WARNING: Oxford can seriously harm your health
Now in my second year here, I am currently suffering with a type of Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder called pure obsessional, or pure ‘O’. Pure ‘O’ involves the same intrusive thoughts or mental rituals, but there are no outward behavioural routines. Suffering with pure ‘O’, as opposed to the form of OCD with behavioural compulsions, has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you can’t tell I have OCD to look at me, and so I am no longer self-conscious. However, it also means that it is much harder for people to understand my OCD, and to convince people that I really do have a condition and am not just seeking attention. My OCD becomes particularly bad when I am feeling stressed or anxious, and consequently my mum was really concerned about the impact on my health of coming to Oxford. While here I have found it difficult coping: when I’m suffering the obsessions kind of ‘cloud’ my mind and I find it really difficult to concentrate on anything else. I find exams particularly difficult because I panic at the large numbers of people and my OCD can go into overload and I really struggle to focus on what I am doing. Sometimes juggling a hectic social life, extra-curricular activities, my degree and OCD can leave me drained and vulnerable to depression. My friends at Oxford have been really good, but I wish there were a university support group I could join. However, while OCD- like an unwelcome relative- often manifests itself at the least opportune times, I have been determined never to let it affect me achieving my goals and I hope that it never does. Roland Singer-Kingsmith has an epiphany at the gymI have always defended my Aristotelian belief that the body is only the medium through which the soul travels and that it is the ignorant man who regards the physical body as the Self. An opinion hardly conducive to three sets of twenty reps of bicep curls. I’m also heartily opposed to running without destination, floor to ceiling vanity mirrors, ball-shrinking muscles on display and the anorexic girl at the front desk. Control is, I believe, the linking factor between my unhealthy eating and Oxford. Whilst vanity is certainly a part of my fear around gaining weight, the slim culture of Oxford has not peer-pressured me into my current eating habits. One of my sharper-tongued friends remarked ‘people in Oxford are motivated and fat people are lazy.’ In an environment where one is no longer the best academically, as at school, able to last longest in the library or constantly keep ahead of work, eating is a means of control, body-image is a supplement for one’s academic pressures and insecurities.Obesity is prevalent in a lower socio-economic stratum than the one most people at Oxford come from, so fat is an immediate marker of difference from others in Oxford which signifies that, maybe, you don’t really belong here. If you can control your food you are seemingly managing your life and therefore have the idealised ‘driven’ mentality that is integral to success.For me, skipping a meal makes up for a shoddy essay. Whilst Oxford is not the cause of my issues with food, it has been an environment which has fostered their development by means of its academically competitive hierarchy and constant pressures. Cerys Oakes on dealing with OCD at OxfordI have suffered with OCD since I was ten years old, when I developed complex, lengthy hand-washing routines. These rituals were designed to prevent any germs from ‘infecting’ those around me – something I believed was a very real danger. My OCD changes form every two years or so, and I spent my teenage years suffering with one form or another of the condition. During my A-levels I suffered with Tourette’s Syndrome, which is related to OCD and is characterised by repeated movements or sounds, or ‘tics’; in my case the compulsion to blink repeatedly and trouble with swallowing and breathing. This made it difficult for me to read and affected my studies. My friends had noticed and were supportive, but the condition can be difficult for non-sufferers to understand. So last week, for the first time in my life, I joined the LA Fitness just around the corner from Pembroke. To those artistes who think that breaking a sweat doing anything other than making (Romantic) love à la Byron is utterly vulgar, I’d like to say, I am with you all the way. Theoretically. In practice a Gap year, foreign cigarettes and Sainsbury’s basics have ravaged my body. By contrast, the majority of my fellow Pembrokians are healthier than is decent and leave the average student looking like Jabba the Hut.I wasn’t peer pressured into signing up to my idea of hell per se, but it’s true that, of my five closest Oxford friends, all are avid anti-smokers, two are blues players, two Pembroke rowers and one has the biggest guns in college. Compare this with my five closest friends back home in Brighton who would only be found near a gym if the pub they were in didn’t have a smoking area and the bus stop across the road just happened to be outside an Esporta.On my first trip I noticed that, despite housing the fittest of both sexes and having more hormones buzzing than calories being burned, the gyme is a castratingly sterile place. What I thought of as an ideal location for coquetry turns out to be a completely un-social environment. It is probably the only venue in town where legions of panting women, bobbing up and down, are not chatted up by a similar number of heaving, hulking blokes. Everybody is just too busy looking at themselves.However the undeniable truth is that, behind the Narcissistic self-consciousness, the gym’s clientele are doing themselves a huge amount of good. The good for me personally is twofold: my curse that I believe I could always do better means I exercise efficiently, and I am addicted to the feeling afterwards. I am no scientist of endorphins but man it’s good shit. And it makes me as productive after lunch and into the evening as I am in the morning. In fact, I’ve started to think that I may not write as good an essay, or concentrate as well in a tutorial, or be so convivial at dinner if I haven’t been to the gym.Take this Damascene moment on the treadmill: I had been running at increased gradient at about 6km/hr for about 15mins (it’s not that geeky, I just remember the machine display). Up on the big screens in front of me was Sky sports, Eastenders and Ferry Corsten’s new track, none of which was particularly inspirational. I looked down to see that I only had five minutes more to go and realised that the day before I had been really struggling at this point. I was then overcome by this sudden swell, not of energy but (brace yourselves) of passion.It was an incredible sensation. I felt an unexpected surge; the same accelerated heartbeat I get from hearing Henry V’s ‘band of brothers’ speech, the same prick behind the eyes I get every time I re-read the ‘Kite Runner’. But this was just 15 minutes on a treadmill. Talk about a quick fix.That was when it all made sense; I understood why so many people at Oxford go to those places and why they go so often. It’s about receiving physical reward for mental determination. I had experienced my first gym high, soul and body momentarily united. I’ll only have to push that little bit harder for my next one. Health Survey by Caroline Crampton Last term, Cherwell reported the results of a study into eating disorders amongst Oxford students, and quite frankly, the results were very concerning. 30 per cent of students admitted to having an eating disorder at some point during their time at university, and worse, 40 per cent of sufferers said that life at Oxford had definitely been a contributing factor to their illness. We decided to take this statistic further, and conduct an investigation into the overall impact of an Oxford lifestyle on our health. The findings were staggering in every possible way: we drink too much, smoke too much and take drugs far more than is advisable. We don’t exercise, don’t eat fruit and consider regular, wholesome meals a hindrance to our hectic schedules, rather than an essential part of life. But much more importantly, most of us do all of this in the full knowledge that it is unhealthy – for example, over 50 per cent of participants in the survey said that they were aware of the government guidelines for alcohol consumption, but choose to drink far more than is recommended anyway.It is crucial to note this; we can wring our hands as much as we like, but there is no getting away from the fact that excess is fun, and to take these results too seriously is to completely misunderstand the way in which Oxford functions. To deplore our actions as misguided or misinformed is patronising and condescending – generally, university welfare provision is more than adequate, and students are kept fully informed of the consequences of their actions. Obviously, eating disorders and similar are no laughing matter, but the fundamental truth for the majority of students is that eating and drinking too much is enjoyable, and sleep deprivation is the natural consequence of trying to do an Oxford degree and have a social life at the same time. While these statistics do throw up some worrying (if unsurprising) trends, I believe that it is our attitude to them that is more interesting. As long as we still consider that we have a choice as to how we conduct our lives, there can be no culprit for our health issues other than our own actions. It is only when academic pressure or adverse circumstances beyond our control start to intrude as causes that there is real cause for concern – the rest of the time I implore you to keep a level head, laugh at our general idiocy and appreciate the brightly coloured graphs. What this issue needs, and in fact Oxford itself needs more than anything when looking at itself, is a sense of humour. WEIGHT LOSS: One student feels that the pressure of Oxford drives him to shed weightBeing a boy in a single-sex school, my weight problems were a solitary struggle. Mentioning the word ‘diet’ (even in reference to Coke) raised, at best, an ‘aren’t you kooky’ smirk. By Upper Sixth, I lost my 16lbs of excess weight in the run up to my A-Levels. Now, surely, the daily use of the scales, unconscious calorie-counting and binge/starvation rituals could stop. Then I came to Oxford. I fitted into this army of bean-poles, which I would not have done one year previously. With this sort of pressure, I had to make sure I maintained my weight. Hearing that students either gain or lose five pounds in their first term, I was determined to be in the latter camp. I reverted to the techniques of my adolescence, eating only one large meal a day in Hall. The social life and hectic work schedule I built around myself in my first year meant that the smoking habit I had when I first came up became a 20-a-day habit which helped to suppress hunger. All-nighters worked my body even harder on less calories and I dropped almost a stone, putting my BMI at the lower end of normal weight.Living out this year has put me firmly into the underweight category, I see cooking as a distraction that will help with nothing but making me fat. On average I eat about 800-1000 calories a day, significantly below my recommended 2500. My normal pattern includes waking up, drinking Diet Coke to make my stomach feel full, smoking at lunchtime, then waiting until 6 or 7pm before eating a smallish meal. My friends have expressed concern about my weight loss and intellectually I can understand. But emotionally I don’t care. Eating any more will make me fat, unattractive and incapable. Right now, I have only eaten a quarter of an aubergine in the past 24 hours – a good day. Tomorrow, I have promised to meet a friend for lunch and am cooking with one of my housemates: that’s two meals so I will have to compensate for them in the coming week. I must stress I am not an anorexic; I still enjoy eating food and am not trying to lose any more weight. In reality, food is a threatening presence in my life which has to be carefully accounted for and managed so that I do not let my weight get out of control.