Marketing’) this was my dream course. I moved to a small town up north in familiar area that I had spent a lot of time with my family whist growing up, this was comforting as I had moved from a tiny village in the countryside and felt a big city would be too overwhelming. To begin with I was meeting new friends, socialising, learning, it seemed to be everything I had hoped. Until two weeks in. I had a phone call saying, ‘there is a bed waiting for you in the inpatient unit in Leeds you must come on Friday.’ I broke down in tears, I was by myself in an unfamiliar area without my family and friends and all of a sudden my Uni experience that I had only just begun seemed to be over already. I rang my old therapist confused why this had happened and what to do, she said she would try and resolve it but she knew nothing about it. I tried to push this news to the back of my mind, I ignored endless phone calls and my strong-willed personality told people ‘I didn’t need their help’ despite being in desperate need of it. Being in a totally new environment made eating even more difficult, it was far easier to restrict as there was no one to tell me what to do anymore. A week after ignoring this there was a knock on my student halls flat door. One of my flat mates told me there was someone there for me, they entered my room without permission and told me that I would be put into an inpatient ward as I didn’t meet the criteria for outpatient help, handing me a huge pile of leaflets and self-help brochures and that was that. This had never been mentioned by my previous team so I was confused to say the least. After many arguments between that mental health team and my parents over the phone they finally agreed for a meeting to discuss this. After many tears and shouting we agreed that I would not go straight to inpatient on certain terms eg-weekly appointments with them and the doctors. However, they would not offer me any outpatient therapy as ‘I did not fit their guidelines of being healthy enough to be in the community’ but my stubborn self ⭑ Taurus Energy ⭑ said that I did not need their help and I could do it myself.
First year was a struggle and a constant battle with my mind. It was not the amazing uni life that I had anticipated of going out every week and making my friends for life. I was extremely anxious, weak and wanted to spend most of my time in my room alone.
Despite this I finished first year with a First which I was really proud of myself for achieving. I moved back to my hometown for the summer and decided to discharge myself from the mental health team back at Uni. I worked hard over the summer break to improve and grow as a person.
I returned back to Uni for second year with a new group of people in a new accommodation (something that can prove difficult for many a uni student – living with strangers isn’t always easy and living alone can be lonely) and a much more positive attitude. My confidence started to come out as I met more people, worked more in my part time job and became more enthusiastic about the work that I was creating at University. During this year I made some of my closest friends that I was able to open up to, something I had never felt I was able to do before. I spent most of my weekends in second year working or going to gigs! I was beginning to feel better within myself, something I hadn’t yet felt, I was much healthier but mentally I was still not recovered, there was a long way to go on the journey still.
Over the summer of second to final year was when I really threw myself into the right mind set. I knew I had one final year of University left and I didn’t want to waste it, I was never getting this time back again. I spent the summer challenging myself, doing things I would have been far to anxious to do before – eating out, going for weekends away, a lot of spontaneity that previously would have been meticulously planned to put the ‘anorexic voice’ in my mind at peace. This gave me so much more freedom and just a much more content lifestyle.
On my return to University in the autumn of 2019 I was with a whole new group of people as I hadn’t done the placement year that most of my previous class mates had done. Usually being faced with a group of completely new people would have terrified me but I threw myself into final year and actually made some of my closest friends from my whole Uni experience during this time! Final year was a huge step up in workload and difficulty but I enjoyed it so much, focussing on topics and styles that I was interested in and loved. My group of friends all motivated each other to keep going and get the grades we wanted throughout all the stress. I gave time to myself and time for work achieving the work-life balance that I had never had before. But then came corona, we all went our separate ways back to our home towns to complete our final term of Uni and our Final Major Projects. This was a huge pressure, we could no longer meet up for coffee dates and cheer each other on or work collaboratively to share ideas and feedback. It was a lonely and stressful few months. However, it was all worth it for that sense of relief when you hit submit on the deadline date!
It was a long wait until results day questioning whether the stress of working at home during the pandemic would have affected my grades. Whether the lack of interaction and guidance with my lecturers and peers would have set me a back. However, it got to set day and I was the most nervous I had ever been. The uploading of my results was delayed adding to the pressure I was already feeling and the debates in my mind of whether or not I would get the grade I so desperately wanted, or even if I had failed. Then eventually my final grade came through. I graduated from my dream course after a whirlwind three years with a First Class Honours Degree. I couldn’t stop crying because after everything I had been through during those three years, as much as I wanted to, never did I think that I would come out with a First. I didn’t even think that I would ever be able to go to Uni and then once I did I was convinced that there was no chance of me getting through the uphill battle of first year, but I got there, with the support of all the amazing people that helped me along the way.
So if you are struggling mentally right now and considering going to University, or are currently part way through University and still struggling please take reassurance in the fact that it can and will get better. With hard work, motivation and the willingness to push yourself out of your comfort zone and safe zones you can get to where you strive to be and achieve amazing things. Even during a pandemic I was still able to achieve what I wanted so you can get there, if you have a goal and a strong mind set you will accomplish what you strive to do and it will all be worth it for the incredible feeling at the end! I am now a far happier, healthier, more confident and creative version of myself with a vision to go on to do my dream job and continue living my best life and you can get there too!