During teenage life, I got a bit lost. As we all do now and again. But as far as my identity goes, I was totally clueless to the person I was or should be. So I drifted through school, following my best friend, the only person in the school I felt safe with. I completed a degree I wasn’t keen on taking up as a career, but it seemed like the easy option at the time. It was during my three-year studies that I developed Anorexia badly to begin with, and began my therapy with NAViGO. In some ways, Anorexia, because it loved rules and discipline, helped me with my studies. I was mentally exhausted but somehow I came out the other end with a First Class Honours. Although acting wasn’t for me, I found my way through the course naturally gravitating towards the bits I held an interest in. Like designing scenery for the stage, writing scripts etc. I’ve always drawn, but lost interest in drawing when I grew up in school seeing that most people didn’t. That maybe it just made me weird. I felt like I should have been focusing on knowing how to be popular and accepted. How to be confident. So I neglected drawing for quite a long time and instead wished my shy, awkward, creative self away.
Until I got ill. I became reunited with my drawing in-between therapy and during my hospital admissions. When my thoughts were beating me up about losing my most trustworthy friend, Anorexia, I’d open my pencil case and colour away. It’s like I became in touch with my true, younger self when I let myself fight to recover. Even when I just had a tiny window in my head open to anything but my Eating Disorder. I was fascinated in drawing people – I guess it was my way of connecting with people by drawing them, when social anxiety wouldn’t let me talk to them. Also, by doing something I was always praised for when I was younger, I started to prove to myself that I was valuable in some way, that I did have something to offer the world. That I didn’t just need to survive as one of Anorexia’s victims. That maybe I had something that I could do.
It wasn’t the ideal me I envisioned when I was 13, but it was something I recognised I could give to others, as well as do it for myself. In that way, drawing has been there for me during my darkest times.
This was a friend’s baby I started drawing a couple of days after I took a Paracetamol overdose on the ward at Harrison House. I knew I needed to cling onto something, and if it could no longer be my eating disorder, and the overdose didn’t work, digging deep into who I really was, started to set me free a little bit. And this was another drawing I did of Mary Berry, in the early hours of the morning when I was struggling with my thoughts whilst I was on the ward.
Of course, the free and almost content feeling that came from drawing didn’t last. That’s because I’m still very new to learning how to regulate my emotions without turning to binging and purging, starving myself, or self-harming. But I am learning to embrace who I really am, more and more. Because doing these creative things I realise gives me some respite from the overwhelming bits of life. And even though it may not always be what everyone else is doing, that’s okay. And when I realise that, I feel free.
Being in recovery from my Eating Disorder has also opened up another couple of things in my life. I began singing at open mic nights, getting some local gigs and writing my songs. Because it was something I’d always wanted to do but confidence had held me back from what I thought would be making a fool of myself. I remember the first time I performed publicly with my guitar, I just kept thinking to myself that nothing can scare me as much as the abuse from my Eating Disorder. And so, suffering from mental illness has made me feel stronger and braver in certain situations. I even started becoming okay with the fact that I won’t always be the best at what I do, but if I enjoy it then that’s what counts. I won’t always get it right all the time, but I’d rather get it wrong a few times without even trying at all.
Another of my aspirations for the future is to finish writing and illustrating my book. It narrates a mental health recovery journey, with a fictional twist, which I hope will engage people who won’t necessarily be that interested in mental health. But I also hope it will be a recovery tool for lots of people suffering. I began my book five years ago, and have continued with it during my well periods in-between neglecting it for long periods of being unwell. I am probably more passionate about achieving this than anything else in my life. To see it there on the bookshelf in Waterstones would be a dream come true. And genuinely, I believe it can happen. Not because I think I’m extraordinary in any way, but because I want it so much that I will make it happen.
Just like any of you can with your big or small goals in life.
(continued in tomorrow’s post with Lesson 4…)