Battling eating disorders and depression at university: Jenny’s story By Jenny Hastings I wanted to share my story like so many others. I was grateful to read these when I needed them most. I hope it may be useful to someone who has been or is going through it, or knows someone who is. There are so many factual sources where you can read all about eating disorders and depressions, so I will just explain what I've learnt from it and what I found helpful. My issues with my body and moods started after high school; as time went on I became more critical and preoccupied by my appearance. I started to work out and diet, trying to get my ideal figure and thinking happiness would follow, but of course this wasn't the case. By the time I was starting university 6 years later, this unhappiness had spiralled, I now had an eating disorder and was struggling with depression. I started to work out and diet, trying to get my ideal figure and thinking happiness would follow, but of course this wasn't the case I was a young female with the stress of university. Commuting meant staying behind late so it would be late by the time I got home and then waking up at 5am to catch the train. This was alongside a part time job, volunteering (so I’d have some experience in my field when I got my degree), trying to keep in touch with friends, working out etc, while living with a medical condition from my teen years and taking care of my pets. I can now see I was pushing myself too hard. I guess I've always been hard on myself if I didn't do something, or if I felt I was not doing enough. I was my own worst critic, kind of a perfectionist. A loved one I was taking care of passed away towards the end of my first year while studying for end of year exams. This completely broke my heart, they were my world, best friend and go-to for advice. I was devastated. I dealt with the stress by obsessing with diet and exercise more; it was a way of having control. By this point I had isolated myself from friends, I didn't want to be around anyone or even reply to a text. It reached a peak during my second year. I managed to keep face, smiling and joking, helping others with their work, but this wasn't who I was behind closed doors. A friend said to me at one point how my life was perfect, I thought if only they knew. Inside I was miserable. I had isolated myself from friends, I didn't want to be around anyone or even reply to a text. I managed to keep face, smiling and joking, but this wasn't who I was behind closed doors. I had just managed to push through my second year but I was a mess inside. I felt a lost cause, numb, everything was pointless. Mental illnesses can get hold of anyone: it isn't logical, it makes intellectually knowing something and feeling it two very separate things. Trying to escape from this downward spiral seems impossible. It’s as though my emotions had been switched off: this was the dark cloak of depression that was wrapped over me, which shadowed and blocked out the happiness. During the second year of University I was at my lowest weight. I didn't want to see any doctors as I was afraid they say I need to gain weight. I would feel exhausted but wouldn't be able to sleep, and then gradually the scales tipped and I got to the point where I couldn't stop eating. It’s as though my emotions had been switched off: this was the dark cloak of depression that was wrapped over me, which blocked out the happiness In September 2016, about to start my final year of university, I realised that I couldn't do it. I had brain fog, robbed of the ability to think clearly, and forgot everything. I was irritable, fatigued and I couldn't concentrate. I took an intermitting year and decided I needed to get some help. I went for counselling, hypnosis, was given antidepressants and referred for various tests. My hormones were out of balance and my oestrogen was low. By this point I’d had no periods for around 2.5 years. This was quite an eye opener, it meant I could have permanently messed my body up. I then gained weight as a result of binge eating, and was referred to an eating disorder service where I accessed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), keeping food diaries and monitoring my weight. I wanted to get better. I missed the person I used to be. So I tried really hard, I began incorporating a wider range of foods, included snacks. I started eating food which I hadn't allowed myself to eat in years. Slowly I realised I was less preoccupied with food and weighing myself, bingeing episodes becoming further and further apart. Recovering from an eating disorder is not a straight line; I went from Anorexia Nervosa, to Bulimia Nervosa to Binge Eating Disorder. I realised I was making progress and things were looking up, I could see the light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel. It is very hard to get out of the negative cycle, but try hard to break it, then keep on breaking it, then this upward cycle will get stronger and stronger. I missed the person I used to be. So I tried really hard, I began incorporating a wider range of foods. Recovering from an eating disorder is not a straight line This is the happiest I have been mentally in a long time. I still need to make a conscious effort but things are looking up and I am determined to not let it take over again. I am due to start back at University for my final year. I am prepared for some struggles, but I have come a long way. Certain things have really helped my recovery. One was being honest with loved ones: things wouldn’t have gotten so bad if I wasn't so good at hiding it. I also stopped obsessively monitoring everything to do with food and my body. It took time, but eventually eliminating these habits which at the time made me feel safe, has made me much happier. It feels amazing now when I look back to how much time I had taken up in my day to realise I don't need to do that anymore. It took time, but eliminating these habits which at the time made me feel safe has made me much happier I stopped comparing myself to others on Instagram; it consumed so much of my day, becoming addictive. After unfollowing certain accounts I felt much freer. Taking care of my pets also helped, as did drawing and reading books. And on low days, listing the positive things in my life gave me something to pick up and encourage myself to keep going. Remember to talk to yourself as you would a friend. I realised I’m a kind person but for some reason wouldn't give myself this same care. For example, if you’re tired, both allowing yourself to rest or stopping yourself take the same amount of time, but one uses energy and feeds depression while the other gives you energy and is in fact more productive. Recovery is an ongoing thing. It is not quick, old habits die hard, but it is not hopeless, even though your condition tells you it is. I also learnt to not separate myself. When I’m not feeling good, I will push others away from me. Socialising seemed daunting or I just really couldn't be bothered, yet I was feeling really depressed for being so lonely. For a long time my eating disorder and depression isolated me from everyone. But it does so much good to spend time speaking with family or visiting a friend. Recovery is an ongoing thing, expect setbacks. It is not quick, it is not easy, old habits die hard, but it is not hopeless, even though your condition tells you it is. I have made many mistakes along the way and I’m sure there’ll be more in the future but I've wasted so much time on this and I've now decided to start living my life, rather than having an existence.