A Fine Line by Nanoko Forrest
TW – eating difficulties, body image
I am most definitely not an expert in any mental health matter, and I’m probably going to look back on this blog post in a year, month or maybe even a week with a completely different outlook. This is very terrifying, however I think it’s worth sharing some of my experiences as I guess it might help someone!
I have now come to realise that there is a very fine line between something being what I guess you could call a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ lifestyle, and something being obsessive, particularly whilst being a student at university. I think it can be very hard to find a balance and it’s often only noticeable once you look back on your past experiences and realise that maybe that lifestyle was not healthy.
In my first ‘year’ of university, I spent 3 months obsessing over my studies, never once going out or socialising and became extremely withdrawn. I had few friends, those of which I never saw outside of lectures/labs. At the time, I felt as though something wasn’t quite right – that maybe I wasn’t doing university right. But I kept getting good grades, and at the end of the day I just kept telling myself,
'this is normal, I’m here for the education and that’s going well, and I’m only here for three years anyways – it really isn’t that bad.'
However, I went home at Christmas and that small step back from my little bubble in Leeds made me re-think my decision. It allowed me to see that I was extremely unhappy and was channelling all this unhappiness into obsessing over my work and grades, the only thing I felt like I could do at the time. That was not healthy. I look back on it now and it’s so scary to think that at the time I was willing to live that way for three years and it worries me to think what could have happened. I don’t regret my decision to drop out at all, as of course, I wouldn’t be where I am now in a city I love with some really special people. My time in Leeds made me realise what not to do with university – it’s so important to get that balance right between your studies and finding things you enjoy, and to understand how you are really feeling. I am now able to recognise when I need to take a bit of time off, or when things are getting too much, and actually give myself a guilt-free break.
My ‘second first year’ of university went a little more different. After spending 8 sad months post drop-out, I felt ready to go into first year with a bit more of a social hat on. I remember being dropped off with all my stuff and thinking to myself that I was so desperate not to have another ‘Leeds’. I was fortunate enough to have met some really special flatmates and friends in my first couple of months and actually realised that I do really like being around other people and just how important it is to have friends that you can talk to and enjoy being around. I became a lot more sociable than I used to be and I began to push myself out of my comfort zone.
However, this, along with social media and constantly comparing myself to all my friends and peers at university lead to another obsession -
I soon became fixated on what I ate.
I constantly scrutinised how “healthy” I thought something was, and those little numbers on packaging. At the time, I had always told myself that I’d never let anything like this get out of control, and that I was simply just trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. However, I look back on it now and realise that it was incredibly restricting and explained so many things. I had so little energy and always had to nap, as well as losing a lot of weight and constantly having a cold. I find it scary to think that I thought I was fine and that it was all under control. I think it’s incredibly easy to hide eating difficulties, and so easy for the desire to lead a ‘healthy lifestyle’ to become obsessive and out of control. I was fortunate enough to gradually come out of this and found that what helped me most was actually going to the gym. I began to learn that in order to actually lift weights and make progress, I need to treat my body better and eat properly. Eating what is meant to be considered ‘unhealthy’ food is not the end of the world and is actually very enjoyable!
To this day, I am so grateful that I no longer feel the same way and have been able to start recognising when negative thoughts may come up. Of course, trying to lead a healthy lifestyle can be good for both your physical and mental health, but I think it’s very easy to cross the line and become obsessed with it, causing more harm than good. It’s so important to cut yourself some slack and not feel like you have to keep up with it every single day. Treat yourself to those pizzas, that week off from the gym, that pack of cookies, and let yourself feel guilt free.
"you can’t be 100% all the time"
This applies to everything really – I think the moral of my lil story is that you can’t be 100% all the time. You need to recognise when to take a step back and be mindful of how you are really feeling. I think it’s very important to give yourself a break and ask yourself,
'am I doing this because I want to, or because I feel like I have to?'
Checking in with your friends and talking about how you’re feeling is so important too. It’s so easy to get trapped inside your head and I think this is where and how unhealthy habits start to form. Recognising your signs/cues and realising when you may be crossing the line and damaging your mental health is hard. But there are so many support services out there too – if you’re at university, it’s definitely worth contacting your wellbeing team as that’s what they’re there for. If you feel unable to talk to friends or family about things – which is completely understandable, a lot of universities have Nightlines: confidential and anonymous listening services.
Each day, I’m beginning to recognise signs in myself and those around me that may indicate a dip in mental health. I’m beginning to realise that we really do need to check in with how we’re feeling and look after ourselves and each other. Although sharing all of this is lowkey terrifying, and I’m no English student or the best writer, I’m so grateful to Ria for giving me the opportunity. I really do hope that it may help at least one of you!