September swings around again, pushing out the (slightly) warmer weather and shades and sweeping in the autumnal breeze and the return of the coat. You may be moving into a new job, a new school year, starting college or moving to an alien city, or even country as a new student at University. These all mean one thing – change!
To students who are about to move into halls and start a whole new chapter – don’t panic. Fresher’s Week can be very disorientating and I’d like to reassure you that it is nothing like the day to day practice of “normal” student life. There can feel like a huge pressure to meet your new best mates, join in with drinking games, all night partying and eating pizza and kebabs. The pressures to fit into this student culture can be very overwhelming, so if you feel uncomfortable I assure you, you are not alone. Whilst I really want to encourage you to get stuck in and meet as many people as you can, it is perfectly normal to feel anxious. Everyone is feeling some level of apprehension.
Whilst you’re settling in you will most likely develop a new eating pattern, you may be in catered or self-catered accommodation, and you may be faced with challenges in the dining halls or liberated by the freedom to choose your own meals. The only option for me was to go self-catered in order to stay in control of what I was eating, but this won’t suit everyone, and having the structure of regular meals in catered accommodation could be just what you need. Be encouraged that meal times are a social occasion at University, it’s a time to meet people. If the thought of eating something you’re not in control of is bugging you, focus on the other reasons you are going down to dinner. To make friends, to create a homely atmosphere for others struggling with the change, to give you energy to enjoy your time. Your brain will be taking in an awful amount of new information – names, room numbers, door codes, building locations to name a few – and this can be exhausting. Try to remember your body needs fuel to keep your mind and body active.
Inevitably you will be homesick and worried about your chosen course at some point. Am I good enough to be here? Can I cope with this? Was this all a horrible mistake? Don’t let these thoughts pull you down! It will all work out. Do something to take your mind off all these changes, something familiar and comforting to you – draw, colour, make crafts, go exploring, read (for pleasure), write, watch your favourite film, listen to music. The worry may tempt you into binging and over-indulging in comfort food. To combat these thoughts from the start don’t restrict yourself entirely from what your body wants. It’s amazing how much of a boost a bit of apple crumble can give you! There’s nothing more I can say other than I’ve been there and I’m here now with a degree (and a job), life-long friends and great memories. If I can do this, there’s no reason why you can’t too.
Most importantly, please talk to someone if you’re feeling low. Explain how you feel, don’t keep it bottled up. Verbalising why you don’t want to eat often makes it easier to see how silly it sounds, and makes it clear that it is the eating disorder speaking and not you. There are a multitude of people battling ED’s on their own, many of whom don’t even realise it. I didn’t realise I was suffering until I spoke to people and realised that my relationship with food and subsequent behaviour was not normal and causing unnecessary stress. Thanks to donations we are really lucky that there is so much help available – if you’re worried look up local ED Charities or find a number for a helpline before you move. If you’re coming to Nottingham, check out the services provided by First Steps on the EDISS page above, delivered by a team dedicated to supporting students struggling with eating difficulties.
Now if you’re into musicals then you may have heard of a new Broadway musical called Dear Evan Hansen. If you haven’t heard of it, then I highly recommend looking it up and listening to the soundtrack. One of the repeated phrases is “you are not alone” which echoes throughout the song “You Will Be Found”. Never feel you are not important and have no one to talk to. Even amongst change, you can find people who will be there for you, listen and help.