The road to recovery from an eating disorder

Sam shares her experience with an eating disorder and the road to recovery.

Transcript

Hello, my name’s Sam. I’m finishing my master’s in Psychology while also working as an evening crisis support worker. Soon, I'll be stepping into the role of Vice-President support at my university. My journey through higher education has been marked not only by academic and professional growth but also by my personal battles with mental health, as well as those of the individuals I’ve supported.

Starting university is a significant milestone, bringing a mix of excitement, change, and new experiences. As we navigate life, we all face challenges, but for me, one of the biggest challenges I have encountered at university is my battle with anorexia. This mental health condition has been a constant companion throughout my university experience, making it a journey both difficult and demanding.

The road to recovery from an eating disorder can be both mentally and physically draining. Balancing this with the demands of university life - coursework, exams, and maintaining a social life, can feel overwhelming. It took me a long time to admit I was struggling, as I felt others had it worse. Despite regularly encouraging others to reach out for help, it took me a while to internalise this advice for myself.

One important lesson I’ve come to learn is the importance of openness and communicating in a way that works for you. I’ve made a conscious effort to communicate with those around me and let them know that I don't expect them to fully understand my situation, and that the best support they can offer is simply being available to listen if I need to talk.

It’s important to set personal boundaries. If someone is unable to listen in that moment, I prefer them to be honest about it. I believe that being transparent and open with one another is crucial for a healthy relationship, and I value their well-being just as much as my own.

I have also come to understand that it's okay to not have all the answers. Sometimes, what helps the most is having someone to listen or to talk to about something unrelated. The eating disorder world can be all-consuming, so it’s important to create a life outside of it. This looks different for everyone. But for me, it can mean spending time with friends and family, going on little adventures, practicing yoga, and above all, prioritising self-care to avoid burnout. Even seemingly small pleasures like watching a comfort show or colouring can greatly improve my mood and well-being.

Although I may not always know what I need, the comfort of knowing my friends and family are there for me is invaluable. We might chat about something else, grab a coffee, or I might just have a good cry while they listen. Sometimes, simply sitting in silence and feeling safe is the best form of support.

Recovery is a complex and challenging process that requires self-compassion and patience. Your body is reacting to stress in the best way it knows how, and going against these reactions can be extremely hard. Acting on the emotion might provide temporary relief, but it doesn’t help in the long run. It’s important to slow down, identify what you’re really feeling in the moment, recognise the urge, assess if it fits the situation, and when appropriate, practice opposite action.

Opposite action is a core skill of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) thatinvolves acting in opposition to unhelpful emotions to reduce their intensity. It's important to note that this doesn't mean always acting against emotions, especially if they signal danger or unsafety. Instead, it's about recognising and responding to emotions that are unhelpful or challenging. This may include using distractions or stepping away from triggering situations until a decrease in emotional intensity is noticed. Radical acceptance is also key, acknowledging discomfort while understanding that opposing behaviours can lead to long-term benefits, particularly in helping you overcome experiences like disordered eating.

I’d encourage you to reach out to your university support services. They have been invaluable to me during my time at uni. These services can include wellbeing services, disability and neurodiversity teams, a chaplaincy, peer support groups, and more. I am so appreciative of the support I have received from those around me - especially from those who have held hope for me when I couldn’t hold it myself.

If you are struggling, I urge you to utilise your university services, local services, and fantastic charities like BEAT or First Steps. They can make a world of difference, helping you not only cope with your challenges but also enabling you to flourish and thrive.

Recovery from an eating disorder or any mental illness can be a long and difficult journey, but it is a journey worth taking. Although I still have a long way to go, I’ve gained valuable insights about myself and developed a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for myself and others. As I work towards completing my master’s degree in psychology, I hope to give back and help others struggling with their mental health, providing them with the support they deserve.