Balancing Mental Health with University

Even though I received my graduation certificate in the post a few weeks ago, it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m no longer a student. I’ve been taking time out to reflect on my university experience, but the main thing I could only really think about was how much my mental health has deteriorated, and I can’t help but question if my mental health would still be as bad had I decided to live at home and commute, or simply if I hadn’t gone to uni at all. I don’t like to live life with regrets but looking back, there’s a few things I think I’d change. Although I (somehow) graduated with the highest mark available, I’d be lying if I said that my mental health hasn’t suffered terribly as a result. And as much as I’m over the moon to have received such amazing grades which I never would’ve thought in a million years I would’ve been able to achieve, I do wonder whether or not I regret maybe pushing myself too hard to the extent that I prioritised a grade on a piece of paper over my already very fragile mental health. Going to uni at 16 and finishing at 21 was inevitably going to change me as a person either way, but I just can’t help but question some things and I think there is some advice I would give to my younger self about balancing university with mental health.

TW: suicide, alcoholism, bulimia, sexual assault
Taking time to look back on my university experience, I realised how much I’ve gone through. As a 16-year-old I felt ready at the time but looking back now, I think that I was far too young to have experienced what I experienced. I was living away from my family and school friends, had sexuality issues that I couldn’t come to terms with and which caused me to have rocky relationships with certain family members, I essentially had no place to call home over the summer months, and all of this inevitably lead me to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety at age 17. I then suffered from alcoholism to help me to forget about things and to feel better (which in hindsight would never have worked…) and also suffered from bulimia as my self esteem was so unbelievably low. I had strong suicidal tendencies until just 2 weeks before my 18th birthday – I went to Aviemore to try and see what it felt like to be happy and ‘alive’ again – and when my 18th birthday did come, it made me realise how appreciated and loved I actually was, and that’s why I say that that night was the best night of my life.
Even though that was certainly a turning point in my life and despite conscious efforts to get better (going vegan, taking a year out to get better, becoming completely abstinent for weeks or even months at a time), no amount of self care could help me get better, and I’m not sure if in the back of my mind it was the fact that I was at uni that hindered my self recovery progress. During my leave of absence I was sexually assaulted while in another country, and it still affects me (and my relationship) to this day. I was then unable to get help for that when I came back because the waiting lists for counselling at my university are shocking, and before I knew it I had to spend a semester abroad in France which was absolutely awful. Due to constantly having to move about and not being settled in one place for an extended period of time (apart from Stirling but the waiting list times never allowed me to get seen on time), I’ve essentially been waiting for counselling for over 2 years now. So I wonder if my mental health would really be as bad as it is if my university played a better part in helping students with mental health issues – I feel like I had to deal with a lot of my issues on my own, and perhaps this is why I’ve suffered so much and continue to do so even though I finished uni in April.
However, that being said, I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, so I’m thankful that I was able to take a year out to get better, or else I most likely wouldn’t have graduated with such a great result (or maybe not at all), I probably wouldn’t have met my boyfriend or have the amazing circle of friends that I have today, and everything that I’ve gone through has made me a very strong and resilient person.

1 – Always think about the bigger picture

The first tip I’d give is to always think about the bigger picture – it can be all too easy to get caught up in the academic world that we forget what it feels like to be ‘alive’ – we merely ‘exist’ and it can be so numbing. The reason why I went to Aviemore was because I had to get out of the 4 walls mentality – it was suffocating, depressing and I didn’t want to live a life where I devoted all of my time and energy towards being in a building 24/7. Although uni is important for getting you your dream career, there is faaaar much more to life than academia! Our health matters way more, and if our grades need to take the hit in order for us to get better, then let them take the hit. This is something I maybe would’ve done differently – I feel like I didn’t really experience much of uni life at all because I was so fixated on getting a first and not wanting to settle for any less, even though a 2:1 or a 2:2 is still a really good grade. I’ve just always been a perfectionist, but in times like those I think I maybe just should’ve enjoyed the ride and spent more time socialising and enjoying life outside of academia.
So my point is, remind yourself that uni isn’t the main priority, your health is. Looking back, I would much rather have had better mental health for a goal that isn’t as high as a first, instead of abandoning my mental health in order to achieve the highest grade.

2 – Spend time in nature

This one is sooooo damn important. Seriously. Nature is literally the best antidepressant we could ask for, but it can be so hard to know how to take the first step. I found that when I woke up to do a walk before studying, I already felt so productive and focused. Even if you go for a walk after studying or at the weekends when you’re not studying, being in nature generally makes you feel so good anyway and this is so important for our mental health. After going to Aviemore suicidal and coming back refreshed and with a purpose, I 100% swear by this as essential to helping with mental health.
All we need is 10-15 minutes to help us feel better, so a short walk in between studying is good too.

3 – Let your tutors/lecturers know about your mental health issues

This one is also suuuuper important. When I was in 2nd year I didn’t let any of my tutors know about my depression or anxiety and this caused my grades to be capped, to receive endless emails about my attendance, to have to go to meetings to discuss my performance and attendance – all things that I couldn’t be bothered doing when already dealing with a lot of personal issues. By letting lecturers and tutors know, it shows that you care about your studies but also about your mental health. It’s also best to meet about this in person rather than by email, and it is a good way to discuss your options should you struggle with assignments or exam prep, and they can maybe point you in the right direction for further help such as student support services, financial services or workshops on essay writing, balancing uni with work/health etc.
However from personal experience, some lecturers didn’t understand depression or anxiety and gave really hurtful ‘feedback’ which caused me to be ashamed of my mental health issues and made me not want to talk to anyone as it embarrassed me so much. But another piece of advice I’d give is to not feel ashamed of your mental illness/health – it’s a lot more common than you may think, and there’s so much support out there if you make the decision to ask for help. Asking for help is in no way a sign of weakness (I used to think this until maybe a year ago), but is rather an indication that you care a lot about both your studies and your health that you don’t want one to negatively impact the other.

4 – See what support your university offers

I’m not sure if every uni has the same help in place, but my uni offered ARUAAs, and those were basically changes you could make to your courses (extended assignment deadlines, separate exam rooms, extra time in exams, option to do class presentations on a one-to-one basis etc) depending on medical evidence from your GP or other medical evidence. I honestly don’t think that I would’ve graduated with a first if I didn’t have an ARUAA in place, so I think it’s essential if you have been diagnosed with an illness or disability which makes university life a bit harder than those without.
Also look into counselling services or mental health mentors – just somebody to talk to when needed and to motivate you when you’re not feeling too great.

5 – Take time out of each day to yourself

Also another piece of advice that I can’t stress enough. When I was living in my student flat, I found it so hard to make and eat 3 meals a day, do washing up, clean up, wash my clothes and have time for myself – there would be days where I wouldn’t even do just one of those things… Whether it’s waking up half an hour earlier than usual to go on a nice walk in the morning or taking half an hour before bed to read a good book with a face mask on, having some time to yourself to relax without worrying about cleaning up or studying is so important.

6 – …Or take a whole day to yourself

There were so many days where I had planned to get so much work done but didn’t manage to do any of it due to feeling so depressed. I’d constantly put a time on it like “in an hour I’ll try and do this/ by 4pm I’ll try and do that.” I felt like I put too much pressure on myself that I ended up wasting so many days in bed numb and unable to move. Instead, looking back now, a healthier approach would probably be to say “I’m not able to do any work right now, I’ll relax and do something to benefit my mental health and if I don’t feel better I’ll try again tomorrow – and that’s OKAY.” Once I realised that I was feeling that way because I was so exhausted and depressed and that it was okay, I instantly felt better. When we feel like that, it should be a sign that we need to rest, and we need to know that it is perfectly okay to feel like this. If we don’t make time for our wellness, we’ll be forced to make time for our illness. So if we need to take a day off to relax and have a day free from university stress, so be it – if we don’t do that then we’ll have no choice but to take time off at a later stage, and we won’t know how long for.
Dedicate a day in advance to having a day to yourself, as this takes the pressure off and means you can enjoy it. Uni is essentially a full time job, so time off is imperative.

7 – Realise that it’s okay to not be productive/ have a lazy day

Just like my last point, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself taking necessary time out to relax or have fun. Just see it as recharging your batteries so that you feel more focused and ready the next time round.

8 – Try Mindfulness/meditation

I used to meditate a lot more before 3rd and 4th year of uni, and is definitely something I wish I’d done more of. All the stress can be so consuming and it can be hard to meditate when your mind is going crazy with deadlines and assignments. I found that taking time out to meditate during a study break was really helpful, and there was a part of my library that had colouring-in books and sofas and a general relaxed corner to de-stress. If there is nowhere at university like this, then maybe look into if there are any prayer rooms/meditation rooms that you could use.
If you’re not too sure on how to start meditating, I’d 100% recommend the app called Headspace for guided meditation. When you sign up, it asks you what you’re using it for (university stress/self-improvement/stress and anxiety/work etc) and then your experience with meditation and then when you’d like to start meditating (morning/evening, you can set alarms and reminders). I found that this was the best way to help me meditate because my mind was buzzing about too much from uni stress that it was virtually impossible to clear my mind without any help. There are also blogs which I find really helpful too!

9 – Find healthy coping mechanisms

In 2nd year of uni I coped with uni stress by drinking and binge eating before purging, and until 4th year I used weed as a coping mechanism. It’s safe to say that in the long run these did far more damage than good, but I tried to find some healthier ways to cope with the stress. Things like self-help books, colouring books, crosswords/wordsearches, jigsaw puzzles and journal writing are all healthy ways to combat stress and to help ease your mind. I found that laying in bed binge-watching Netflix just left me feeling worse, and I’d end up zoning out because my mind wasn’t actively engaged in the same way as a colouring book or puzzle. I also found that blogging really helped me cope with stress, and I use it as a sort of online journal anyway so that’s also something I’d recommend.

10 – Drop toxic friends

When I look back at my friends from before I took a leave of absence compared with the friends I have now, only a small handful of them are still my friends today, and that’s only because I lived with the majority of them in first year. When I was in 2nd year I was friends with a lot of people who also drank and partied a lot, so when I began to work on myself, those friends naturally grew distant from me as that wasn’t the life I wanted to live anymore (and it also made me realise that we only really had drinking/partying in common!) It can be hard to drop toxic friends (might do a blog on that at some point) but it’s so important to surround yourself with as much positivity as possible, and if a friend can’t understand that you need time without them in order to focus on getting better, they’re not a friend worth having.

11 – Take care of your body

Stress often comes hand in hand with unhealthy behaviours that make us want a quick and painless solution to feeling better. That can be unhealthy/binge eating, alcohol, cigarettes, weed, drugs, partying etc, but the nice feeling only lasts a short while and the horrible feeling comes after. I’ve struggled a lot with impulsive behaviour – if something makes me feel sad or angry, the first thing I want to do is something like the aforementioned that will instantly make me feel good and forget, but these don’t erase the problem – they just slightly delay the time it takes until you end up worrying about it again. I found that switching partying as a means of socialising for more relaxed environments such as cafes or flats was something my mind and body thanked me for in my last semester.
I’d also say the usual “drink more water”, “do exercise” or “get a good sleep” but I find that even though these help a little bit, doing these plus eating kale aren’t exactly going to cure your mental health… Sleep is important though and I was denied many a good night’s sleep because of the situation in my flat during the final semester (being bang smack in the city centre was awful lol) but I did feel like having a rough night’s sleep had seriously negative impacts on my mood and therefore on my ability to do work, so this one is super important. I’ll link a blog I have to my night time routine at the bottom which might help.

12 – Spend less time on social media/your phone

I found that when I looked at my phone as soon as I woke up that I was suuuper tired and felt like crap. So when I started to get myself ready in the mornings before looking at my phone, I felt so much better because I had already felt productive from getting myself ready, and this motivated me to be even more productive with my studies. I also think it’s so important to lock your phone in your bag and resist signing onto social media on another tab on the computer when studying, because this can lead to going way off track and spending hours scrolling aimlessly through facebook or instagram and then getting frustrated about not having done any studying. But this works in our favour, because when we spend what we think is only 10 minutes on social media but is really 30 minutes or so in reality, we appreciate that when we study for what we feel is 30 minutes it’s only been 10 minutes – time slows down for us and this takes the pressure off.

13 – Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Speaking of pressure, I think it’s far too easy for us to get so caught up with uni that we get annoyed at ourselves if we spend time focusing on anything other than that. Constantly remind yourself what the end goal is, but as long as the end goal prioritises health over grades. When I started 4th year I wrote down where I wanted to be when I finished, and I said that I wanted to be healthier and happier than when I started, and I didn’t care about what grade I got. But then university actually happened and I got so engrossed in it that I totally forgot about the end goal that I had in mind before I started. When I spoke to my mental health mentor, she told me that recruiters and such don’t care so much about whether you got a first or a 2:1, they just want to see that you have a degree. She told me that she graduated with a 2:2 then did a masters, and even though she had to have a 2:1 to do a masters, her work experience in the field of study she was going to do her masters in was what allowed her to do a masters.
So, if I can give any main, final piece of advice, it would be to relax, breathe, realise that you’re more amazing and important and valued than a grade on a sheet of paper, and that even if you end up with an outcome different that the one you desired, there’s always a way around things. Although you should always have a goal in mind, don’t let the future consume you – enjoy every single second of your uni experience, it literally flies in so fast and is over before you know it! Spend time socialising and creating beautiful memories and friendships more than spending time stressing about the future and the grade on a sheet of paper – this grade doesn’t define who you are as a person. Just live to enjoy every second of university life so that when you’re done, no matter your grade, you can live to say that you got the most out of it!

My blog for a good night’s sleep: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/156026599/posts/34

My morning routine for a productive day blog: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/156026599/posts/21

I did it!!

So from now, I’m taking some serious time to myself to get better. I’m staying at home, finding new hobbies and languages to learn, going to the gym and spending more time in nature. I’m looking forward to getting back the parts of myself I lost when at uni. Just wondering when it’s actually going to sink in that I’ve finished! And very much looking forward to having no plans for once 🙂

Night Routine For A Great Night’s Sleep (+Anxiety Relief)

Due to the busy and stressful lives that many of us lead, it can be hard to follow a night time routine when feeling so exhausted. Sometimes there are nights where I’ve had such a busy or tiring day that I want nothing more than to just curl up into bed without having a routine, but this always seems to affect how my morning is the next day. So although this routine isn’t what I do every single night, it’s still super important to do even a few things that I’d consider essential for having a good night’s sleep. In order for my morning routine to work (will link at bottom of the blog), I usually find that I need to have a night time routine before.

There was a point in my life where I actually thought that I had insomnia because there were nights where I couldn’t get to sleep until no earlier than 5am, but I realised that I had been doing literally everything wrong (for example I’d have a cup of English tea, sit on my phone until falling asleep hours later, or even go for a walk!) But then I was later diagnosed with anxiety in 2015 and realised that that was actually why I was struggling to get to sleep. So I often find that this routine greatly helps with relieving me of my anxiety.

1. Shower/Bath

  • Although showers are said to wake you up, I personally find that going to bed knowing that I’m clean helps me to sleep. I used Lush’s Sleepy Naked Shower Gel so that having a shower doesn’t wake me up too much before bed, and I always shower at the start of my night time routine so that I’m more relaxed by the time I’m ready for bed.
  • https://uk.lush.com/products/sleepy-naked-shower-gel – It’s zero waste and comes in the shape of a shower bottle!

2. Hygiene

  • As I said, going to bed knowing that I’m clean really helps relax me for the night. After drying myself once I’ve had a shower, I like to use Lush’s Sleepy body lotion https://uk.lush.com/products/lavender/sleepy. However since it was gifted to me and is a little on the pricey side, I sometimes like to use lavender essential oil mixed with coconut oil instead to make it last a bit longer. I heard of some people using pure lavender essential oil on their pulse points to help them with sleep but my (veeery sensitive) skin didn’t react well to it so I’m not sure if it actually works.

3. Tidying up

  • If I feel rather awake from having a shower or if I notice my room is looking rather messy I like to try and tidy it before bed. I find that knowing I’m sleeping in a tidy environment makes me feel less anxious and just more relaxed in general. It also means that when you wake up in the morning in a clean environment you’re generally in a better mood and ready to face the day!
  • Also preparing things for the next day (clothes for work, packing a bag etc) will save a lot of time and stress in the morning, and waking up won’t feel like such a chore.
  • Speaking of planning, I also like to write a list of stuff I need to get done for the next day so that when I wake up I feel more productive and having structure to my days helps ease my anxiety.

4. Teas/Hot Drinks

  • When I couldn’t sleep I used to drink English tea (which I never knew had caffeine, and I always added at least 1-2 teaspoons of sugar!!) or even a hot chocolate! Hot drinks with sugar and/or caffeine in them are good during the day or to relax in the morning or afternoon, but definitely not in the evening or else it’ll be hard to get to sleep because caffeine stays in your system for up to 6 hours. Instead, it’s ideal to have a caffeine-free herbal tea, such as chamomile or herbal teas that contains Valerian or passionflower. I drink either Heath And Heather‘s Organic Soft Sleepy Night Time tea or Twining’s Sleep Tea Blend.
  • I’m not sure if this is a Scottish thing or not, but we often like to have a ‘wee nightcap’ before bed (alcohol to help make us sleepy before bed), but even though this can make you drowsy, it’ll only end up giving you a terrible sleep and making you wake up groggy in the morning. I found this was always the case when drinking alcohol before bed, no matter how much water I tried to drink to sober up!

5. Switch off

  • Before heading to bed I always try to switch off my phone at least half an hour before heading to bed. I also like to put it somewhere that I can’t access from my bed so that I’m not tempted to go on it if I can’t sleep and so that when I wake up I can get out of bed almost right away.
  • I found that trying to stay on my phone until falling asleep didn’t help me sleep at all and did the exact opposite, also increasing my anxiety through seeing upsetting things on social media through scrolling aimlessly (not to mention comparing myself and my life to that of others on Instagram…) It’s just not the best thing to do when trying to fall asleep, instead I like to write a diary/write down thoughts, feelings and ideas or read a book related to spirituality.
  • Writing something you’re grateful for is also a great way to go to bed feeling relaxed and is also nice to look back on when having a bad day. It can be quite hard to find inspiration for it though, so sometimes I use this: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/60-things-thankful-for-life.html
  • Doing relaxing things without screens/technology/social media is by far the best way to relax before bed. I like to do this when having my herbal tea with some candles and incense on for ultimate relaxation ~

6. Setting The Mood

  • When doing my night time routine I always try to make sure that my environment is relaxed. For example, putting on some candles/fairy lights with some incense on is such a relaxing way to drink my tea and write my thoughts down than with the bedroom light turned on.
  • I also think that some quiet, calming music helps but it’s important to make sure you can play the music while the internet is switched off and the vocals aren’t too much. I personally like listening to Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Air or Grouper.

So that’s my night time routine that I try to carry out as often as possible so that I go to sleep feeling relaxed with minimal anxiety, and also so that I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to be productive. When I’m unable to do my night time routine, I try my best to just set the scene for a good night’s sleep if I’m not feeling well enough to shower or make a tea, on top of having no sugar/caffeine before bed and no phone.

If anyone reading this has any handy tips about reducing anxiety before bed please let me know! 🙂

Here’s the link to my morning routine: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/156026599/posts/21

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: My Experience with Binge-Eating and Bulimia.

I am honestly so glad that there exists a week where we can raise awareness for something so serious that so many people go through at some point in their lives. Due to pressure from the media, comparing ourselves to most likely fake lives and altered appearances on social media, as well as society’s idea of beauty among many other factors, it’s all too easy to feel like we aren’t beautiful enough. And unfortunately there exists the idea that skinny = beautiful, and that’s where the problem begins.

My Story with Binge Eating and Bulimia

Until I was about 8 or 9 years old I always wore skirts to school, then after repeatedly getting called “fat” off of the skinny, pretty girls in my year I became so self-conscious and wore trousers to school until I was about 16 years old. Looking back, there was nothing wrong with my weight/legs! I was very tall for my age and always had wide hips and long legs which made me look different from the other more petite girls in my year. My mum, a fitness instructor, always made healthy packed lunches, I did karate and played football and lived a generally healthy life as a kid. I always wondered why I was getting called fat off of the skinny girls who ate junk food and drank fizzy juice at lunch when I always just ate sandwiches and fruit! I think it is just so sad that I was only 8 or 9 years old when I started to feel self conscious about my body. When I looked back at the pictures, I wished I could’ve gone back and told myself that there was nothing wrong with my weight and that I didn’t have to wear trousers to cover my legs. This made me realise something very important: the way you perceive your body and the way others perceive your body are most likely very very different, in the sense that you will have a much more negative view of your body than others will. And I just wish that I had realised that sooner.

Binge Eating

When my best friend died of cancer in August 2013 that’s when the binge eating really started. I just ate and ate and ate to feel better, and I would eat so much junk food until I was so full that I felt sick, and I guess I saw it as compensating for the emptiness I felt from losing my friend. I also got very comfortable in my first relationship around this time, and was a size 16 weighing around 13 stone/82kg. At this time I was also wanting to go to uni so I was so dedicated to my studies that I never felt like I had the time to exercise. I much rather preferred to learn languages, draw or watch movies. This lifestyle lasted until I started uni in 2014 at age 16. My weight went down slightly due to the fact I was always going to clubs and societies, and I started to play basketball to up my fitness.

My Experience with Bulimia

When I came back for second year of uni, I weighed 13st again from just eating so much without caring over the holidays. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a month later in October 2015 and it was around this time that I became so obsessed with binge eating then purging due to such low self-esteem and poor body image. My 18th birthday was in November and I was panicking about my friends and family thinking I was fat or commenting on my weight, because I wouldn’t have been able to handle any negative comments about it given how low my self-esteem was already. Then when my 18th birthday actually came, I realised how hard it was to enjoy it because I was having to plan when I could go to the toilets alone without anyone getting suspicious. I had about 30 family members with me that day, and I found myself getting so irritated when the time for me to purge was dragging on and on, it was so stressful! It totally consumed me and I just find it so sad that I couldn’t enjoy my birthday because I was so fixated on being sick. In just that month alone I had lost around 10lbs, but I didn’t care because that was how much weight I had put on since May anyway and therefore my family wouldn’t have noticed a difference in my weight. I got so many compliments about my weight, which only made me more determined to keep purging.

Veganism & Bulimia

By March, I had lost almost 3 stone/19kg. I was getting really anxious about people finding out I was bulimic given that I was living a very sedentary lifestyle and hardly leaving my room due to my depression and anxiety. I felt so down that I just kept on carelessly damaging my body: I was smoking around 20 cigarettes a day on top of lots of weed so that I would get the munchies to binge then purge, and I was bordering alcoholism in order to numb myself and to make myself sick again. I was putting my body through so much torment that it didn’t deserve! Because I was feeling so low I looked into the vegan diet/lifestyle and wanted to gain back a good relationship with food. So I tried out veganism in March, but because I never gave myself a proper transition period, this caused me to break it and then binge out of guilt and disgust. I began to associate anything non-vegan as a “bad food” that would make me put on weight. I had lost at least 3 stone in just 5 months and people were shocked to see how much weight I had lost. The idea of anyone knowing I was bulimic made me so anxious, so it seemed like perfect timing to try out veganism in March and people never seemed to question it otherwise.

Health Effects of Bulimia

I was constantly exhausted, I had to nap at least twice a day, I always had to plan my day around when I could eat then purge, and this caused me such a great deal of stress and made me unbearable to be around. My throat always felt like it was burning, and my eyes and cheeks looked so swollen and puffy. The skin around my eyes was so grey and my face was so pale, I looked so ill. I also found out that I had gum disease and my teeth got really yellow from constantly making myself sick. There was absolutely no benefit to bulimia, the cons far outweighed the pros! Even if losing weight was seen as a pro, it was such an unhealthy way to lose the weight that it just wasn’t worth it. When I moved back home in May, my mum was onto me and always made sure I was eating and not going to the toilet straight afterwards. Not being able to purge made me lash out a lot and it was so so difficult, but I’m so thankful that she was doing that for me because it made me commit more to being vegan and I finally got a good relationship with food altogether.

Relapse

Almost a year after I started my journey to recovering from bulimia, I went to Italy during my year out from university (which I took due to poor mental health). I worked as an au pair for a very traditional family in the Italian countryside, who didn’t understand veganism, who didn’t understand why I refused to wear make-up although my face was red and, most importantly, who couldn’t understand why I was “fat” and vegan. So around a month after constantly being given negative comments about my appearance (mostly about my face and weight), I relapsed and was sick one night after several Italian women telling me to go easy on the polenta because it would make me fatter… But this time I didn’t get the “cleansed” feeling purging brought me, I instead felt ashamed and disgusted with myself that I had given into their negative comments and thus let them win. I haven’t purged since. The next morning, I took a shower and I remember looking at myself. I suddenly, for the first time in years, felt this big wave of happiness and love upon looking at myself in the mirror. I then burst into laughter and then tears, crying then laughing hysterically. That was probably the most pivotal moment in my journey towards self-love. I looked at my red face and smiled, I smiled upon looking at all my blemishes, acne scars, freckles… I looked further down and smiled at my curvy figure, my soft skin, the dimples on my thighs. It had taken me 19 long years to finally look in the mirror and not be filled with so much self-loathing. Instead of pointing out what I didn’t like about my body, I finally saw what I did like. I then took a picture (I rarely take pictures of myself) to celebrate.

Working Towards Positive Body Image

Looking back at that photo, I am far from feeling how I did when looking in the mirror nowadays. After a horrible semester abroad in France where my diet consisted of starving some days, binge eating on others, and eating pastries and breads from bakery bins due to having hardly any money, I’m almost the same weight I was before I suffered from bulimia. And although I’ve thought about resorting to my old ways as a means of losing weight, it really just isn’t worth it and I would rather weigh more and be healthier than weigh less and have a bad relationship with food again. Although that part of my life was basically rock-bottom, it taught me many things:

 1: You are SO much more than your appearance!

We live in a society where we are judged automatically and unintentionally by how we look, it’s how first impressions are made. But how we look is only secondary and, in the grand scheme of things, really doesn’t matter! There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your appearance, but there’s nothing wrong with indulging in certain foods and feeling guilt-free! The older I get the more I realise how short life is, and I feel kind of annoyed at myself for spending so many years hating my body, when it is all you have: hating your body won’t give you a new one, and the more you feed yourself negativity instead of love, the more you’re going to believe it. Try to think of at least one thing you like about yourself, whether it’s about your appearance or your personality or a life achievement, and give gratitude for it every single day and you’ll discover more and more amazing things about yourself. What I once used to see as flaws (i.e my red face/freckles) I actually embrace now and I see it as making me unique, and unique is beautiful!

2: You don’t have to be skinny to have an eating disorder 

Whenever I heard of eating disorders, I always thought of being dangerously underweight. But, like mental illness, eating disorders can also be invisible. A classic example is my doctor: when I told him I was suffering from bulimia and wanted to be referred to a clinic, he looked at me a bit confused and sighed while reaching for a sheet of paper and then asking me to step on the scales. It was like he didn’t believe me. Eating disorders aren’t just anorexia, even as a bulimic I was never “too skinny”, I had just lost too much weight over a short period of time. I went from being really curvy and having big legs to having a thigh gap in just 3 months… 

3. The people you are comparing yourself to on social media aren’t  perfect either! 

As you’ve most probably heard before, nobody is perfect! Everybody has their hangups, things that they’d rather change, and a lot of people on social media only like to show the good going on in their lives instead of the bad. “Influencers” will show what their version of the perfect life is, even though it isn’t even like that for them in reality! With countless apps that alter your body and face to get it to look how you want to look, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. And the majority of the time, it isn’t. So before you compare yourself to the pretty girl with a so-called “bikini body” laying on a beach, or the guy with huge muscles, just ask yourself “is it really worth comparing myself to them?” Instead on focusing on what you don’t have, it’s time to appreciate what you do have. So-called flaws and imperfections are beautiful, they are what make all 8 billion of us on this planet amazing and unique! We’ve just been brainwashed by society/media/social media to think that cellulite, scars, pimples, fat rolls, skin blemishes etc. are unnatural, but they are a part of life! You’re constantly told to cover this and hide that, to make something bigger or smaller to look a certain way, but the only people who ever benefit from altering these things are just the companies you pay money to.

So whether you’ve suffered from an eating disorder or poor body image, or have thought about it, or have generally fallen victim to societal pressures, let me just remind you of this: your weight does not define you, the lower or higher a number on a scale does not equate to how well you are going to do in life or how beautiful or worthy you are, your beauty comes from within and your achievements come from how amazing a person you are! The bodies we are in are all that we have, in the sense that they literally carry us through life,so it is important that we give them as much care and love and nourishment as possible, although it can be incredibly hard at times. Eating disorders affect such a large number of people, and it’s not at all easy to overcome them overnight. They can take weeks, months, years to overcome. But it is a journey to be embraced, and the universe only gives us what we can handle, and so it’ll only makes us stronger in the end.

February 2016 – my cheeks and eyes looked so swollen and puffy. I could feel my hip bones sticking out at the front and could feel my ribs when lying down. I remember feeling so proud when I took this, but looking back I can’t believe how unhealthy I look!

Scribbled out my face because I was making a weird one haha. But on the picture in the left I weighed 13st/82kg and was a size 16-18 UK in September 2015, a month before I was bulimic. On the left I weighed 10st/63kg and was a UK size 10 in May 2016.

If anybody is still suffering from an eating disorder, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, binge eating etc., I just want to remind you that you are beautiful no matter your weight! Like everything in life, this is only temporary, and some day in the future you will look back and feel so incredibly proud of yourself for overcoming something so incredibly difficult. Even if you relapse, please don’t be too hard on yourself: you’re doing amazing and each day you are working towards loving yourself and your body more and more. If you ever feel alone, just remember that you are never alone and there is help out there if you are looking for it. A website that really helped me is https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/

I know that it’s incredibly difficult, exhausting and frustrating at times, but we are so capable of overcoming any obstacles, and I am so grateful that we live in a community where we can share ideas and experiences which will help each other grow. If anybody would like to talk about their experience with someone who has been there before, please feel free to message me on my instagram: @hippie.ki.yay

Morning routine for a productive day!

(Photo from Stars Insider)

Waking up in the morning can be the hardest part of the day, especially during the winter months when it is still dark outside when you wake up. It can be even harder when suffering from poor mental health or, in the darker months, Seasonal Affective Disorder (which spells ‘sad’, ironically). But with so much work to do and a life passing us by so quickly, it’s essential that we kick-start our mornings right to make the most of the day!

So this morning routine doesn’t even start in the morning but on the night before! It’s important that before bed you switch your phone onto airplane mode and turn the internet off so that when you wake up there are no notifications and so no temptation to go on social media. It’s also a good idea to set an alarm and then place your phone somewhere where you’ll have to walk towards in order to turn it off (but preferably in the same room you are sleeping in).

1.DO NOT HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON!!

This is absolutely the MOST important thing you could possibly do. If you press the snooze button for even 5 minutes it can ruin your mood for the whole morning/day. This is because our body sleeps in cycles of around 75-90 minutes and if something (such as an alarm) interrupts this and we then start to go back to sleep for just 5-10 more minutes, it is still interrupted and this can actually make us more anxious and depressed. So it’s important that not only we resist the urge to press the snooze button, but also put our phone somewhere that we’d need to walk to, so that we are already up and out of our beds and ready to face the day. This can be the hardest part of the day, and I often find that building myself up to it helps. I normally count to five then open my eyes and let them adjust, then count to five until I get out of bed.

2. Try to avoid social media within the first hour of waking up.

In order to wake up feeling fresh and productive, it’s important that we resist the temptation of looking at social media (hence why it’s important to leave the WIFI turned off the night before). If we look at our phones as soon as we wake up, we actually end up feeling even more tired right away as this is what looking at a screen so shortly after waking up can do to us. It can also make us depressed and anxious looking at social media and the news, so it is best to get your routine finished first before looking at your phone, and you will already be feeling productive by the time it’s done as you’ll be looking at your phone after you’re ready to start the day instead of before.

3. Take a biiiiiig gulp of water!

Over the night we breathe and sweat, causing us to lose water during the night and dehydration is another reason why we can feel groggy in the morning. It’s best to leave a glass of water next to our bed for when we wake up, but it is also a good idea to maybe prepare lemon water, or cucumber water with 1-2 drops of lemon essential oil the night before. Warm lemon water is also good to drink in the morning and drinking fluids as soon as you wake up is a great way to not only hydrate your body but to also boost your metabolism, and lemons are great for aiding weight loss!

4. Make your bed

This is such a simple thing that I never bothered to do but makes a world of a difference! Your bed is the main object in your room (hence why the word ‘bed’ is in it!) so it’s so important that it is made after waking up so that your room generally looks tidy; having an unmade bed in a tidy room can make the room look messy. It also means that you won’t be tempted to go back to sleep in it!

5. Brush yo teeeth!

Again, such a simple but important one! It’s so important that you do this before making a tea/coffee or breakfast as it leave you feeling super fresh! It also means that when you come back from the bathroom, you walk into a tidy bed/room and this will make you feel ready to face the day! While in the bathroom, it can also be a good idea to splash your face with cold water to help you to wake up, it often works a treat for me!

6. Movement

Now nothing too elaborate, just some simple arm, leg, back and neck stretches to get the blood flowing. Five minutes is all I ever really need. Sometimes I find that pushing myself to go on a 10 minute walk around my neighbourhood in the morning helps set me up for the day!

7. Shower

If I’m still super tired by this point, a shower is often my saving grace! A warm shower often does the trick, but when I’m feeling unbelievably tired despite doing everything else in my routine, a cold shower helps to wake me up (a lot!).

8. Make breakfast

It’s not the most important meal of the day for no reason, eating breakfast can help to kick start your metabolism for the day and gives you all the energy you need. Even if you don’t feel hungry for breakfast in the morning, it’s important to have something small like a banana or a cereal bar. And a hot drink helps too. I personally find that drinking yerba mate with a bit of honey gives me the energy I need to focus on my studies in the morning, and peppermint tea is great for concentration! I sometimes add a little bit of dandelion root powder too, which is also great for metabolism.

9. Play a podcast/uplifting music.

Having something motivational or uplifting in the background while making/eating your breakfast, finally getting round to checking social media or doing work can really help you to stay focused and motivated!

(Photo from Azernews.az)

So that’s the morning routine I usually follow to help me stay productive more-so during the winter months and for when I’m not feeling too great mentally. When I follow this routine I find that I don’t need naps throughout the day and my mood is generally a lot better. Things of course work differently for different people but from personal experience it helps me the most to stay focused and motivated throughout the day. Fresh air can also help us to start off the day right, and a 10 minute walk is sometimes all we ever need. Writing our thoughts in a diary can help us mentally too. No matter how healthy a routine I did, I always found that looking at my phone immediately or shortly after waking up made me feel so tired throughout the day, so it’s important that we try to avoid looking at our phone until our routine is finished. How we start our mornings affects our whole day, so it’s important that we start them in the best and healthiest way possible! 🙂

My Story So Far ~

I believe that this world is so beautiful but it can be so hard to appreciate it at times. Even when there is light during the day it can be so hard to appreciate it due to our busy lifestyles and/or our mental health, and we feel like we have no choice but to stay in the darkness. Some people want to leave the darkness, but they just aren’t ready to do it yet themselves and need a helping hand, someone to help them appreciate the beauty that they saw before. That’s what I want my role to be throughout my time here on this earth. I feel that there are so many people caught up in this life and forgetting that it is just a mere simulation, a game. And aren’t games, just like life, supposed to be enjoyed?

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” ~ William Feather.


TW: Cancer, suicide, alcohol issues and bulimia.

So sometimes when I feel down and that life isn’t as fun a game as I had hoped, I like to write my feelings down. Being a 4th year university student, it can be quite hard to remain optimistic when your studies are taking over your life. So primarily I want my blogs to be something other people can look to for inspiration to get the most out of life but also something to look back on myself when struggling.

So my story really begins at around 15 years old. I had lost my only ever best friend to cancer and had entered my final year of high school and was ready to go to university at 16. I was never the sort of person to like being a sheep, to obey unnecessary rules, to dress up the same way as everybody else, to miss out on class to join everybody in praying to something I didn’t believe in. I didn’t like being a part of something that suppressed individuality to its very core. So with the help of my French teacher, I started university at 16 years old.

After a rather mentally challenging first year at university I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in October 2015, and that was no doubt rock bottom for me. Then in November was the turning point in my life. Just two weeks before my 18th birthday I went all the way up to Aviemore, my last happy place, to try and find a reason to live again and if not, kill myself. I thought that if nature and peace of mind couldn’t save me then nothing ever could. But thankfully I was right, and nature really did save me. Sometimes it’s far too easy to get caught up in what is consuming you that you miss the bigger picture, and for me my mental health, family, friends, university grades and addictions clouded my judgement of what I thought life was. Two weeks later on my 18th birthday was quite literally the best night of my life, and I felt a strange mix of both sadness and relief that I didn’t kill myself because I would have left all of those amazing people who came to my birthday for me, devastated. What that all really taught me is that even though there are going to be times where you feel worthless, hated or depressed in this world, there is always something to live for and it is always 100% worth holding on if you can’t see it immediately.

So after hitting rock bottom, the only way was up. I really learned how to live in the moment and to appreciate every single good thing that came into my life, no matter how big or small. I learned that bulimia and excessive daily alcohol consumption were in no way helping my mental health, so I became healthier physically as a means of being healthier mentally. I followed a lot of positivity and hippie pages on social media and adapted a vegan lifestyle which helped greatly. I eliminated all toxic people and ideas from my life and started to become more spiritual, and although I had a tough time during those years, it brought me to exactly where I am today and for that I’m grateful.

So in my blogs I want to inspire people to live the life of their dreams, to be happy and healthy. You are so much more than your weight, your appearance, your mental illness, your sexual orientation, your history. I think that being on this earth in today’s society is so great for acting as a community and helping each other to learn and grow, and to see the good the world has to offer. In a world fuelled by money, power and vanity, I think having a platform such as this is truly a blessing.

We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 100 years at the very most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV