I joined St Andrews in 2015, excited to start a new chapter of my life. Being the keen, determined fresher I was, I threw myself into everything - ambassador schemes, committees, societies, a part-time job and still maintained all of my studies and leisure activities on top of that. I LOVED every second of it.
I never anticipated sprinting in gown to Luvians to buy tonic water with my friends; there is no way I could have imagined marching down Market Street behind bagpipes drawing crowds to windows and chanting; how about walking into Jannetta’s and stating “I’d like to buy 20L of ice cream, please”? I’ve done all of these things, and it has been great. Waking up at 4am to join thousands of scantily dressed students running to the sea as the sun rises; jumping over a set of cobblestones religiously; a weekly stroll, swathed in flowing, beautiful red, laughing as the sea battered the pier wall inches from our feet… all traditions we St Andreans adhere to and cherish deeply.
Looking back, my first year was perfect. And yet, I was unhappy. I was lonely.
Since an unbelievably young age I have been suffering with dented mental health, attributed to school issues and an unfavourable relationship with family. It manifested itself as a secret feeding issue until the age of 17; for some reason, mid-way through first semester a relapse into a more severe eating disorder was triggered, beginning the peculiarity of “mental loneliness”.
Mental health issues are quite taxing. Anorexia in particular consumed (no pun intended) my mind with far too many worries. Eating so little and running so far whilst dealing with frightening dizziness, I had no mental power to socialise. I would trudge behind my friends to Jannetta’s and watch as they ate three scoops of ice cream, or sit in the Hall Common Room as everybody devoured slices of pizza, swarming like bees when a fresh box arrived. Worst of all, I struggled so greatly in the dining hall that I could barely muster the energy to engage in conversation. I often shut myself away to embrace yet another panic attack.
I was surrounded by friends. People who cared deeply for me however I refused to let them know what I was going through and therefore remained alone.
It wasn't until second semester had started that I knew I had a serious issue and I would need help. Having no clue where to turn, I found myself telling the Wardens and although I was petrified and unable to even cry, I knew in that instant that sharing my mental health glitch meant others had access to me. I told a friend (I was drunk); that friend became my confidant and although I was seriously ill and nobody understood it, I was able to share things. I had contact with people outside of anorexia.
Unfortunately, the way mental health illnesses work is that you’re losing so much of your mental energy to the disease, you forget things. There are so few things I remember clearly from second semester. In the anorexic state of mind, I lost almost everything and remained lonely; fortunately because I had people who knew I was unwell, they could intervene and increase the quality of my life.
I wish I could conclude by saying I had beaten anorexia and was now eating sorbet and vegan chocolate cake and living a healthy life. That, I cannot do. I am still a victim of poor mental health and every single day is a struggle, I haven’t eaten cake in five years. That being said, I have beaten mental loneliness. I work an incredible job in the tourism industry and the visitors’ stories provide a breath of fresh air and laughter. I have been extremely busy and now, quite ironically, relish some alone time!
Should any of you ever find yourself in a situation where your mental health is causing you isolation, you are not ever alone. It is important to trust in someone and allow them access to your most personal of personal lives; when you share what is on your mind, you are no longer alone. Reciprocally, do not be afraid to ask someone if they are okay - you could be the person to intrude on an isolating issue emanating from a poorer state of mind.
Personally, I believe I would not be writing this reflective piece if it were not for the intervention from my friends and from the Wardens. I may still be severely affected by an eating disorder but I am no longer mentally alone; I can tell my confidants when I’ve been triggered and they’ll jump in. For that I am eternally grateful, and I am leaping into this year full of ambitions and with a very different outlook on life.
Although I wish for my anonymity to be preserved in this article since I am still hiding the eating issues from a number of people not associated with the University, discussion on the topic is strongly encouraged. If anyone would like to chat, please contact Populus and I will be able to get in touch with you through there.
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