Written by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer. Follow more of her story on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.
“What does your life look like with an eating disorder? Now, what would your life look like without it?”
I was completing an outpatient program when my therapist asked me this question. I sat there, staring at the ground, hoping I could find a response embedded in the carpet. She asked me to give it some thought as homework. She said I could write about it, photograph it, draw it. The only requirement was that it needed to express how the disorder was impacting my life and what my life would be like without it. I left her office that day trying to figure out how I was going to explain my feelings.
I got home and started typing. I thought that maybe I could write about it but struggled to find the right words. Nothing seemed to truly express what I was thinking or feeling, so I decided to take a different approach. I started to draw. I remember drawing one thing, then another, and another. It felt like I was completing a puzzle with each image. It made sense. As I drew, I felt safe and comforted in a way that words did not allow me to. I remember feeling like I understood. I finally understood how cruel the disorder was.
“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a really hard time expressing my emotions. Crying, anger, frustration. Basically all of the uncomfortable ones. I could never verbally express how I was feeling. I didn’t know how to say I was feeling sad, or mad. I think I was afraid to. I knew in my head that I was feeling a certain way, but it ended there. I couldn’t find the right words. I would suppress my emotions by engaging with the disorder. Feeling frustrated? Upset? Anxious? The disorder provided me with a false sense of comfort. I would release my emotions in unhealthy ways. I never realized just how harmful it was until I started drawing and expressing how I was feeling in a safe way, rather than allow the disorder to suppress and hurt. Art has allowed me to feel something that the eating disorder could never: happiness.
Through painting, scribbling, doodling, I have been able to express myself. I have been able to communicate my emotions, not only with others but with myself. For me, art is freeing. Art is not suppressing like the disorder was. The act of creating has allowed me to visually see my emotions. Sometimes the page is full of scribbles, or sometimes it has flowers and mountains, but using art as a form of expression has provided me with a safe and secure outlet to better understand myself and my emotions. Art allows me to communicate in a way in which I can’t with words. Art is safe, I am safe.
Throughout my recovery journey, I have been learning more and more every day just how important it is for me to create. When I was engaging with the disorder, I lost touch with my creative side. Art allows me to connect and understand myself in ways the disorder never did. I am happy, content, and calm when I am drawing. Even if at the start of a drawing I feel anxious, I feel myself relax with each brush stroke. It has become a form of meditation for me. A form of self-care. I look forward to doodling. I look forward to a blank page.
Using art to express myself has taught me that there is no wrong way to create. Creativity is meant to have imperfections, it is meant to be messy. Sometimes, it is meant to be scribbles and circles, with bold colours, or maybe just quiet lines. Deep blues or bright yellows. Visually seeing my emotions, through colours and objects, helps me accept them as they are. I’m working on not judging my thoughts, I’m practicing allowing myself to create freely and with this has come a better understanding of myself.
There are so many wonderful ways we can express ourselves. Drawing, dancing, moving, yoga, creating, writing, singing, journaling, poetry, photography, acting, being in nature, decorating, clothing, and the list goes on! Expressing yourself in a way in which allows you to connect with yourself is so important. It is another form of communication with others, but also with yourself. I find that through expressing myself with art, I’m learning more and more about myself. If one form of self-expression doesn’t resonate with you, it is more than okay to try again. Maybe it’ll take some time to find a way to express yourself, or maybe you already know how to. Either way, you deserve to find an activity or form of self-expression that has meaning and impact. You deserve to be happy.