Turning eating disorder thoughts into visual works of art

Eating disorders (ED) are one of the deadliest mental illnesses that continue to be severely underestimated and under resourced. Too often, people living with an eating disorder continue to be brushed aside. Since my discharge from The Geelong Clinic in 2019, I’ve struggled to find my way along an unfamiliar path towards the brighter and more peaceful life I yearned for in recovery.  The journey has been full of ups and downs and many challenges. Thankfully, re-admission for further inpatient care hasn’t been required as part of my journey. I wonder why I have been one of the few lucky patients not to require re-admission?

While staying at the clinic, art was a weekly class that failed to inspire me. I felt like a high school girl, wanting to skip class. I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body. Drawing is not my thing, and my painting ability is zero. My skill level is of a young untrained child at best, with no creative eye or ability. Throughout my six-week admission, I observed many other people with EDs arriving at and departing the clinic. I sat through art classes which made me want to snooze. “What does she want to represent through art this time?” Such tasks presented me with a significant struggle every week, my head drawing blanks as I drew lines on a page.  Glancing around at others in my class, producing sophisticated art pieces, the envy I felt was immense.  Surrounded by artistic talent, I found myself questioning, why can’t I draw like that?

Fast forward to several months after my discharge, still with little artistic ability in terms of drawing or painting, a gift uncovered my niche. My passion was not for drawing or painting, but for developing skills in the art of photography. Over the next 12 months, my skills advanced at an impressive rate.  I became absorbed in the art of photography and have not looked back.

Two years have passed since my six-week admission to the ED clinic. Some things changed. I’ve become more outgoing. I’ve written blogs for other people’s websites; I’ve created my own website and my first major pictorial project is approaching its final stages. BUT, I’m not done yet. The highly driven and stubborn part of my persona, which was instrumental in encouraging my destructive ED, is now very much a part of the positive person I am today.  Such traits continue to define who I am, but in a self-affirming rather than self-harming way.  Now, they are driving me to experiment and envisage the constructive things I can do with my creative outlet, photography.   

How can you help?

The old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” is true and I invite your creative flair to help bring my next idea to life. Let’s call it a team effort. The aim is to  visually reveal the hidden voice that dominates the mind of someone with an ED. 

I envisage a resource in which common ED thoughts are presented visually as pieces of art that can be examined and better understood. I envisage pictures that will enable everyone to experience the ploys and manipulation that are experienced daily in the life and mind of a person living with an ED.  This resource will be useful for others (carers, nurses, doctors, friends) to gain a greater understanding of what’s driving ED thoughts and behaviours.

The thought of producing this resource alone is daunting. People with an ED may have many things in common due to the illness’ thoughts and behaviours; however, many differences define us. One difference is creative expression. Many people with an ED have a creative talent highly worthy of sharing. 

Bring your artistic talents on board

I will be thrilled to have you and your unique talents on board.  If you have any of the following skill sets (whether your ED allows you to acknowledge it or not) I will be excited to hear from you:

  • Photographic skills 
  • Drawing
  • Ability to express your innermost thoughts and feelings through painting
  • A gift for composing poetry
  • Artistic ability using digital design and technology
  • Or any other art form that has become your passion

The visual resource that I envisage will have the aim of raising awareness, and helping others understand how they can help people with EDs in return.

Make your ED experience count

Depending on what stage you are at in your ED recovery,  you may not feel ready to publicly share your name. Therefore, rest assured that anonymity is guaranteed when requested.  Also,  remember that an ED thrives on secrecy; the illness hates the thought of being exposed. Simply by participating in this project, your ED may scream in protest.  As a participant, you will be displaying the actions of a battler wanting to win. I invite you to reach out today and  join others who have already committed to this project; let’s create something amazing.

To find out how to contribute to and participate in this illustrative and creative project, write to pichealer@outlook.com.  

About Sam Tench

I’ve been guilty of deceiving people around me since childhood. Nobody could really know me because I didn’t let them get close enough. My eating disorder (ED) had reduced my personality, ambitions, self-confidence and life to nothing, and I believed I had nothing to offer. Like a child being punished, I sat in a dark, secluded corner for years.  Time wasted, never to get back.    

Fast forward to 2019, I surrendered to intervention for my ED.  After my discharge from a six-week inpatient program, the gift of a camera helped my fledgling self-belief to rapidly transform from a mere existence to fully embracing life. Through a camera lens, I began to see the world for the first time. These days, my ED struggles to penetrate my thoughts; I’m too preoccupied with my newfound zest for seeing life and speaking my truths.  My camera is my constant companion; if I’m not shooting, I’m learning or writing for my website. Throughout this time of finding my voice, I’ve contributed to other websites, developed my own website, The Picture Healer, and am currently completing an exciting project, to be revealed soon.  This new artistic endeavour will be just one of many in the future.

I also am a mother of two young girls. I’m determined to show them there is an alternative path; my ED journey doesn’t have to be their journey. Nor does it have to be yours.  You can see my journey of learning to take pictures and read my work at www.thepicturehealer.com  

All articles by Sam Tench

Leave a Reply