Creativity Can Heal

I always loved to draw as a child. When I was 16, I had to decide which A-levels to pursue, and I was torn between Art and Chemistry as my fourth (and final) subject. I reasoned that I could more easily do Art than Chemistry in my spare time (and it would probably be more useful for studying Maths and Physics at University). Except – when it came down to it – I didn’t draw in my spare time. My art stayed there; it became my past. I drew very, very occasionally – maybe once or twice a year. The guitar I once played for hours a day also got left behind. And I became almost afraid to pick it up again – just like that pencil.

This fear lasted for six years, from 2006 until 2012.

By this point I was deep into disordered eating, and had decided to turn my life around. I was working with a counsellor, and she suggested creative journalling to me. I was sceptical. I had already been writing Morning Notes, and lists of gratitude, so I had seen how writing had begun to help me, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of illustrating my words.

But, like all good mentors, she guided me and made me feel safe enough to dip a toe in. She said it didn’t matter what it looked like. That no one would see it. No one would judge it. That it was mine alone.

And it was.

I started doodling around my words; colouring them in. I felt like a child, and it was liberating. Too long I’d been writing, neatly on the line. I felt like I now had the “permission” to write as big or as small as I like, to push the pen so hard that it went through the paper, bend the spine of the book, tear it apart, and write my heart onto those blank pages.

On some evening during those weeks, I felt a strong impulse to binge eat, but instead, I picked up a pencil and for the first time in six years I started drawing.

I drew Daniel Conway’s Softly Sleeping. His version:

The version I drew that night:

It took all of my concentration, and by the time I had finished, the desire to eat was non-existent. This was the first glimpse of hope in a long time of darkness: that these desires to binge weren’t completely uncontrollable knee-jerk reactions that I absolutely had to listen to. In fact, they are just thoughts – thoughts that I usually became too lost in, so they seemed like the absolute truth. My drawing took my mind away from those thoughts. It was avoidance, but it worked. I avoided a binge for the first time.

As with all good therapy, we also talked about my childhood. I had some traumatic events as a child that I couldn’t seem get over – that were too painful to think about. But after gentle prompting and my experience at Gaia House, I decided to write “my story”, as though in fictitious prose. It was very difficult to write at times, but it was worth it. Here’s a message I sent to a friend after several revisions:

“I cannot recall the number of times I’ve replayed those events over in my head, but seeing them written down – reading and editing my work over and over – it almost feels like they are someone else’s; I almost cannot believe they happened to me anymore.”

Creativity was the perfect tonic.

In time, I let more creativity back into my life. Instead of turning to food, I turned to the piano. I wrote. I joined a life drawing class. My creative self was back! This, alongside mediation, consistent training at the gym, and nutritional love meant that – over time – I became free from my depression and eating disorder.

Not too long later, I got (with Daniel Conway’s permission) the tattoo of that image on my back. (Thanks to a very talented artist named Maris Pavlo at Hammersmith Tattoo):

It is a constant reminder to me that I am stronger than I think I am. And that, above all, my creativity never leaves. It always follows me closely, wherever I go.

 

 

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