Warning for discussion of my struggles with an eating disorder.
I’ve finished first year!
Still can’t quite believe that I’ve made it! Through exams, assessments, showcases, (maybe too) many nights out… AND FOOD!
I wanted to write this post mainly about how I’ve coped with eating and continuing with recovery through University. But I am in no way an expert, and everybody has different experiences. PLUS, I still definitely have a loooong way to go, but if this helps even a single person, then my job is complete.
One of the main reasons why my eating disorder was in control for so long was because, well, I wanted to feel in control myself. I thought that if I ordered and restricted my food, I would have this sense of getting a grip onto something that wasn’t uncontrollable. I thought I had this power in a way. And when you’re kind of plodding along through life, and so many different and complex changes are going on around you, I could feel myself getting lost and I thought I needed this illness to keep me grounded. What I didn’t realise was that I never was in control; it was my always my eating disorder that was. The way I’ve tried to push that idea out is by finding other routines and things I can control. I got healthier things to grip on to. My degree is definitely a good one for this. I control the work I do and the lectures I show up to. I control my motivation and energy to concentrate and try my hardest. By focusing on that, I have found other ways I can stay grounded in this uncontrollable world. Obviously, I had to find a middle ground; grades aren’t worth crying over and I didn’t want to affect my mental health in another way by causing a shit ton of stress, but that’s why I have taken part in other societies such as performing arts, yoga and volunteering. I’ve tried not to isolate myself away too much and found control in other ways that make me feel productive. And by fighting my eating disorder, I am actually taking control.
Another thing that has kept me pushing through recovery is my housemates and the environment of eating whatever the fuck you want whenever the fuck you want. This year, I have lived with 15 other people! (yep, I may have had a slight breakdown when I first found that out… I was so scared to cook anything for the first week). All these people have different routines of when they eat (probably a lot less thought out than mine are), and you realise that there just isn’t a right or wrong way to have food (besides like obviously eating raw chicken or whatever…). One of my housemates will sometimes have a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then egg on (many rounds of) toast for a pre-lunch, while snacking on biscuits throughout the morning, and sometimes they won’t have as much if they’re not feeling it. It’s about flexibility and eating what you know your body wants. By always having someone in the kitchen, eating whatever the hell they want and loving it, it makes me feel more comfortable to eat more substantially. It’s like the housemate is giving me some kind of approval that it’s okay, you can eat an extra bit of that. Or that doesn’t need to be measured. It more normal NOT to measure it. One reason I struggled so much the first time I tried to get better was because I had no concept of what a portion was or how much other people would eat of things. I would always over exaggerate it because I was too terrified to overdo it. In reality, my version of “overdoing it” was just a normal portion for everyone else. I’m slowly starting to learn that my old portion sizes would get me nowhere. Having housemates all around me normalising what my eating disorder screamed at me to avoid has been one of the most helpful things. I always make sure I eat with other people. This also helps to distract me, so I’m not suddenly contemplating and calculating what I’ve just eaten.
I have also tried to focus on accepting that I will have bad days. Originally creating this big goal of “I want to be fully recovered” is unrealistic. Instead, I focus on sticking with what I know I need to do to stay on track, and understanding it won’t always be easy. You can’t just skip to the end product. After finishing exams, I’ve found that as I’ve not been doing as much, food is slowly trying to creep back in and become all I think about. Instead of feeling like this is going to last forever and give up (which trust me, has been SO tempting recently), I think this is one bad day. One in many bad days, yes, I know. But I need to look at how far I’ve come. This doesn’t alter my progress if I don’t let it. When a runner has an injury, it doesn’t mean they are never going to run again. Just because I’m feeling the impact of my eating disorder a lot more today, it doesn’t mean that all my progress is ruined and I will never get better. It’s hard to think that a lot of the time, especially when all I am feeling is guilt and disgust, but I swear it never lasts as long as I think it will. The guilt passes and I focus again on all the reasons I want to get better and be healthy.
So far University has been an amazing experience and I feel it has suited me well. I’ve made so many wonderful friends, taken part in so much fun stuff, and tried lots of interesting and new meals. I’m excited to keep focusing on recovery during the summer and of course, as I manage my way through the next two years of my degree!