University – what kind of associations do we make with this word?
Most people will tell you that it will be the best years of your life, you’ll make friends for life and you’ll ‘find yourself’. Although for many students this does happen; university can often live up to our expectations (and then some)!
But I wanted to write this for those of us whose experience may not quite have lived up to this description for #UniMentalHealthDay.
Many of us will visit university open days where we are told about all the incredible opportunities that are available – and there certainly are so many things to sign up for.
It can often feel quite overwhelming and the prospect of attending university suddenly feels like quite a burden, if you are bringing along with you a secret that only the closest people in your lives are aware of.
I personally found the transition process rather stressful but felt obliged to attend all the fresher’s events in order to not isolate myself. I signed up for all the clubs I was interested in and even got a part time job to ensure I could support myself financially after paying the accommodation fees.
Little did I know, money would be the least of my worries.
After the first term, it became apparent that I didn’t quite fit in with the people in my halls of residence – I couldn’t keep up with all the nights out and endless ‘banter’ that seemed to be a constant. I went home most weekends which, although I know was the right thing to do, made me stand out even more as social anomaly.
Nobody warned me how much I would miss the homely comforts or how difficult it would be to cook my own meals and clean my own clothes!
Going into the second semester, we had to choose our housing options for the next year (already!?). I felt inclined to live with the people in my halls of residence, even though I had only known them for 3 months. Later on I would realise that in those first 3 months, everyone shows their ‘best side’, and so the decisions you make about who to make friends with can often be inaccurate and misjudged.
I went on to feel even more uncomfortable around a certain group of girls who made snide comments and (perhaps even without knowing) made fun of my interests and things I chose to spend my time doing.
My first year was a big blur and I ended up feeling more lost and confused about who I was than ever before. I felt like a fraud and that I was trying too hard to fit in, out of fear of being lonely or made fun of.
I never even looked for societies or clubs that better suited my personality and interests but looking back, I know they were there.
University carried on like this for me and because I felt guilty for not being true to myself, my coping mechanisms slowly became more self-destructive, until my eating disorder decided to drop by and make itself at home.
Guilt was something I became so familiar with, it drove my eating disorder behaviours and convinced me I didn’t deserve support. I knew that I could access the support – there was a doctor surgery on campus, counselling team, university mental health team and even support groups that were ran by volunteers.
Unfortunately, I was too ashamed and fearful of losing my coping mechanisms to access any of these, and being honest with myself and you reading this, the fear of stigma if found out by tutors and peers.
Looking back at university, having graduated 4 years ago now, I wish I had opened up to someone sooner – even just one person could have made all the difference in those first few years.
I ended up talking to my one friend about it in my 4th year, and she went on to share her problems with anxiety which I had never noticed! (To be fair to myself though, I was struggling with my own demons, and recognise now that I wasn’t in the position to ‘spot-the-signs’ of her own problems.
My eating disorder was completely self-absorbing and left no time to enjoy myself in the situations I now find today gives me happiness.
If you are thinking about going to university, or you’re already at university and feeling a bit lost – I can tell you that you are not the only one!
I believe everyone is just as lost.
Here are my 3 top tips for all you students or students to-be:
- Make a list of your expectations for the term, ensure they are realistic and try to understand that not all expectations are met immediately
- Write down the things you value in life and see if there are any societies or clubs that match up to what you value – if you’re not sure, try out some volunteering or start your own society
- Be prepared for difficult times; research the services available on campus and book regular appointments with the GP just to check in both physically and mentally
Someone once told me that people are like diamonds – we have lots of different faces that we feel comfortable showing in different situations.
This really stuck with me and helped me understand that I am not a fraud, I just have lots of different sides of my personality and I can adapt and change this is in different situations.
‘So embrace the diamond that you are’.
If you, or someone you know at university is struggling with an eating disorder, or if the changes moving from home to university has impacted you resulting from disordered eating, then seek help from your campus student welfare team, on site medical centre.
Student Minds is a great charity dedicated to supporting students:
Student Minds – Positive Minds is a six week course for students experiencing low mood or mild depression run through a course booklet to structure the sessions with topics such as building a support network, establishing healthy routines and relaxation techniques.
Eating Difficulty Groups
Student Minds – These support groups provide support and encouragement to students experiencing eating difficulties or struggles with body image, to help them keep motivated through recovery.
First Steps ED – EDISS is a specialist mild-to-moderate eating disorders bundled service available to students and staff on campus and works with student well-being teams and the NHS eating disorder service. It’s a unique and specialised approach to eating disorders within the academic environment and is staffed by student alumni with lived experience of suffering with an eating disorder whilst studying at university.
s is a six w
eek course for students experiencing low mood or mild depression. Our facilitators run through a course booklet to structure the sessions with topics such as building a support network, establishing healthy routines and relaxation techniques.