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.