Coming back to Uni after taking a leave of absence has been strange. It's felt like there's a lot to do, catch up on and keep up with; yet at the same time it's felt oddly manageable at points which has of course led me to wonder what I'm doing wrong!! It's been a weird muddly act of balancing, evaluating, reassessing and tweaking... But if I give myself a break and a little credit, I think I've been doing alright! It's made me think a lot though, wouldn't it be easier if we had a manual for all of this!!
Starting Uni and struggling with mental health problems was difficult. The longer I tried to get through, the more difficult it got. But even when things were almost as bad as they could get, there was no hard and fast rule about what to do. No one could tell me that I needed to not be at Uni, or that I needed to take time out. The decision had to be mine, of course people could advise but they couldn't do the deciding for me. Looking back now, I do think perhaps things could have been easier had I decided to stop and focus on my health sooner, but then perhaps I wouldn't have been able to engage at treatment and make the most of that time, had I not taken my Leave Of Absence when I did. Hindsight is, of course, a most wonderful thing! There's no real way I could predict or work out what could or would have been, having a level of acceptance is definitely helpful! I guess I can just try to use my experiences to help me to possibly finally get my degree finished, by noticing my warning signs or when things are starting to get difficult... To help stop any deterioration in its tracks!
It's ironic really, that after resisting taking a break from Uni for so long; it actually turned out to be the best thing I could have possibly done and ultimately a vital step in my recovery journey. I was really scared that taking time out would take away the drive I had to stay well; I feared that without that reason to keep going and would just have my eating disorder to fall back on. I was convinced I needed to have uni to give me a kind of raison d'être. It was really challenging to come away from my degree, especially as due to a year out, changing my course and then taking a LOA meant I had seen three cohorts of my peers graduating. I felt like I was being left behind, failing impressively! But the reality was that by enabling me to come back after taking some time to really focus on my needs, I am now in a place to actually give my degree the focus I need to! I hadn't realised how poor my focus, concentration etc. was... coming back in a much healthier state has really reinforced it was the right decision to make.
If you're thinking about taking a leave of absence, make sure you get a few different opinions, work out the reality of what it will mean (i.e. will you have to restart any modules) and try and hold on to the fact that often taking time out can be the strongest decision, rather than any sign of failure.
Read Kate's full blog here.