I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to go to university twice: once for my undergrad, and once for a masters. It’s hard to recall how that first time felt now, stepping into halls full of faces not necessarily unfriendly but alien.
When I first started university in 2016, I was coming towards the tail end of what had been a four-year struggle with my eating disorder. It had come in many different forms over the years and continuously changed its shape but had never lessened. I was convinced it was there to stay, and that whatever experiences I had at university would happen around or in spite of it. I remember the panic of how I would maintain control over my mealtimes if I was eating with others, how I would go out and make friends whilst avoiding drinking, and how I’d monitor my weight without flatmates getting suspicious. I didn’t know the format of the life I was walking into next, and the lack of control terrified me.
At first, of course, it was scary. Living away from your family for the first time, particularly in a city you don’t know is bound to take some getting used to. An important tip for anyone starting their university career is to give it time. Don’t assume that because you’ve hated the first week or even month that this isn’t the right fit for you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your resilience for dinners with flatmates, or your tolerance for the boys down the hall that still think it’s funny to play knock-a-door-run.
What I think about a lot is that looking around at my closest friends now, I didn’t have any of them before that first day. Some of them I met that evening, and some I met through the years, but they all came from university days. The people now dearest to me who helped me realise the harm I was doing to myself and recover all came from that big jump. That’s another little seed of wisdom: it might feel horrible, but this transition could be exactly what you need. You might meet people who encourage you to get in touch with your GP, or sit with you whilst you call the helpline, or reason with you.
I remember when I told my closest friend about my eating disorder; it was the early hours of the morning and if I remember correctly, we had been watching Ru Pauls Drag Race re-runs for about four hours. When I told her, she nodded and looked sad, but there was no judgement and from that day on I had her complete and unbridled support. Never underestimate the bonds you can make from going through a transitional period with others; you’ll build relationships that feel like they’ve been there all your life.
Going back to university the second time, the fear did cross my mind. I remembered how scared I was: scared of the city I’d never lived in before and of the people I didn’t know, and of how far away it was (the Masters was my first uneasy dalliance down South- something as a Northerner who’d been living in Scotland for five years I wasn’t looking forward to). I consider myself recovered and did by this point, but there was always that faint ‘what if’ playing at the back of my mind.
The first day I got there, I sat on a bench and called my friend- the one who I’d told way back when in first year. We talked about the move, about how much hotter it was down South and about her new course, which was starting soon too. It helped because it made me realise that I’d done this all before; this time, I was just doing it with the best people in the world by my side.
There is a reason transition periods are scary, and your feelings are valid. You do, however, need to give yourself time and put a little trust in the process: people and places will surprise you, and you never know who you might meet on the other side of that corridor. University is huge, and that can be daunting- but it also means there’s definitely a place for you.
So good luck, deep breaths, and remember to pack your duvet.
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A mother shares her family's experience of her daughter's transition from school to university with an eating disorder.