Wednesday 19 September 2012

So here's what really happened...

Things got progressively worse and by Monday evening Ben was sobbing down the phone to me, in pieces. I'd spent the day organising various counselling and mentoring people to see him, but by the evening he was in a terrible state. So the next morning saw me meeting him over coffee in a cafe near the university...

I went armed with a Plan A and Plan B. Plan A was how to remain in Sheffield and hopefully ease himself into things. Plan B was what would happen if the situation was non-salvageable. Both hastily put together by me before I drove down there.

Poor old Ben looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He felt way, way out of his depth and simply couldn't cope. He was in floods of tears and I ended up battling back my own tears as we sat opposite each other over our coffees.

I kept calming him down, telling him that this was a "meeting", like our Contract meetings i.e. on neutral ground where we can say anything and, indeed, must say anything - everything in this instance. Nothing held back.

The upshot was that he had thought he was ready to go away to uni - and I know he was mega excited and positive about the prospect - it was a major focus, something to look forward to and aim for - the chance to start afresh. Boy, was he looking forward to it!!

But when push came to shove, as they say, the reality hit him: he wasn't ready. Far from it. On so many accounts, too numerous to go into here but which included maturity, social skills, aversion to the student booze / partying culture, isolation, less than ideal flat mates (all male, 5 in total including him and 2 foreign students), cell-like room, feeling suicidal and the fact that he had to store a lot of food in his room due to a small kitchen - bad news for someone with ED inclinations... Not to mention flat mates quizzing him about his eating habits (eating lots and regularly, and cooking)... and eating alone in his room when he still feels anxious if he's not eating with us... and horrendous homesickness... and so on, and so forth... and so on, and so forth... He just wasn't ready for uni. The trouble is, none of us realised it until too late.

Had he not had the eating disorder background plus all the co-morbid complications that went with it i.e. clinical depression and past suicidal tendencies, then I would have insisted we work on keeping him at uni - maybe changing accommodation, and definitely reining in all the various support services to help.

But - with the double whammy of Ben's unhappiness & ED history and uni fees of £9,000 pa - it simply wasn't worth persuading him to give it a go. If he found he couldn't cope later in the term, for instance, we'd be financially liable for quite a big sum of money...

However Ben is still very keen to go to uni, and still keen to be in Sheffield, but now isn't the right time.

"Okay," I said, deciding I was flogging a dead horse as regards Plan A, "If you leave then you leave with conditions. Firstly you agree to further therapy to ensure you are ready to try again in 12 months' time. What I don't want is for you to run away and bury your head in the sand about the issues that still need dealing with. Secondly you get a job. If you can't get paid work, then you get voluntary work. Thirdly, we work on helping you to become more independent and less reliant on us. Fourthly, we go and see various university support services now. We need to tell them what's going on and we need to talk about the possibility of leaving your place open for 12 months. They might have some options we haven't thought of."

He readily agreed. Enthusiastically, I am pleased to say.

So we began the rounds, starting with the accommodation mentors and ending with student services. I was amazed at the speed with which everyone saw us; no need to wait, and everyone was incredibly supportive and awesomely helpful. And, yes, they did have options we hadn't thought of which will hopefully make it easier for him next year.

Because Ben had already registered at the university, they will be keeping his place open. He has been given a Leave of Absence on medical grounds. He is officially a student of the university, but is just taking a year off sick (for want of a better way to describe it). A year, initially. Hopefully only a year...

Next September he will commute from here to Sheffield to begin with, until he settles in sufficiently to move into accommodation. There isn't a great deal of contact time on his course, so it wouldn't be too bad. It is workable. The  uni says they can even tweak his timetable to take into account the commuting. And these days stacks of information and study materials are available on the uni intranet from any location.

We'll find a different kind of accommodation, something more suited to him, maybe in a shared house or whatever rather than the artificial environment of halls of residence. I don't know, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile he would hopefully ease himself into things socially by joining carefully selected societies e.g. debating and his model making / war games society.

And student services said they could draw up a special support package for him to ease him into uni next year - physically walking him round all the various support services and introducing him to them, etc, as well as meeting his course tutors.

Today we saw the course admissions lady and completed all the various paperwork required. And moved the rest of his stuff out of his room (all that squirrelling away of stuff over the summer, hey...)

Meanwhile I've been in touch with CAMHS because we need a letter from them to support the Leave of Absence and also to talk through options in Adult Mental Health Services as regards dealing with Ben's other issues. One of our CAMHS team is calling me back tomorrow. Watch this space...

If NHS help isn't available, then we'll go private.

But, with a term's accommodation rent to pay (ouch!) because we're tied into a contract, I'd rather we go via the NHS.

A busy and stressful couple of days with lots of thinking on my feet.

But Ben is wholeheartedly behind me in Plan B.

Oh, and I said to him: "Well done for having the courage to admit things weren't going right and you aren't as OK as we would all have liked to think you are. That takes courage. Well done." Far better than just festering without telling anyone and getting more and more miserable until things get even worse.


  1. I just wanted to say thank you for writing your blog. I'm in the process of applying for uni and one; it's so reassuring to know I'm not the only one with the similar issues to Ben, going through similar things and two; it's helpful to read about how you are both dealing with it all (brilliantly, by the sounds of it). I've had two years since I left school, putting off uni because I didn't feel ready or able so I feel like I've got to take my chance this time or I'll never do it. I just need to get myself in the 'right place' with the right support. I admire your forward thinking and can-do attitude and it reminds me to keep aiming to have the same. Kirstie. x

  2. I'm the girl who posted the "essay" on your last post, and just dropped by again to say, wow, I'm so impressed - first of all, with Ben, for owning up to all this so quickly, and agreeing to your plan; second with you, for doing such an AMAZING job and doing the absolute best for Ben; and finally, with the university, which sounds like it couldn't have been more helpful. I really hope Ben can take the next year to grow in maturity and independence and head back raring to go. A job will help so much, I think - even something "easy" for him to do will help with a sense of responsibility and interacting with strangers. Also, I really would consider a share house when he goes back - I did that from my second year onwards, and it was SO much better than uni housing.

    All the best, and good for you for doing so well in what must have been an awful situation. You sound like an amazing mum!

  3. Thank you both - I love getting your feedback, I really do. And "Essay" Anon: I forgot to say in my blog that the first thing I did in that cafe the other day was to read out your "essay" to Ben. I was so impressed with it... xxxxxx

    PS Shared house = good.

  4. It was certainly worth a try. hope everything goes well for Ben. I have been trying to catch up with developments and have probably been a little out of the loop. Hope you are well xxx