When you think of going off to college, it can be very exciting, as well as very scary. You will be leaving all your current support systems. Many people transition and are easily able to find new support systems. However, if you currently have, or in the past have struggled with mental illness, then going off to school can be even more of a challenge.
For those of you who are in recovery of an eating disorder, you may have to postpone going off to school, or you may need to have a very specific plan on how you will transition and deal with all the changes that will take place. It is important to figure out what is best for you, not what others have or have not done.
I recently read an excellent article called The ABC’s of Going to College by Freeman, Anderson, and Dimitropoulos. This was for people with eating disorders. Obviously if you have some treatment, you have learned many skills to help you cope. When you go to school, you will need to use these same tools, except in a different way. Below is their plan of ABC’s to determine how ready you are to go off to college, and to come up with a game plan to succeed. A for Anticipate, B for Build a safety plan and C for Cope healthfully.
First it is most important to figure out some of the challenges you might face. You will now run in a different social circle, you will most likely be living with a roommate, you will need to learn your way around campus, and school will be more difficult. Some questions to think about include, do you make friends easily, how do you navigate the dating world, how do you plan on staying in touch with friends and family? Will you be able to resist the pull of drugs and alcohol? How will you handle the cafeteria or eating out with new friends? Where will you study? Do you do better in a library, in your room, or at a coffee shop? How will you handle your social life? Most social events involve food. What about your sleep and mental health? They are critical to your success. Also, how will you deal with finances?
B-Build a safety plan
Now that you have thought of some challenges, how will you handle them? What is your game plan? Of course one of the major hurdles will be your nutrition. This may be the first time you are in charge of your meal plan, and it will be a huge challenge to maintain your recovery. You may even need to figure out a support system on your campus. Perhaps there is a counseling center or dietician on campus that could help you. Maybe you have a good relationship with a treatment team from home who can do phone or online sessions. Make a list of people you can talk to when you are struggling emotionally, or with food. Is there some type of support group in the area? Figure out your plan if you relapse, or even return home if necessary (ex. If your weight goes below a certain threshold).
Then there are also those challenges you don’t anticipate. How will you handle it if you are sick and miss some classes? Most campuses have a health center. It’s also important to get the names and numbers of some classmates. Most people are creatures of habit and sit in the same seat every class period. You can get phone numbers from those people. That way you may be able to get a copy of their notes. You can also e-mail the professor to see if you can get a copy of his lecture. Make a plan of how you will take care of your sleep, as lack of sleep can be a trigger for all types of things.
Just know that in the past, you used your eating disorder as a way to cope with difficult situations. How will you cope in a way that is healthy for you? What about making a list of things you can do when you are having strong emotions? Think of things that can distract you or soothe you. Join a group. This is the most important thing you can do to help you fit in a feel like you belong. Make a list of support people you can call when you are feeling lonely. Find out where the health center and counseling center is on campus, so you will know where to go if need be.
Other healthy ways of coping include yoga, journaling, relaxation techniques, and minfdulness. These are just a few suggestions, and I’m sure you have some other techniques that help that are unique to you.
I hope you have found this blog to be helpful. If you are going off to college, I hope you have a wonderful, successful experience. If I can help you out in any way with your transition, please call me at 713-304-6554.