Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
"Serving those affected by eating disorders"
When your eating disorder seems to be ruling your life what can you do? When your eating disorder seems to be preventing you from having the opportunity to enjoy university life what should you do?
As a student with an eating disorder you may find yourself faced with some huge decisions to make.
What should I do?
It is true that most of us with eating disorders have learnt ways to hide our inside struggles, and may feel that we can do this throughout our university life. We may not realise what we are missing out on and all our energy and concentration goes into trying to reach the impossible place of perfection the higher than first degrees.
We may not realise that there is also a life out there to live, there are friends to make, there are new opportunities and challenges ahead.
We can end up missing out on these because of our relationship with our eating disorder.
Sixth form nightmare
The worse period for me was when I was in sixth form. I wished I taken a year out then to sort myself out, but my parents and teachers said not to, as it would leave a "gap" I would have to explain or it would hard for me to go back to studying. There was still the stigma of mental illness and sense of shame about what I was going through. I didnít want to think about anything and having to make decisions about my future made me really depressed.
Looking back I think I based a lot of my decisions on what was the easiest thing to do not necessarily what was best. I choose London because they offered me the lowest grades, I choose courses depending on their times e.g. not on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon.
To begin with being at university really helped; I was in hall the first year so I didnít have to cook for myself apart from at week-ends and I didnít have time to binge and there were always people around. But gradually the bulimia increased again and I became increasingly desperate. There was a student counsellor, but one could only see him every 4 weeks or so. I went to the GP in the medical centre who referred me to the psychiatrist there who was horrendous. While I was waiting for him I could hear him joking with a colleague about a patient who had committed suicide the night before, then when I saw him he was obviously bored by anorexics and bulimics and little girls who wonít grow up, he said it was just a behavioural problem, said I lacked commitment because I wanted to change courses, and asked me if I masturbated! Needless to say I proved him right about the lack of commitment and didnít go back.
In my final year I found a self help group in central London run by the EDA. It was a start, for the first time I believed I could actually get better and became determined I didnít want to be this person anymore.
Some possible options
Stay at Uni tell your friends how things are for you and seek non statutory support e.g. 18-25, Uni self help groups, self help books, support from MIND, Off the Record, Sane line, SWEDA, EDA, Samaritans. From September 2004 you may want to think about the supported self help telephone helpline , the on line discussion group, email support, pen pals, support by letter, that SWEDA 18-25 is offering. You may want to ask SWEDA to help you work with your university to set up a support system in your Uni.
Ask for support from University Welfare, Tutors, Student support centre -disability team, Counsellors, G.P., Mental Health Liaison nurse.
Ask for a referral to the local secondary Mental Health Team and ask for specialised service to support you while you study.
Ask to defer for a year and sort out things so you can go back and find out what fun Uni Life can be and why some people say that Uni should be the best years of your life
Decide the course is not the right course for you right now and leave
Transfer to a Uni nearer home / where you have had a good support system
Ask your home G.P or support team to refer you to your local Uni team. Sometimes people think it will be ok when I go away, but then they find it hard when they get there. If you have a referral made before you go incase things get hard they will know you are there, if you go with out a referral it may take longer to get help and may get harder to ask.
There is no shame in being prepared and knowing what the options may be!
Sometimes it is better to prepare before you go off and find out what services are in place in the city you are going to and sort out an adequate support network before you leave home, visit SWEDA's Student Resources and you may find some helpful links, you can call us and we will help signpost you in the right direction to find support.
It can be a huge step and many people will reassure friends and family at home "Oh I promise I will eat and things will be fine," but once you get away it is not that easy.
Eating disorders are very good at letting us think that they are our best and only friend and that they will be there in the most difficult times of our lives, they are very good at denying reality and let you make promises that they will not let you will not keep.
An experience ~ Living on the knife edge.
"I left home and said to my family "It will be fine, I promise to eat. It will be OK"
They knew and I knew that it would not be We all knew that when I got to University I would not eat.We all knew none of us would say anything. They would watch me go I would sit inside my body as it wilted away.
So as you may guess I spent my whole degree bathed in my eating disorder. It ruled, it took over and I lived by its rules. I worked like a Trojan but could not achieve what I should. I was one out of 2 people in the whole year who got a third class degree. I really failed.
I had been afraid to ask for help, I hadnít wanted it, I had wanted to be thin, I had wanted to go away and find a place to die. I had never had any help or treatment I did not know what it was I was afraid to fail and let down my family so I plodded on suffocating in my illness. Nobody got me out, nobody could, not until I was ready. I did not know there were options, people on the outside of my world seemed only to want to make me fat at that stage in my life that was all this was about
I did not see myself to be good enough I could never reach good, I always felt fat even at 4.5 stone and 5ft9, I was living to die, and dying to live.
I do not know and never will how I EVEN GOT MY DEGREE
I spent 4 very lonely years wrapped in my eating disorder, I did not even realise that I was lonely, well maybe I did but my faithful friend was by my side, my Anorexia then my love hate relationship with bulimia and self harm began.
My university life was an endurance, I hated it but would not give in, Yes I was stubborn , too unwell to see how unwell I was to paralysed to ask for help.
It is only now that I look back at this time in my life that I feel an overwhelming sadness.
I was visiting a friend at University a while ago. I stayed overnight. This was the most amazing experience that I can say I have ever witnessed. I saw why people say University is the "best years if your life".
I saw her in her house, with 4 house mates, all chatting, sharing time and space, watching TV having a laugh, sharing food and eating together , going to the pub, people popping by, and a warm and cosy home they all shared with me that evening.
I went to bed so tearful and so happy. I had feelings of envy and jealousy and feelings of awe and amazement.
My envy and jealousy that these people had what I had always dreamed of , a group of friends, a time and space to share and be together or alone but to feel cared for.
Things which helped me adjust to uni life
These things have made a difference to me.
Create a list of the things you need to take with you to help you feel at home. Make a list of what you need to do to prepare for your transition to University or college
These are things that can be used when things get tough, but it must be used in moderation or they can become a problem in themselves!
Support Systems at University
Some students have experienced worries that they meet someone they know if they go to a group or ask for help.
What if I meet someone I know at a meeting
The thought of coming to a meeting can be overwhelmingly scary and many things prevent people coming to get self help and support.
Generally if someone comes to a group they are coming for themselves and we work with a policy of confidentiality, and this helps to make things safe so you would not talk about other people outside the group to anyone. People come to the group for support not for judging, this can give a sense of relief and mutual support.
Generally when people are able to come to a group they find that they see they are not alone and people identify with how they feel, and the feeling of isolation, loneliness and not being understood change.
They realise other students feel alone and can begin to make links with other people who may understand them and look for peer support in between groups. Students have given people their mobile numbers, email addresses and have arranged to meet up and chat and do things during the week.
Within Your University you should be able to get support from student counsellors, Student welfare personal tutors and Nightline.
Could there have been someone there for me?
I dream to see the world
I want to make a difference to peopleís lives
I want to meet Mr. Right
I want to love meeting new people
I want to have fun
I want to smile form inside
I want to teach,
I want to coach
I want to find a social life where I fit in
I want to get my athletics back
I want children
I want to travel
I want to never need anything
I want my health back
I wanna get married
I want to go back to the States
I want to find a happy future
I want to eat with others without even thinking about it
I want to get a well paid career
I want to be successful
I want to be popular
I want to live completely free
I want to be a good friend
I want to have a good friend
I want to laugh from inside out
I want to be true to me
I want to feel ok meeting other people
I want to travel over the sea
I want to be free
I dream to see the world
Some useful contacts
© 2004 ~ 2013 Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association