My story: How I survived alcohol abuse, anorexia and suicidal thoughts
The university counselling service changed my life
University was never going to be easy for me, but I never realised quite how much of a strain it was going to be on my mental and physical health.
From arriving at uni suffering from anorexia to developing a pattern of getting paralytically drunk. Eventually I had begun to feel suicidal.
Luckily, the University Counselling Service was there to help me.
Here is my story:
Going to uni while suffering from anorexia and depression was a daunting prospect
I joined the University of Sheffield in September 2016 to study Politics and IR. Coming straight to uni from sixth form seemed a natural progression but it was a path I very nearly didn’t take.
For the two years prior to starting here at Sheffield I had been suffering from anorexia, depression and social anxiety and, as a result, had never been drunk before.
The prospect of having to move to a new city, meet new people and drink was terrifying. I didn’t want to lose control of my actions or gain weight due to the extra calories from alcohol and so planned to never get drunk.
Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to have a few drinks to fit in with how I expected uni to be, but getting blackout drunk was not my intention.
Finding alcohol during Freshers' Week seemed to make everything better
For the first few nights of Freshers’ Week I didn’t drink and began to doubt whether I’d made the right choice in coming to uni. Socialising seemed impossible when everyone around me was drinking and I wasn’t; so I decided to give alcohol a go to see what it felt like.
Most people’s first drunk experience ends up with them vomiting all over a friend’s living room or their parent’s car, but for me it was incredible. I became a completely different person.
I was confident and chatty and excitable for the first time in years. However, as great as it was, this happiness was very short-lived as getting drunk soon started to impinge on my mental health.
However, excessive drinking spiralled into a pattern of depression and anxiety
Being new to alcohol and still suffering from anorexia meant I got drunk very quickly. If you know your limits and are drinking for the right reasons then being a lightweight is fine, but this wasn’t the case for me.
I was getting to an almost paralytic level every time I drank and would make really stupid decisions that I couldn’t remember the next day. This was dangerous for obvious reasons, but was also a huge strain on my mental health. I got into a cycle of getting drunk then feeling depressed and anxious for days afterwards because of things I’d done.
For most people, making a few silly drunk decisions is embarrassing but isn’t the cause of crippling anxiety and self-loathing. I’d lock myself in my Endcliffe room and mentally torture myself over what I’d done. Other times I ran or went to the gym for hours whilst basically living off a diet of rice cakes and broccoli.
I had decided before uni that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about my problems in case they ostracised me, and so from the outside none of this was obvious. I became talented at putting on a front and telling everyone I was fine; I’d laugh along to the jokes about ‘One Glass Becki’ in the hope I could convince myself that my situation was funny instead of anxiety-provoking.
How I got help
Eventually, around January time, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had begun to feel suicidal and knew that this was not how I wanted my life to end up. I decided to access the University of Sheffield Counselling Service and began to get help. At my initial triage assessment, my counsellor made sure to make the experience a positive one. The misconception about counselling is that it’s very sterile and clinical. Most people picture a middle-aged man in a white coat with a clipboard asking you unhelpful questions about your childhood. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The counselling service saved my life
The counsellors at the University of Sheffield are incredible. They understand how difficult university is for everyone, especially freshers, and make sure to tailor their advice accordingly.
I had 10 sessions with my counsellor, and when they finished in April I felt like a weight had been lifted. It sounds like such a cliché but I was a completely different person to the suicidal girl who walked into their Wilkinson Street department a few months earlier. I was more confident, less dependent on alcohol to suppress my social anxiety and had begun to feel happy again. My counsellor had gotten to the root of all my problems and worked from the bottom up to resolve them with me. I had tasks I had to complete every week both during and after the sessions ended and she encouraged me to open up to more people about what I was going through. UCS helped me to realise that I didn’t need to get blackout drunk to have a good time.
Where am I Now?
Since becoming aware of how alcohol effects my mental health, I’ve had so many incredible experiences and made so many friends. While I’ll admit that I do still get drunk on nights out, I’m beginning to learn my limits and drink less. For instance, I go to pre-drinks sober and try to pace myself throughout the night rather than downing half a bottle of wine in the 20 minutes before my friends arrive so I’m confident enough to talk to them.
I’m now not scared of sobering up. I’m happy for the first time in years. I still go through depressive periods but I know how to manage them now and they’re far shorter and less frequent. I have recovered from anorexia and my social anxiety is not crippling anymore.
The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the effects alcohol can have on mental health and how important it is to access help when you need it. Excessive drinking often creates mental health problems, so when you’re already suffering it only exacerbates your symptoms. If you’re suffering at the moment and anything I’ve said resonates with you, please know that you’re not alone and things can get better. Seeking help is so important as when you’re trapped in the cycle you can’t help yourself. Speak to someone about what you’re going through, be that a friend, parent, counsellor or a doctor. I have left someone useful links at the end to help if you need them and I hope that this can help anyone currently feeling like I did.