23 September 2016

One New Start at a Time...

I cannot believe that the first week of my new start at University is nearly over. It only seems like yesterday that I was unloading all of my belongings from the van and taking that first long trek up the stairs to my student accommodation. As we made our way up the stairwell, I could not help but think back to the last time I had to go through the process of moving in to somewhere new- hospital. Unpacking the same bedding as I used for my time at Grimsby, I did not see this as a negative reminder, but as a positive nod to the progress that I have made over the past year.

Once my room was all set, my parents and I headed into the city centre for a celebratory meal at Piccolino. This was not an easy step for me, as again the thoughts of guilt regarding the financial situation I have and will continue to put my parents into came flooding back. However, mum’s insistence and my determination to learn from my mistakes in the past lead me to indulge in one of the most delicious meals I have had in a long time. As we finished our meal, the topic of conversation turned to food shopping and how I was going to continue with a full and varied diet whilst away from home. Obviously this is something that I have discussed numerous times with both my parents and the medical professionals supporting me, but it was at that point that it dawned on me that the responsibility was literally all down to me. I was going to have to shop for food and not look at it as an outlet to restrict the amount of money I spend, but as a positive experience to fuel and nourish my body.

Stepping into the superstore I glanced at the shopping list of essentials that I had prepared a few days earlier. Whole grains, biscuits, nut butters, dried fruit, cereals, chocolate bars, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish- this shopping list was worlds away from the restricted food stuffs I was purchasing this time two years ago. Thinking back to my first shop in Huddersfield with my parents, I can still recollect the sense of anxiety and fear that encapsulated my body as progressed down the aisles. I can remember the constant questioning from both mum and dad regarding the lack of items in the trolley, to which I responded with a comforting acknowledgement that I was going to collect more throughout the week once I had established a routine. But not this time! Yes, there was the debate as to whether I had gathered enough and this prompted another trip around the shop, but this wasn’t through a desire to restrict on either food or money, this was because I had not looked at how much space I had to put everything in the flat!

Waving goodbye to my parents was difficult- they have been my absolute rock for the past few years. Not only was it difficult in terms of knowing that they aren’t going to be with me 24/7, but it was more the realisation that this was it, I now have to put everything I have spent the last 18 months learning into practice. I now have to make the right decisions without the watchful eye of somebody else looking over me. I now have to do a food shop without spending hours analysing the labels. But more importantly, I now have to live a life without the remnants of my Anorexia clutching onto any aspect that it can to bring me down again. I have to use the resilience, strength and confidence that I have established during the early stages of my recovery and apply them to this next phase in my life. Granted my Anorexia has helped shape the person that I am today, but I am not my Anorexia.

Working my way through my induction timetable, I have managed to become even more excited about my course. Meeting the lecturers, hearing about the opportunities available and learning more about my potential time at Sheffield Hallam, I was even more sure that right now I am where I need to be. Of course as the mention of assignments, deadlines and exams arose throughout each of the group, I began to doubt my current level of knowledge about the topic. I have not completed any science qualifications beyond GCSE level and this made me apprehensive about my ability to complete the course. However, that is what I am here for is to learn. So yes, I may have to try a little bit harder than everybody else, but I am here for my own development, not to compete against my fellow students. Speaking to the other members of the course, my mind was slightly put at rest. We all have such a wide range of motivations for being here but also a wide range of previous experience, so I did feel as though my place here was justified.

I can honestly say, that I feel as though I am making friends for life here already. Everybody that I have come in contact with so far have been truly amazing and inspirational individuals. With me not drinking, I have not felt the attraction to going out every night for Fresher’s Week, but I have not let my lifestyle choice impact on my ability to socialise and meet new people. In the past, my coping mechanism for my emotional issues would have been to shy away in my room, but this time I have felt opposed to that idea. Attending the Students Union fairs daily, socialising with my course mates and going to some of the evening events on offer, I feel like the real me again. Joining the Fell Walking and Mountaineering society, planning cinema trips and attending sports matches, I am excited by the social aspect of my time at University, and appreciate that I need to maintain a work life balance whilst I am here.

As I have said before, and it continues to stay in my mind, I am not expecting this to be easy. I am aware that my course has not started yet and that things can suddenly change, but I am even more aware that it is ok to say if things are not going right. So far from what the university have told us, there is an enormous amount of support available to the students here at Sheffield Hallam and I am not ashamed to utilise these resources. I have also made a few people on my course aware of my past and some of the relapse prevention plans that I have set in place. One example that I gave was to drag me out of my room if they need to, as it could well do me the world of good. I have been extremely fortunate with the girls that I have met so far and their understanding of my situation and what I have been through. I am lucky to have them alongside me and to have made such valuable friendships even after just 6 days; I could not be any happier.

So let the course begin; let the fun begin; and lets see what the next few weeks bring!

14 September 2016

One Big Step at a Time...

Where has this year gone? It only seems like yesterday that I composed my personal statement for UCAS and now, in just a few days time, I will be moving to Sheffield. Even as I write this it still feels as though the day is never going to come around. But it is. And fast.

Completing my pre-enrolment documents, joining fresher’s groups on Facebook and sending off my uniform order form- the normal preparatory activities for all applicants have come in stops and starts. However, for myself, the preparations have been ongoing for months. Since the day I arrived home from my incredible trip around Europe, the reality of my situation confronted me head on. Blood tests, ECGs, appointments with my GP, dietitian and psychologist- the reminder of my prior difficulties did not hesitate in attempting to set me back. Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that the outcome of all of these appointments have been nothing but positive. Following on from my healthy blood test and ECG results, I am proud to say that I have now been discharged from the dietetic services. My last appointment with the dietitian was incredibly encouraging and motivating. With lots of praise surrounding my achievements on my European adventure, I felt assured about my progress and quietly confident about my next steps at university. This attitude was mirrored in my psychologist appointment.

After extensive discussions regarding my anxieties about university, my psychologist kindly pointed out that they were all based around the unknown. Keeping in mind that this is the second time I have attempted university study, it was inevitable that my predictions for this time round were going to replicate the difficult memories of the previous episode. Isolating myself in my room, entering the kitchen for a measly bowl of cereal and attending lectures that I really could not engage with- the perfect scenario for my eating disorder to drag me down into its lethal depths. But this time is different. I am at a different university, doing a course that I am truly excited about and I am healthy. I can acknowledge that the course is not going to be easy in terms of demand academically, but also in relation to potential triggers. I knew this when I applied and I was very honest about my past in my UCAS application, to which I was still granted an unconditional offer. Of course, the niggling remnants of my eating disorder continue to challenge my abilities. Everyone else has studied A-levels and you haven’t. You will be the only one that hasn’t got any prior knowledge of the course content. You will not be able to do it. You remember what happened last time. What if you fail?  The demoralising thoughts continue to spiral through my mind in an attempt to obliterate any excitement or positivity I have about my new start. Discussing these thoughts with my psychologist, she thought it was best that I looked at the past few years of my life. This time last year, was my eating disorder telling me I couldn’t live without it? Yes. Did I believe that recovery was never possible? Yes. Have I managed to prove my eating disorder and myself wrong? YES! Using this motivational anecdote it was decided that I would write myself a letter from me now, to me three years ago. I would scribe about how much I have been through, but not in a negative way- a positive angle. For example, phrasing the sentence ‘I was admitted to hospital’ into ‘I wanted to get my life back, so I accepted help from hospital staff.’ This seemingly small difference in the structure of the sentence gives it a whole new meaning, one of empowerment and self-worth. This letter would give me something to reflect back on at times when I constantly doubt my abilities, giving me the gentle reminder I need about how much I have achieved.

I have also found calmness in reading. I decided to dig out my Kindle and download a book- something I have not done in a long time. In the depths of my illness I did not have the mental capacity to engage in the activity of reading, so having this ability again is a remarkable reminder of how much I was stripped of due to my unhealthy eating habits. Being absorbed in the fictional lives of unknown people, feeling emotions based on their actions- the process of reading a book is incredibly powerful in clearing your own head of negative thoughts. It is something that I will definitely continue to use as a tool for managing my damaging deliberations. The letter, reading and improving my ability to communicate my feelings have all been part of my own tailor-made preparations for the next stage of my life. It may have taken more time, and definitely more intensive than those joining me at university, but I am not ashamed about my mental health complications and the fact that I have needed this.

The past few weeks since returning from my trip have been hard- time to overthink, time to conjure up disaster scenarios, time to question my next move. However, as soon as the discussion about university creeps into conversation, I cannot help but feel a buzz of enthusiasm. Finding my flat mates and receiving messages in the nutrition group chat, the prospect of meeting new people is exciting. Investigating the potential societies and sports teams I can join is intriguing and I am ready to push myself to find who I am and what I enjoy. Obviously the course is at the forefront of my mind, but there are lots of other elements to university life that I am looking forward to- a feeling I never had the first time round.

My life has not exactly gone to plan so far and with the support of my incredible friends and family I have managed to get through it. With this notion in mind, I am not fearful of what is to come. I have learnt that you can try and control everything in your life, but ultimately it is a task that can never be achieved. I am going to face this next venture with an open mind, open ears and most definitely an open heart. I am not afraid to speak out if something is not right, but I am also not afraid to face what is to come.