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Student Diaries 2004: Bobbie

by Bobby

27th October 2004

Meet Bobbie - one of Ouch's disabled Student Diarists for 2004. She has mental health problems and dyslexia and is studying Fine Arts at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

I enjoy photography, painting, drawing, web design, digital media and various crafty things. As for more active pursuits, I do outdoor sports like moutaineering, rock-climbing and ski-ing. I sometimes go out to pubs but generally prefer somewhere where you can sit and talk. I'm not just into getting drunk - I like the hanging out with mates part too!

On TV, I like comedy shows and history documentaries; my music tastes include The Perfect Circle, Goo Goo Dolls and Manic Street Preachers.

I'm studying Fine Art, and after university I hope to become a successful artist - selling paintings and doing freelance photography. I'd like to be a writer, too.

This is actually my second time in higher education - I went to KIAD (Kent Institute of Art & Design) last year, but dropped out after one term due to bad reactions to some medication. I've also got dyslexia for which I need access technology.

I get Disability Student Allowance. I'm getting a computer and specialist dyslexia software that talks, plus a mind-mapping thing for essays. I've also got a tape recorder to record lectures, because I can lose concentration easily.

I've got Irlen's Syndrome (Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), which is linked with dyslexia. Basically, it's harder for me to read because my eyes are too sensitive to background/foreground contrasts. As you'll find out in my diary, I also experience some eating disorders.

Oh, and why not drop in on my personal website?


Bobbie's first week...

Monday 27 September, 2004

So as this is my first entry here, I guess some kind of quick introduction is in order. I am an artist/art student just starting uni away from home.

I did start last year at a local art college, but it was a bad choice in terms of teaching attitudes and my mental state. I dropped out partly because of a seriously bad reaction to an antidepressant that made my depression worse and gave me really bad paranoia and agoraphobia, all of which were a catalyst for me relapsing into my eating disorder.

Since the spring I have been working hard to get myself together and ready for university and student life again, and I think I've done pretty well for myself. I still have things that hold me back, and days when everything seems unbearable, but overall I can honestly say that I am so much happier and more self-accepting now than I ever have been.

The first couple of days here have been quite a blur. I arrived on Friday with my dad, after an 8 hour journey. We unpacked my stuff together, then I spent my first night alone in the flat. I'm living in halls, in a flat with 7 other students. Everyone else arrived on Saturday, but it was actually quite nice to have a night alone to settle in before having to be all big smiles and friendly.
The view out of my kitchen window is great - it looks right out over the town and onto the sea. I love it here. It's so beautiful, and so right. As my dad drove us in through a mountain pass on Friday, I had this really strong sense that I was coming home to where I am meant to be. It was cloudy, and as we neared Aber a little fragment of rainbow appeared right above the town, and stayed there right until we came out of the mountains into the valley of Aberystwyth. It was really beautiful and special.

I've settled right in here. I am genuinely happy to be here, and proud of myself for being in a good university! I'm also so relieved to meet flatmates and new people who don't run screaming when I smile nervously at them.

On Saturday (25 September) there was a meet and greet for parents and students, and I went to speak to the disability dude. He was really friendly and told me to come talk to him anytime. He referred me to the language and learning table, where I was praised for being the most organized student so far in terms of getting my Disabled Students' Allowance sorted out. Organised? Me? Organisation and Bobbie cannot be put into the same sentence without a negative in place somewhere. It's just that I started the process a year earlier when I started my degree at KIAD (Kent Institute of Art & Design). The dyslexia advisor there was incredibly helpful; she even gave me a printed showing, in simple steps, what I had to do to get the DSA. And she kindly gave me another one when I lost it. And another one when I lost that. However, the application process is way too complicated by far.
The student kitchen in Bobbie's halls of residence
I spent a long time on the phone trying to explain to the company who are delivering my DSA laptop and software that I've moved to halls and that I can't guarantee that anyone will be in to sign for the package when they deliver it. I don't know when I'm going to get it, but I hope it's soon. I really struggle with writing: organising my thoughts and putting them down on paper is very hard because of dyslexia. My mind tends to be travelling at the speed of light, jumping from one line of thought right onto another. This results in me sitting down to write and starting to thinking about what to say, then thinking about something that happened, worrying about this or that, deciding what I'm going to wear later when I go out, thinking of new paintings, working my mind around problems ... and before I know it two hours have passed and I've only written one sentence. But I'm assured by the groovy needs assessment lady that the software I am getting will make it easier to organise my thoughts.
Bobbie's room in the halls of residence

Wednesday 29 September, 2004

I went to registration yesterday morning, and when I went up to the department table to get signed up I got twinges of guilt. I didn't do well in my A-levels because of anorexia and depression. The A-level standard for entry into the Fine Art department here is very high, and I felt bad that my grades would drag that down, so I spent the rest of the day in self-doubt.

The guy signing me up didn't look too happy - kind of majorly awkward - when I put down my grades and then added 'depression' under 'medical conditions that might affect study'. I'm sure he was just thoroughly bored, but I felt like he was regretting giving me an unconditional offer after seeing my portfolio back in April. I have to stop these thoughts, though, and try and make myself believe that I was accepted because I'm good enough. This is something of a foreign concept to people with eating disorders.

I then went onto the Sports & Society Fair with one of my female flatmates. Outside there were some guys doing a barbeque for 'Nightline', a highly impressive student-run telephone support system. I ran to grab a can of Diet Coke for a refreshing caffeine kick, and this guy on a loudspeaker starts trying to convince me to buy a burger. I say, "No ta, I'm veggie". So he gleefully informs me that they have vegeburgers (ew!). I say, "No thanks, they have wheat in them, and I'm gluten intolerant". He says, "Watch out, guys! We've got an eating disorder here!" Ouch! Ground swallow me up, please!

Firstly, I am vegetarian by choice. I cannot ethically condone the taking of a life for my pleasure. Secondly, I am not gluten intolerant by choice; it's a pain in the ass! Thirdly, am I really that see-through when it comes to my eating disorder? I prefer people not to know about it unless I trust them or can tell that they won't judge. Most people can't handle it and go all weird on me if they find out. I am trying to recover, and I don't want to be pigeonholed as a crazy person. I am me - accept me as I am, or go away. Call me fat and I will punch you.

My flatmate who was with me has been giving me weird calculating looks ever since. Great.
An artful photo of Bobbie in her distinctive corset

Friday 1 October, 2004

Urgh. Apparently I have contracted a serious case of 'Fresher's Flu'. I feel so rough. But that didn't stop me going out. I went to the Rock Society party last night at the union - it was really was fab! Lots of cool music and some really interesting people. I wore my corset out - and man, I got a lot of looks! People were coming up and 'ooohhing' at me and wrapping their hands around my waist!

I called my mum this morning because I couldn't sleep all night. When I told her about flu symptoms she got really worried. She is paranoid about meningitis, which is understandable because my older brother died from strand B meningitis when he was 16 years old. I'm really glad that I phoned her though, as it was reassuring to hear her voice.
The Edward Davies Building, home to the Aberystwyth School of Art

Monday 4 October, 2004

I'm still really ill. I spent most of the weekend in my room, coughing and wheezing and in varying types and degrees of pain. Today it's eased down to just cold symptoms though, so I've got over worrying about it being something more serious.

Yesterday was pretty weird. I spent the whole day feeling really ill, and in the evening I started to feel miserable, lonely, and homesick. I wandered into the kitchen to get a drink, started chatting to one of my flatmates, and ended up sitting down and having a meal with her. I usually find it really taxing to eat with other people around, but with her it was all right, and we spent ages chatting together afterwards. She has experienced depression and hard times too, and it was so reassuring to connect with someone who understands that. Though I'm too scared to tell her the full extent of my problems, I think it's a good thing for both of us to know that there is someone right there for those times when we need a swift kick up the backside to stop from slipping right down.


Bobbie's second week.

Tuesday 5 October, 2004

Yesterday was our first day of proper lectures. We only went over pretty basic stuff - how art and knowledge of art are affected by cultural issues, and the differences between art, craft, and design.
The Aber School of Art is separate from the main campus, in a truly beautiful listed Edwardian building. The lecture room is settled in the back of the building, with high walls and skylights that have electric covers for lectures where projectors are being used. It is a lovely room, although there is currently a small problem with the heating: it can't be turned off, so it's more like a sauna in there most of the time.

I generally try to sit near the front of the class during lectures, because I find it very hard to concentrate on what the tutor is saying if there's too much in front of me to distract me. I like to be able to clearly hear what they're saying, and be able to watch their face to help clue me in if I'm missing something. The only problem with sitting at the front of the room is that I end up with awful neck and eye strain through just trying to look at the projection.
The Edward Davies Building, home to the Aberystwyth School of Art
I have Irlen's Syndrome (also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome), which is closely linked into my dyslexia. It's a visual perception problem, and it means that very often I find it hard to read. The contrast between text and background hurts my eyes and results in the words blurring into patterns or forming together into streams. Trying to read can then make me utterly confused and give me a splitting headache.

So now I face the dilemma: do I sit at the front and find myself unable to read, or sit further back and not be able to hear? However, I do have the additional resource of a system called Blackboard, which the university runs via the network, where the lecturers put up their notes. I just have to figure out how to use it first.
Bobbie at work in the art studio

Wednesday 6 October, 2004

Yesterday was a bit odd. I got up for my lecture, cycled down to the School of Art, and discovered I didn't have a lecture. Cycled back up the very steep hill, but started getting really wheezy, and I had forgotten my inhaler. I'm such a scatterbrain, I always forget everything. I've taken to wearing my room key on a belt around my waist because otherwise I know I will go out without it.

Today was the first day in the art studio. Wednesday is life painting, though today we did drawing as a warm-up. I love life drawing. I love the study of the figure and how different poses and compositions can convey different meanings. The first couple of drawings were just quick sketches, but then we went onto some longer poses, and I managed to get some fairly good drawing done. It always feels a little bit weird the first time back in an art studio, and it can be a bit exhausting, but it's always so great to be back doing art again.
Example of Bobbie's life drawing work: a 5-minute pose
Example of Bobbie's life drawing work: a 30-minute pose
Example of Bobbie's life drawing work: a 1-hour pose

Saturday 9 October, 2004

I'm feeling pretty blue tonight. The past couple of days have been hard. I think it's the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder setting in. I didn't sleep well the past couple of nights, and that always leaves me with less energy to push myself into being mostly OK. I went to the gym for an induction last night, and then went along again this morning. It's good to be well enough to exercise again, and it always helps to lift my mood somewhat.
Bobbie's photo of her friends on their beach walk
A friend of one of my flatmates drove four of us out to a sandy beach about ten miles away. It was really beautiful there, and so calming. We walked along the beach, climbed up into the sand dunes and rolled back down. It was such a laugh, and I took so many photos. It was great to go a bit further afield than I've explored so far.

I ended up getting bummed out on the way back, though. A song started me thinking about some stuff, and it was such an overpowering feeling that I wanted to cry. But I never let myself cry anywhere that someone can see me. I hate showing weakness. I don't like to let myself admit that I am less than perfect.
Sand dunes eroded by the wind
It's the same with food and eating. I hate admitting that I need to eat, and I find it incredibly hard to eat or prepare food around other people. I don't like to show that I need or desire food. After years of the anorexic mindset, I can't shake off the feeling that I don't deserve to eat.

There is always the perfectionist side of me that says that I'm not good enough, that I have to push myself harder. But years of suffering the hell of an eating disorder has left me with the knowledge that I have to fight against it, otherwise I will fall back to the incredibly weak, ill, and obsessive girl that I was a few years ago. My mind always tries to tell me that I'm not worthy - it's my daily struggle. But I know that really I'm not perfect, and thank God! I am me, no one else ... and perfection sounds tediously dull anyway.

Sunday 10 October, 2004

I'm so exhausted today. I have spent the entire day writing an essay and trying to get various bits of work done. Essays always cause problems for me: it's hard to get started, and it's hard for me to structure sentences and paragraphs together well. Hopefully some of the software I'm getting as part of the DSA will help me with that, but as yet it hasn't shown any sign of arriving.

Overall, this week has been really draining. It's a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly jump into university life, with lectures and work and so much responsibility weighing on my shoulders.

I don't think I ever appreciated just how much my parents have supported me the last few years, and not just financially. They have always been there in the background, available to go and bail me out of tough situations, take me on car rides and dog walks when I've been too scared to go out of the house, hug me and help me through the really hard times - even when that involved a lot of shouting. They never stopped being there for me. Now they are on the other side of the country; still there, but less immediately so. I have to pull myself out of any depressive moods, grow as an adult, and find my own way in the world. I'm grateful for how much they have supported me though, and I look forward to getting to see them again come the holidays.
charcoal life sketch by Bobbie


Bobbie's third week.

Tuesday 12 October, 2004

I'm really enjoying my course here. I love getting back into doing life drawing, and the teachers here are good. They actually give you constructive criticism and feedback on how you can improve your drawing skills.

I'm a bit confused about how much work we are supposed to be doing at the moment, the papers they gave us last week said that we need to do about 90 hours self directed study per module each semester on top of lectures and studio work. But that's all I know about it, I don't know if I'm meant to be reading up on stuff or drawing or what in that time. I need to try and find out soon. Knowing me I will managed to forget about it for several days.

I'm making good friends with a group of people in my art classes. One girl in particular is very like-minded, and we have a great time discussing ideas and having a good laugh in general. We have similar tastes in music, clothes, films, and so on, and we've agreed that we need to get hold of copies of Gormenghast and Velvet Goldmine and have a film watching night sometime soon.

I now have someone else to get excited with about the anti-war album that A Perfect Circle are going to release on November 2, the American election day. I've downloaded a couple tracks from their website and it's going to be good. It's great that there is a band willing to stand up against what has gone on recently.

Wednesday 13 October, 2004

I got an email from the disability officer this morning, I've arranged to meet up with her on the 19th. Hopefully she can help me come to an understanding of how much written work is going to be required of me, and what support there is available. Maybe she will be able to help me come up with a solution to my dyslexia-related problems with taking notes in lectures. I'm going to ask her for assistance with the DSA stuff, I'm somewhat in the dark as to what is going on. I was supposed to have the laptop and equipment delivered today, but I got a phone call saying that there is a delay and they will contact me as soon as they can. It is starting to feel a bit like they are even less organised than I am!
Students admiring view over Aberystwyth
Socialising has never been my strong point. I find it incredibly hard to go up to a stranger and just start talking. If I go out I usually feel out of place, I'm not really into getting drunk every night, it's too much of a waste of money. I prefer to do something a bit quieter where I can just chat with mates over a couple drinks. That is unless I can find a decent non-mainstream place that plays my kind of music and has interesting people, then I tend to go a bit wilder, especially if I can wear fancy dress.

I only just found out yesterday where the non-mainstream places are in Aber, so I'm planning on checking some of them out over the next couple of weeks. To tell the truth I'm still a bit exhausted from being ill, and getting used to everything around me being new and exciting.

I've been putting my energy into getting into lectures and classes, and making friends with the people on my course and in my flat. I think it's far more important to work on building new friendships than going out to have a wild night and try to impress members of the opposite sex.

I don't think it is safe to go out drinking without decent mates anyway. We've only been here a couple weeks, and already there have been mentionings of girls having their drinks spiked. I think that is the biggest promotion for becoming teetotal I've ever heard.

Saturday 16 October, 2004

I've been surprising myself with how well I am coping recently in regards to my eating disorder and depression. I've managed to cut down on behaviours to a point where I can act normal around others when food is involved. I still hate people seeing me eat though. I think everything here at uni is so much more relaxed that a lot of the worries and fears fall to the back of my mind, blocked out by me focusing on getting things done.

It is still a lot of hard work for me, I look at myself in the mirror and I can only see what's bad, that there is too much of me and I need to lose weight. I fight against it though. It has been quite reassuring that no one here has made any mean comments to me. I've had a couple of little comments, and possible weird looks, but they might have been nothing.

It can be hard work to get myself going sometimes. When I'm curled up in bed the outside world seems too scary to cope with, but I have been pushing myself through. Allowing myself a margin for errors. I don't have to be perfect, I try to listen to what my body and soul are telling me. Eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired, relax when I'm exhausted and find people to talk to when I'm lonely. Over all I'm doing a lot better now than I have done in a very long time.
It occurred to me in town this morning that the things I am buying are the building blocks of my life. I have a huge guilt over spending any money on anything but there are things that I need now, things that I will keep and take with me when I have a place of my own. I am building my own home, and that thought scared me for a moment, but it is so wonderful at the same time. I am growing up, becoming Me: two things that always left me scared sh**less before.

I bought myself a little metal cafetiere and some freshly ground flavoured coffee and a new mug. Feels rather extravagant and leaves me with twinges of guilt (that's 86 tins of beans worth) ... but hey, I'm worth it!

Sunday 17 October, 2004

All in all this week has been pretty quiet. I think everyone is still in the process of settling in and readjusting to life without parents around.

A friend of mine was going to come down this weekend, but it fell through at the last minute, leaving me at a bit of a loose end.

I went out this evening with a couple of my flatmates to the union. On Sundays they run this thing called 'bar FTSE' where they have a big screen up with all the drinks listed, and then the prices go up and down depending on how many shots of a particular drink are bought.

Some bottles and shots went down to 50p each, so we all bought a load. I didn't drink very much at all, but I started feeling really sick so I came back early. I think it was more acid reflux playing up more than anything else, but it serves as a good reminder to me that I've to be careful about what I drink, as my stomach gets upset very easily.

I'm going out tomorrow night, a social for the rock-climbing society. Hopefully it will be good fun.


Bobbie's last diary week.


Monday 18 October, 2004

I even got a message from a guy at my uni, who turned out to be the person with a loudspeaker who joked about me having an eating disorder when I turned down a barbeque in the first week. It was really sweet of him to apologise. I realise he meant no offence; maybe he is just one of a growing number of people who seem to think that being vegetarian is an eating disorder in its own right. It's an interesting theory, though I don't generally agree. There are certainly some people who go a bit crazy with vegetarianism - moving onto being a vegan and then deciding to be raw foodist on top of that. I can't deny that I think there must be something up if someone is being that extreme.

Anyway, to everyone who sent me messages of support - thank you! I will try to respond to you all indiviually, but if I don't manage or forget I would like to thank you for your consideration. Sadly my memory and attention span tend to be somewhat atrocious, which means that when I want to reply to an email I start to write, get myself tangled up about what I want to say, get distracted by something totally random and then completely forget what I'm doing. Always makes for fun essay writing though. Just not always in time for the deadline, unfortunatly ...
One of Bobbie's recent drawings

Tuesday 19 October, 2004

Today in our lecture we were shown a video of a TV programme that the BBC ran in the 70's: Ways of Seeing with John Berger. It was on the way that the female nude has been depicted over the years in art, and I actually found it quite depressing. For so long in art, women were depicted as nudes - sensual and perfected - for male pleasure. Women were a thing of beauty to be looked upon; they were there to appease men and pay penance for Eve's bite of forbidden fruit.

I'm no feminist, but it made me really angry. People think that our society has moved on, but in truth the degrading of real women occurs every day. Magasines print pictures of unrealistic women whose bodies have either been digitally altered to remove any flaws, or who have tortured themselves through starvation in an attempt to achieve the desireable body. It's all such utter rubbish! Women come in all shapes and sizes, but expecting each and every one to be some twig-like waif is unreasonable and downright wrong.

I would never blame my eating disorder on the media, but the portrayal of women has certainly not helped. It encourages low self-esteem and a belief that you don't deserve good things, which rolls into the ridiculous diet culture we find ourselves faced with at every turn. Everywhere we look there are posters of skinny women and hunky men; everywhere we go there are countless diet products and 'new' advice on how to lose weight. There is no escape from it, and to the average person it is degrading and depressing. The dieting culture breeds failure by teaching you that you are not good enough as you are, meaning that you have to punish yourself into becoming acceptable. You do well for so many days, or even just hours, then you slip a little and instantly that means that you've failed. It's insanity, and our culture needs to wake up and realise this soon, before it's too late and everyone has a life-ruining eating disorder ... or has joined me in fleeing to some remote location in the middle of a forest, happily out of reach from the media and all those stupid diets!
Bobbie (left) with younger brother Sam and Ester, their dog

Thursday 21 October, 2004

My Dad, little brother Sam, and my dog Ester arrived on Wednesday afternoon. It's so great to see them; I find it really reassuring and comforting. It's strange, though: on Wednesday I woke up feeling pretty rough, and I had the strongest urge to just lie in bed all day. Play up my illness so that when my Dad arrived he would sit by me stroking my hair, nursing and nurturing me better - a frail little anorexic daughter who needs constant care and attention. It made me realise just how much I have to take care of myself now. I have to nurture and take care of myself.

I will never forget the sadness in my Dad's eyes when he told me how he used to really look forward to Morgan (my older brother who died at the age of 16) being at university, and then coming back for the holidays and the two of them walking to the pub and sharing stories over a pint. But he can't have that dream with Morgan, and it feels like the hopes of a child at uni that were once pinned on my older brother have to be taken up by me. I want to do that for my parents. I have to manage this. I have to pull myself through. I have to be strong. I want so much to make my parents proud, not out of any pressure they might put on me, but because I love them and they deserve to see their child succeed.

I let my Dad take me out to a resturant last night. First time in so many years, and I didn't take the safe option of salad. I had sweet and sour vegtables and rice, and cleared my plate. We laughed and talked, and I had a good time. I refused to worry about calories, because I want to show my Dad that I'm going to be OK. I will make him proud.

Friday 22 October, 2004

Well, my DSA package has finally arrived! Laptop, software, voice recorder, the works. I'm not allowed to open the boxes, though; apparently I get into really big trouble if I do that. My dyslexia advisor told me that the university computer department will set it up for me properly, and send the bill to my LEA. However, one of the people whom I spoke to this week told me that the company won't allow that. So it's looking like I might have to wait another week or two until it's all set up. Incredibly useful, considering I have a big essay to write by next Friday!
Bobbie with her younger brother, Sam
My little brother appears to have lost weight. I know I tend to be oversensitive to these things, but I can't help but worry about it. I know he has a good head on his shoulders, but I also know that he has low self-esteem and a lot of guilt, two traits that are common in people with eating disorders. I worry that my years of anorexia have affected him more than he lets on. He's a sensitive guy, and take things really deeply.

I guess I worry more because I know that despite what common knowledge says, guys do get eating disorders. However, they seem to get a worse time of it, because if they ever build up the courage to tell someone, they get laughed at and told that men don't get affected by eating disorders. Not true, and how many guys would feel comfortable talking to thier mates about something so sensitive anyway? Precious few, it seems.

The mental health system in this country is rather appalling. I've known eating disordered friends who I've met online who have been down to five stone and been refused help by their doctors. To an eating disordered person (of whatever weight or severity) being refused help or being told that they don't have a problem is very damaging. It's like laughing in their face - giving them proof that they are not 'good enough', that they are not ill enough to deserve treatment. It's almost a direct challenge telling them to try harder, to lose more weight and therefore prove that they're really ill.
Bobbie in 2002

Saturday 23 October, 2004

I'm really impressed with myself at how far I have moved on in my life within such a short space of time. I spent so much of last year in a totally unshakeable depression, severely agoraphobic and unable to leave the house. All I could manage to do was worry, obsess, exercise, sleep, eat, and spend insane amonts of time staring blankly at a computer screen. I relapsed badly into my eating disorder and depression, and it took a lot of hard work to pull myself up again. But I couldn't have done it without the support and 'tough love' of my family, my therapist, and my close friends online.

I think my parents were close to despair when I dropped out of my course at KIAD (Kent Institute of Art & Design in January. But in many ways that spurred me on, made me push myself into applying again, and working really hard at getting into a good university. In the past years I've been through hell to get to where I am today, and it has made me determined that I will not fade away into the background. I will make my voice heard. I will live my dreams and make them reality.
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