Staying healthy and positive in college is not always the easiest thing. You are under insane amounts of stress and don’t always have the best diet and workout routines. This can be incredibly hard to deal with, especially for someone who is living with mental illness. Living with and recovering from any mental illness is really hard, and keeping up with recovery in college is no easier. Especially when in the back of your mind your unhealthy tendencies want to come out.
When I was in high school I started struggling with my mental health, and body image was something I wrestled with every second of the day. My happiness started to fade, and I sunk into a depression. I coped with it by developing an eating disorder.
I never had problems with confidence before I started high school, but everything fell apart my freshman year. I started to really hate my appearance and weight. It was especially hard being a dancer because my body was the main part of my art and all I saw were these gorgeous thin dancers. When you start to feel ugly all you want to do is make it stop.
So I resorted to restricting my eating. I would try to eat as little as possible. I praised myself when I felt hunger pains, because that meant I was doing what I thought was right. All I wanted was to be skinny and pretty. I thought being thin meant I would be happy, to me being thin meant perfection.
I tried to purge, but never have been able to. Which to me is a blessing looking back on it. But what most people do not realize is a lot of people struggling with an eating disorder look healthy. Plus, I have always loved food, and all of my friends and family could tell you that. When I was at my lowest weight I was still at a healthy weight for my body type and currently I do not weigh much more than that.
After working with my lovely therapist for a while, I realized I had to give up what I was doing. I was hurting myself mentally and physically. Since the end of my sophomore year I have been “in” recovery for my mental illnesses. I still struggle with it and get triggered, but I can manage it now. So how do you do that in college?
The main thing is try your best. Sometimes you wake up and say “I do not want to eat anything today because I feel disgusting.” And you have to let yourself feel that, and then let the feeling go. There is no magic way to make your body image problems and mental illness go away. It is a lot of hard work filled with pain, sweat, and lots of tears. Everyone copes differently, but it will continue to be daily struggle for everyone, even when in recovery.
Nothing about mental illness is easy to deal with, and in college you are facing a lot of new pressures. You can eat as much or as little as you want. You can drink and smoke. Which is really hard to deal with in the beginning. Initially when starting college I was thinking I could restrict as much as I wanted and my parents would never know.
There are days where I don’t want to eat, or let anyone see my body. I have to remember that isn’t healthy. I need to eat so my body and mind stay healthy and active. The freedom surrounding food gives you a lot more to think about because everything is up to you now. You choose how much you eat, how often, and what you eat. And when food is something you struggle with, this can provoke a lot of anxiety. But you have to remember that food is not the enemy. It is something you need to survive and grow. There is no way you can make it through an entire day without eating or drinking anything and not feeling like absolute crap.
So, now that it is all up to me about what food I eat and what I don’t, I really had to think about it. I have a meal plan that I use and go grocery shopping when I can. I keep food in my room for when I do not want to eat in the dining hall. Water is my best friend, and when I am feeling down, a cup of coffee or tea is great. I work out when I can and try not to binge too much on junk food. But like every college kid I do. All I can do is try. I try to be as healthy as I can, and not buy too much junk food, but I allow myself to eat unhealthy too. It is all about keeping a balance.
The most important thing is to get help and have support, even when you are in recovery. Coping is hard when you aren’t at home. I had a therapist I could see anytime when I was home, and used to meet with her on more regular basis.
I try to keep up with my recovery in many different ways. I have tried two teatoxes and have been happy with the results. But that isn’t really the best way to be happy with your body. Or I decide I am not going to eat a certain food because it isn’t healthy and I will only eat kale. But that is not the way to keep up with recovery.
Making a family at college is really what is important. This is a new place, so find yourself a new support system. Find the people you care about, and who care about you. Tell a close friend or two, this way they can help you when you are feeling down. But don’t lose your support from back home. You can always give your family and your therapist a call when you are feeling down.
All campuses have lots of support for mental illness, not just the physical ones. There are counselors on campus you can talk to. There will be on-campus groups that are very supportive. Plus you can keep up with therapy in college. I didn’t switch therapists when I started, now I give my therapist a call when I feel it is best. Try and arrange something with your original therapist or look for new ones in your new area. There are plenty of on campus or around campus outlets for help.
Exercise is a great way to destress, but you don’t want to over do it. I started going to yoga which really helped me de-stress and make myself feel better. Go for a walk and clear your head for a bit, or take a nice hot shower. Find a thing you love to do and when you feel you might relapse or just feel like plain shit, do that.
Find those friends that make you happy and forget about what you look like. Those are the people that will make you feel confident wearing those shorts or crop top, or conquering a fear food. Wear the clothing you feel comfortable in, eat what you want, and find a good health routine. And most of all, let yourself be happy.