On the difficulty of change

This blog entry is in English as it is written on the eve of our first ever English-speaking peer support event (read more about it here). It’s also my first blog entry here, thanks for having me.
I am happy that our English-speaking event is taking place as I believe there is a demand for it, and I am excited to see how many people will turn up on the 8th of October.
On the other hand I wish for big attendance and immediately catch myself thinking oh no, I really shouldn’t wish for that! It means those coming along struggle with an illness so darn difficult to beat and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I wanted this event to happen, because I remember 12 years ago embarking upon a super-life-changing-and-awesome-but-still-really-scary journey. I left my mum and dad and moved to a country I’d never even visited, to study at University. Went to live in a place where the accent was hard to understand and the student housing left a lot to be desired. At that point I’d been working on my own recovery for a couple of years and I bet my parents were worried to their core. Will she find anything to eat in that strange and foreign land? Will she want to eat? She’ll be cold, it’s so cold there! Will she make any friends?

As it turns out, I fared well. I met all the people and did all the things I wanted to do in Finland but never dared. I blossomed from an introvert too shy to speak to anyone to someone with actual social skills. I tasted the world and all it had to offer me, and it was the best ten years of my life.
Obviously, memories are golden and it is easy to forget the hard parts. I had some, which I sought support for locally. I thank the peer support group at my University for, well, peer support. At the start it was really difficult to phone my parents, divided from me by a rather large ocean, unable to help. So I pretended it was all rosy and great. But – a top tip for anyone living apart from their loved ones – they know. These are the people who’ve seen you crawl then walk then smoke cigarettes in secret, and if something is up they can sense it through the telephone. Do not let your mother worry, tell them what’s up! After I started doing that life became so much easier.
On the whole, a change of scenery did me a lot of good, but it can do the opposite. The uncertainty of coping with a new culture, a new set of behaviours, strange language, strange food, strange weather can lead people to search support and manage their anxiety through many things, eating or not eating being one of them. In a new country one may also be struggling to make connections and have someone to talk to, let alone about their problems. And don’t get me started on the language barrier…
The main reason Etelän-SYLI is holding the event on the 8th is that there seems to be nothing else similar available, unless you are comfortable in the Finnish language. Foreign students accounted for 30 000 completed degrees in Finland in 2013 and in the same year almost 32 000  new immigrants settled here (Tilastokeskus.fi). There are a lot of people here adjusting to change, coping in their own ways, and I hope we can give a few of them a space to feel safe in, to feel welcomed, not judged, and to be understood. It’s what I felt and what became important to me on my own journeys abroad, coping with the biggest change and challenge – getting rid of my eating disorder.
by Pihla Lennie, Etelän-SYLI committee member and English-speaking event co-facilitator