Now, I’m quite happy with the University welfare provisions for this issue, and I’m willing to accept help. The University are really good at being supportive and recommending stuff. People do complain, but if you’re not willing to admit it or see someone, that’s a problem. What colleges could do more is take advice from professionals and be more aware of this situation. I’m glad I came though, as I realised I just couldn’t keep up my façade of starving, purging, self-criticism and endless hours in the library for the next three years. I was sick of the constant ringing in my head and the anxiety of Oxford.Being at the clinic wasn’t all a pleasant experience, and I only stuck with it because it had been my decision to do so in the first place. Rewiring my brain to try and eat sensibly was very tough but there was a lot of support in the clinic from fellow sufferers and the staff. I did feel patronised at times during supervised meals, but also felt much more ‘adult’ than I had ever done before. I think that was because I had taken a step, by myself, to try and help give myself a deeper understanding of my illness and what it means to share my real thoughts and feelings with others. I couldn’t believe that people actually didn’t mind being with me when I acted as nervous as I felt, when I was snappy and when I didn’t want to talk. When I returned to Oxford as a second-time fresher I wasn’t ‘cured’ but I felt much more like a human being. I see a nurse counsellor at the Warneford every week to talk through how I’m coping with work, people and food. Although Oxford is a notoriously rubbish place to be as an eating disorder, it’s one of the best towns for ED services and the NHS is more efficient here than a lot of other places. Colleges are also starting to recognise the huge numbers of people here with some form of disordered eating. My college was incredibly cooperative when I admitted how tough I was finding things, I think my tutors respected me for my honesty. I still struggle with food, work and I still feel like a fraud but not as much as before and I can recognise when I’m acting the perfectionistic ‘I’m always happy and smiling’ somewhat sickening persona. At least I can admit to myself that I don’t ‘adore’ my subject and that sometimes I would just prefer to watch ‘the office’ rather than be in the library and that’s ok.” “I STARTED as a fresher at Oxford against the advice of my family and my doctor. It was clear to them that I was struggling with anorexia with bulimic tendencies but I still couldn’t face up to it. Despite the excited phone calls I used to make back home every week and the enthusiastic, fake emails I sent to friends about uni, I was having a crap time. I was lonely, permanently exhausted and I felt I had to constantly act to make people like me or else they’d discover the fraud that I was. At the advice of my doctor I went into an eating disorder clinic for a week to try to get some help with my eating. I ended up deferring my year at Oxford and staying there for two months and part-time for another two months. It was as if I just suddenly realised what a bleak existence might lay ahead of me if I carried on lying to myself. Oxford is not the best place for having an eating disorder. I don’t think I could have tackled it had I still been here. I probably could have survived it, but I don’t think I’d have been able to get my head around it and understand it. It’s hard to accept help here because at Oxford you have got to be a strong person and not need help from people. I think a lot of people at Oxford with disordered eating have a predisposition towards it before they come, but whereas it might not become such a problem elsewhere, here it’s exacerbated hugely because of the stresses that go along with this place. Also, there is a certain kind of person who comes to Oxford – quite a perfectionist who wants to live up to other’s expectations of them – and that sort of person is more likely to have disordered eating. Quickly after arriving here, my whole life routine completely changed. Suddenly I could spend so much time on my own and I didn’t have to eat with anyone. That just made it unbearable. But you can’t just point the blame, for example, at hall food, because if someone’s dead-set on not eating, they’re not going to eat regardless of whether it’s a gourmet meal or not, but when you’re facing cannelloni covered in cheese, it does make it easier to convince yourself that you’re doing a normal thing not eating that.