10 ways I survived my first term at university

Posted 11/01/2019

Starting university is scary for anyone. New people, a new environment, possibly living on your own for the first time, new routines…basically a whole new life! At the age of eighteen I had my place to study Music in September…however, I was also in the depths of anorexia. I remember my parents sitting me down and saying to me there was "no way in a million years" they were going to let me go.

I spent two years in and out of recovery after that. University was the ultimate goal for me, so I worked so hard to recover and rebuild my life again. Eventually, at the age of 20, I made it to university in September 2018. I changed courses and was ready to leave my comfort zone at home to seek out new adventures.

According to Beat’s research, 39% of eating disorder sufferers at university had to drop out or take a break from studies. I was determined to not be part of this statistic. So this is how I survived my first term at university with an eating disorder:

  • Don’t compare yourself to others! – There’ll be people who woke up too late to eat breakfast, the ones who don’t have enough money for lunch or look like they’re having the time of their lives on social media. If they’re affecting how you see yourself, remember that you probably don’t see the other 20 hours of their day. If you’re genuinely worried about someone, speak to the support staff at your university. If you’re too embarrassed to in person, they should have an email address you can contact them on.
  • Focus on yourself and your journey – I can’t stress how important this is. Remember, that you start university alone and graduate alone! The only person that can get you your degree is you! Think about it rationally – is skipping breakfast because your friends don’t eat it really a good idea? Breakfast sets you up for the day, giving you the energy you need to concentrate in lectures etc. Allocate cupboards in your kitchen if that helps. Everyone at university is different and you should focus on what helps you to be the best person you can be.
  • Remember why you’re at university – For me, university was a massive step in the right direction. I had to work incredibly hard for my family and doctors to trust me to go. I didn’t want to throw all that hard work in the bin. Uni has changed me as a person and was exactly what I needed to finally say goodbye to anorexia. You might have doubts if university is really the best place for you, and if that’s the case, that’s okay too. There’s never any shame in taking a term or year out – if that is what you need then do it. You may find that time off to recharge is the right thing for your physical and/or mental health.
  • Be honest with support staff and other people you trust – Not every day of my first term went brilliantly. I still have bad days; we all do. No one talks about the days when you hate everything about yourself, or you don’t want to leave your bed - but they happen. Please don’t be embarrassed to ask for help before it’s too late. There are loads of different ways you can access support at university. I decided to contact my university beforehand about my struggles, just in case I did need that extra support. Talk to people that you trust and your friends if you want to. I talk to my mum when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and there’s friends I feel comfortable with too.
  • Go food shopping with people you feel comfortable with – I find this really helps me! Going with people who have normal attitudes with food makes food shopping actually quite fun! If food shopping is something you struggle with or you don’t have anyone to go with, write a list and stick to it!
  • Join in as much as you can – Eating disorders are isolating. For years, I convinced myself I was happier at home in my bedroom alone. However, I now this is not the case. I am a sociable, bouncy person who loves a good night out and being with people. If your friends eat chips at 3am after a night out and you want some, give yourself permission. I promise you won’t regret it.
  • Allow time to yourself – Uni is full on! I always make sure I put myself first and if I need a night in to myself that’s perfectly okay too! It doesn’t matter if you miss a night out and you definitely don’t need to be socialising every second of the day. During freshers, I did my best to make friends, but I also noticed that I needed time to myself to reflect and recharge. If you’re feeling lonely, there should be lots of societies available for you to join! It’s scary going for the first time, but it’s so worth it. Even just doing university work in a public space can help you talk to more people and make friends.
  • Ditch the people who don’t have your best interests in mind – If there’s someone who makes you feel bad about yourself or is pressuring you to do anything then they’re not your friend! People like that can be really damaging to your mental health and are not worth your time. During freshers, you’ll meet people you don’t click with and probably never speak to them again.
  • Think about your future – If you have a dream job, a career path or a certain life in mind then there is nothing stopping you from getting there. If you’re not sure what you want to do after university that’s fine too! There’s no rush and opportunity and guidance will be provided by your university to help with this. Follow your daydream and anything is possible.
  •  Realise there is a life without an eating disorder – University has enabled me to see a life past an eating disorder. I have learnt so much about myself and am continuing to grow. There is a life waiting for you. So grab it before it’s too late. 
Contributed by Rachel