‘Battling with bulimia and mental health issues whilst at uni is much harder than the degree itself’
Second year Lauren Cole talks about her experience and the importance of speaking out about mental health
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'We are all a little fucked up, but by sharing our issues and helping one another we can move forwards together.'
A friend recently told me that if you really take a look around, every single person has their own shit going on in their heads, even though they might not say it. Mental illness isn't a rarity, or ever something we should be ashamed of – that's what I think now.
Battling through mental health issues while at university is significantly harder than actually doing the degree itself, as every stress of university life perpetuates the problem. Essay due? Exam season? Big footie game for uni on Wednesday? Argument with a flatmate? We've all worried over things like this. But, for someone struggling with their mental health, the mountains they need to climb can seem 1000ft taller. I only wish I'd gone to get help from the university sooner; they really could have helped.
I developed bulimia for the first time when I was 16. My body became my biggest insecurity, so the guilt I felt when I ate quickly became an illness. Now, it flares up in periods of stress, change, or emotional trauma, and the tiniest little thing can set it off. But at other times I can cope and keep it at bay. I never told many people. Most of my closest friends and my family still don't know.
This academic year I'm on exchange at Lund University in Sweden and, despite currently being in one of my worst periods in terms of my mental health, I'm having the time of my life. I've realised it's the only thing holding me back. For years I suffered in near silence because I was embarrassed and felt like I was different. For all that time I was isolating myself; in bad periods I'd do this even more by not attending class, avoiding the people who care about me the most, and only socialising if it involved drinking. Aside from the obvious physical health risks of bulimia itself, this lifestyle as a whole becomes a vicious cycle. To break out of it and move forwards I needed to do one thing – talk.
Sounds simple when put so bluntly; but with the stigma surrounding mental health only just beginning to subside, it's difficult to change the habit of a lifetime (keeping it hidden) and make that step. For me, it hasn't got easier to talk about with the more people I tell – each time is just as hard as the last. The last thing I want is for the people I care about to treat me differently: tip-toeing around me for fear of doing or saying something wrong, or, even worse, pitying me. However, telling people about it does provide substantial relief. Sounds cliché, but a weight really is lifted off my shoulders every time I speak out. All the emotions and the tears kept in for so long explode onto the surface, and there's no shame in this either.
Now I know what I have to do; I've booked into regular counselling sessions with a free service provided by Lund University in the hope this will help reduce my fears of telling people about my bulimia, and perhaps even help me to find a solution. I hope to continue these kinds of talks with the Open Door service when I return to York. At the end of the day, when it comes to mental health, everyone's suffering to one degree or another and, often, those suffering the most are the most afraid to seek help. We are all a little fucked up, but by sharing our issues and helping one another we can move forwards together, rather than following the same lonely, circular route.
Lauren Cole, Second Year