As I near the end of my university career, I can’t help but look back on how far I have come since I started in February 2016. I began university as a very anxious girl – socially, academically and generally – and as someone still in denial of their eating disorder, despite having begun my recovery journey 6 months earlier. Whilst I cannot say I will be finishing university as a fully recovered and confident woman, I can say that I have grown so much during this time. Battling an eating disorder, and other mental and physical illnesses, my university journey has been challenging. However, I have learnt so much about myself and how strong and resilient I can be. I hope my story and what I’ve learnt can help others in a similar situation. So here it goes.
My four-year degree has taken me five years. Why? Because my eating disorder recovery was not a part-time job that could be put on hold whilst I completed university. I used to be ashamed when people asked me what subjects I was taking. I would never be able to give them the standard four subjects because I always took on a lighter load. Some asked, “oh are you working too?”, to make sense of my lighter university load. I can’t remember what excuses I came up with time and time again, but I never told them the real reason. Now I am not shamed. But sadly, then I was. What I wanted to say sounds something like, “No. I am battling an eating disorder which consumes every aspect of my life. I have to actively work on recovery every single day, which can be scary, exhausting, physically debilitating and mentally draining”. But I knew they wouldn’t understand, and I was scared of their judgment.
To anyone who is recovering from an eating disorder and wants to go to university, who is about to start university, or is in the midst of their university career, please know that it is possible. University and recovery are not mutually exclusive!
Here are some of my tips for getting through university whilst recovering:
- Recovery should always be your number 1 priority – you cannot achieve your full potential at university if the eating disorder is in command. Don’t forget to rest and nourish your body.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help – whether this is university-related, recovery related, or just help in general life like doing the laundry and cleaning.
- Utilise university resources – most universities will have online and face-to-face academic, career and wellbeing services.
- There is NO shame in taking your time – do university at your own pace and know you never have to justify to anyone why you took on a lighter load.
- Decorate your study space with affirmations – these can be recovery and/or university-related. Two of my favourites are: ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere’ and ‘You are not your mark’.
- Practice self-care – whether this is playing with your pet, watching Netflix, or chatting with a friend.
Please know that it is only in my final year at university that I have realised all of the above, and I still struggle to practice what I preach! To anyone getting through university whilst recovering from an eating disorder, you are strong, resilient and worthy. You are not alone, and you can do this.
Written by Shani Tal
Inspired by her own personal experiences, Shani seeks to destigmatise eating disorders and advocate for mental health. She shares her journey of recovery and body acceptance on her Instagram account @bodyversity.
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