Today was the day I drove down to Sheffield with some extra things for Ben and an opportunity to touch base with him. It began with a pretty depressed Ben meeting me in the student residences car park. I dropped off the stuff and we walked down to the cosy cafe in the Botanical Gardens, which is the cafe we sat in last year (if you've read Please eat... it's the cafe where he broke down in tears about hating being at uni - and so did I...)
"OK, talk to me..." I said, and waited.
Over the next hour he told me all the negative things, how he was finding it punishingly hard and so on and so forth. Meanwhile I took on board all the experience from last year, the wonderful advice I've received from followers of my blog and my Facebook page plus the wisdom that comes with age, and spent the next few hours - as we walked into the city centre, bought lunch and sat outside listening to a busker playing chilled jazz music in the sunshine - turning negatives into positives, encouraging him, picking up on all the positive things he has done and the moves he has made, and so on and so forth.
By the time I left him, back at the student residences, at 2.15, he was in a much more positive mood, making plans for the next few days and beyond.
And of course I made sure he knew how proud I was of him. I told him I understood that it's bloody tough, I really do. And I am enormously proud of all the things he HAS done rather than choosing to stay in his room, which he could so easily have done, but hasn't.
He has talked to his flatmates (OK, not extensively and he still reckons he doesn't have much in common with them, but "they're nice"). On a similar subject I said that, as with school or in a job, the very fact that you are in the same place doing much the same thing gives you common ground in itself - and something to talk about.
"And every new face you meet becomes a face you can smile and say 'hi' to next time you see them. Before long you'll be seeing people you know everywhere you go, people who will ask you to join them at the table for coffee in the student union - or who you will invite to join your table, etc etc."
He has been to see his friend W, who used to be at his school. W texted him while I was there to ask Ben to help him fix his computer. Ben is going down to W's residences tomorrow, to a free shop where they unload all the stuff last year's 3rd years didn't want to take home, and then he plans to invite W round to lunch. They have plans to play badminton together - yesterday they both went to find the uni sports centre to see what was on offer.
He met up with a couple of girls who seemed nice, after registering for his course yesterday. They all happened to be in the Sainsbury's round the corner afterwards and the three of them got chatting. The bad news is that they all arranged to meet at the jazz night last night. Ben went, but they didn't. Of course he took this badly; as if they'd stood him up and didn't like him. I said there are umpteen reasons why they didn't turn up, but that almost certainly wasn't one of them, especially as they'd all had coffee, too, yesterday.
Anyway, the good news is that he actually went to the jazz night, which I wasn't at all sure he would do, and he stayed till the end. He sat with some postgraduate students who seemed quite nice. But he was devastated the girls didn't turn up.
He pointed out how "everyone" was walking around in groups "as if they already know each other". I said that, if he looked more closely, he would see that "everyone" wasn't. For every group of students walking the 30-minute walk between the uni and the residences, there were several who were on their own. And some didn't look too happy. "And there are probably tons of others, shut away in their rooms, feeling pretty cr@p," I said. "You are not alone, and, anyway, girls tend to go around together more easily when they just meet; it's what girls do", because the groups were mainly girls.
We went through his plans for the next few days, which are good, starting with the Wargaming Society meeting tonight which, fingers crossed, will open a lot of doors friendship-wise.
And then he's planning to come home on Friday night after the History Soc social, returning on Sunday night or Monday morning for the first week of lectures.
I drove back down the motorway feeling pretty exhausted but as if I'd done a really good day's work!
But much of what I said today really is thanks to all the great advice I've had from my virtual friends over the past few days. I just felt as if I was saying all the right things and I also felt as if it was being taken on board.
We were talking about the uni counselling services, the mentors, etc and he said that the only advice he truly ever felt comfortable with and took on board was our advice. So I said that, if this was the case, then I wanted to know that any advice I was giving him was being taken on board and acted on, "because you know that the advice I am giving you is good advice".
We talked about us being a team, like we were as he recovered from his eating disorder. "I am here whenever you need me," I said. "But I won't call you; you call me. I will take a back seat unless you need me, but if ever you do, I am here, and I am willing to drive down for a chat whenever you need to unload."
He said how grateful he was for me coming down and how much better he felt after our talk.
I gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him. "This transition to university is bloody hard, but not as hard as conquering the eating disorder which was the hardest thing you have ever done or ever will do. And you did that. So you can do this. You and I are two pretty strong people, you know, and a damn good team."
And in answer to his confusion as to whether to study for a PhD or not, I said: "Hang on a minute... That's 3, 4 or 5 years away! Let's focus on the next few days and weeks first!"