Sketching wasn’t just a way to cope while I was doing inpatient treatment — it helped me see the beauty I’d forgotten in the world.
For the first (and thankfully only) Christmas I spent in residential treatment for my eating disorder, I got a sketchbook. The hospital was decorated — we had a common room covered in snowflakes and construction paper woodland creatures — but everything seemed far from festive. Since it was only my first week in treatment, I wasn’t allowed to leave the center, but my mom worked around that. She made up a lie about being uber-religious, and I guess they had a soft spot when it came to going to church on a holiday. We scrambled to church, left after the sermon, and then spent the rest of my allotted time opening presents in my mom’s townhome.
There, my dad gave me a sketchbook, some watercolors, and Danny Gregory’s illustrated memoir Everyday Matters. In his book, Danny Gregory explores his grief following a major train accident that left his wife paralyzed. Replete with anger and confusion, Gregory picked up a pen and began to draw in his journal. Drawing daily allowed him to see the beauty and detail in life; he claimed he was able to “penetrate beyond the categorical imperative[s] that made [him] feel so afraid.” Gregory was able to see that his wife’s disability was not concretely a bad thing — her disability allowed them to live slowly, and in that way, it was a gift.
I was able, through drawing, to better see the beauty and intricacies of people, animals, shadows, emotions, furniture, planets — everything I drew.
As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted to find my own good in the experience I was having with my eating disorder. I started drawing my feelings, and almost everything I saw in front of me. Keeping a journal was an outlet for me and helped me make sense of what was going through my head. Like Gregory, I was able, through drawing, to better see the beauty and intricacies of people, animals, shadows, emotions, furniture, planets — everything I drew. I began to realize how beautiful the world is, and how much I still wanted to experience and see.
This realization is directly related to the one that helped me the most in recovery — the understanding that I couldn’t live my life the way I wanted to with an eating disorder. With an eating disorder, I wouldn’t be able to experience the beauty I saw in the world so vividly; I couldn’t be the best friend I could be, or the best daughter, or the best student, or the best girlfriend. I wouldn’t be able to give back to the world and help others if I couldn’t help myself. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but one day I just said enough was enough.
I can’t say drawing completely cured me, but it certainly helped. I stayed in residential treatment for about four months, moved down to an intensive outpatient program, and then did outpatient for about a year and a half. I had several relapses, and I went through a lot of questioning whether I was good enough to recover. Now, more than two years later, I can say that I am finally happy and at peace with myself and my body. I no longer have any symptoms, and rarely have eating disorder thoughts. I am the happiest I have been in my life, and am so proud of the effort I put in to get to this point. There is beauty in the world — we have to realize first that it is there, and then that we deserve to experience it.
Lindsey Wanberg is a student at Washington University in St. Louis. She aspires to get her masters in social work and public health, to hopefully one day start her own mental health clinic. She is recently engaged to her fiancée, Sophia (pictured on right).