Making the move
Before You Move
Though you may not view your eating disorder as a disability, emailing or arranging a meeting with your new university’s Disability Advisor is the first step to discussing what help and support is available. You can contact the Disability Advisor before you move to university, indeed some students get in touch before they make decisions about which university offer to accept as it can help you work out which university will be able to support you best. All correspondence with a Disability Advisor will be treated confidentially and university offers cannot be rescinded.
When moving to university you will need to set up a new support network. This means that for the first few months, you may feel you have less support than you have had previously. It is important that you have an idea in mind about how you will continue to use your existing support network to help you through this transition.
You won’t want to rely on your old support network forever. It may help to have a support network at university who understand you and your experiences with the eating disorder. The big question is: who do you tell? Most individuals with eating disorders are reluctant to talk about the eating disorder. This may be completely logical. You may want to minimise the effect of the eating disorder on the rest of your life. It may be difficult to tell people you have an eating disorder: it feels like pulling the spotlight over your way, which can be uncomfortable. You may worry about how your friends or new acquaintances will respond. You might worry that your friends will set out on a mission “to help”, when you don’t yet feel ready to make big changes towards recovery. You might feel ashamed of the eating disorder and wonder whether new people might judge you. You might simply find it difficult to find the words to explain what is going on.
These might seem like good reasons for going about life without telling anyone at university about the eating disorder, but life is often easier if the eating disorder is out there in the open. If you can tell new university friends, it will make it easier to ask for help when you are struggling. You will also be doing your new friends a favour: we often speak to friends who are finding it hard to understand their friend’s experiences and reluctance to talk. They care a lot about their friend and want to know what they can do.
Getting used to living with new people may mean that you pick up on their habits. For them, it may mean they pick up on your anxieties around food. They may question you and you may feel angry with them or ashamed. For some people, they may welcome the support from friends and prefer it to be out in the open. For others, it's perfectly ok to wait until you know people better. I was asked if I had an eating disorder on the first week of freshers’ and I responded with “I was a bit funny about my food when I was younger but I'm doing much better now” - perfectly acceptable and not a total lie either. I found people at university did ask about these things more than people at school did, so have a think about what your response might be.
It can be scary starting in a new environment with a lot of personal history behind you and it is only natural that you may feel worried about what people will say or think but this is a completely normal feeling. I found that the best way is to be honest, maybe not giving all the details but try to be as honest as you feel you can be. Not only does this relieve some of the pressure of trying to keep your illness/recovery a secret but it gives you the opportunity to be able to talk to your housemates about your illness or ask them for help if you want to. Honesty would also mean that certain eating habits / behaviours are less of a worry to you as talking about your illness means your house mates are aware of your situation and probably less likely to question your ways.
“Talking to you about my problems is hard: there is a lot of shame and when I expose everything I am afraid of being judged.”