Studying while Recovering: Learning to be Authentically Me by Lizzie Salter

TW: Suicidal ideation, eating disorder

In 2017 I started my Undergraduate course in BA Geography. Going into it, I had my own perceptions of what a ‘perfect’ student, researcher and scientist looked like. I thought to be successful you needed to have an empowered, independent, and busy personality. The ‘hustle’ movement of glamorising all-nighters and drinking as many energy drinks as you can to give you the anxiety buzz needed for staying awake. I thought my diary needed to be full of study days, extra sessions, and experience in the field. I struggled with all of these because as a recovering anorexic with bipolar disorder and a long history of perfectionism I found it hard to meet both the expectations I put on myself and the reality of university life.

It took a lot of courage for me to be able to talk to my supervisors, my tutors and my institution about the mental health issues I was facing, and it took an admission to the mental health crisis team to finally take that step of saying, “Hey—I am not okay and I need support.” For the remaining two years of my degree, I constantly battled between wanting to be the best I could be and do the best I could do, but also struggling with being a student with a mental illness. In my third year, March 2020, I hit a rock bottom with that struggle and it nearly ended my life. I was underweight, severely depressed and I had little energy to function without thinking about dissertations, research, and lectures. 

Fast forward to present day: I am a Post Graduate Researcher in Law and Criminology working on research that I believe has changed my perceptions of not only academia but also life in recovery. My aim with this blog is to share some of my coping strategies I have learned along the way with you.

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Today is a Bad Day by Kelly Jowett

Ostensibly it would not seem to be so: the sun is shining, I have a safe and lovely home, a supportive partner, and I love my work. Everything is fine—but I am not.

I am sitting in the garden, trying to compress the rising panic, breathing slow and deep to ebb away the tears building behind my eyes, and the tightening of my throat. Earlier today I got up, did my yoga, had a healthy breakfast, chatted to my partner, then got a tea and sat down to work. But as I scrolled through my emails, for no apparent reason my anxiety kicked in. Every small request or notification was somehow more pressure than I could bear.

So, I stopped. I shut down my laptop and walked away. I told my partner how I felt and came outside. And then I sat here in the garden thinking, I had to communicate this to you all: it’s okay to stop, it’s okay to put yourself first.

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