The past few weeks have been incredibly challenging for me, with intense paranoia, suicidality and relapse with my eating disorder. It’s been a very painful time to be honest, and I’ve needed to delve into the pain in order to survive.
Diving into the pain means to stop resisting it, to lean into it and to allow it to be, just as it is. It’s had me curled up on my bed in tears and too scared to move, and it’s taken me into leaving my home upon awakening and returning in the evening because I’ve been to scared to be at home. Paranoia is a fucker, I hate it, it’s been overwhelming, but it’s eased somewhat.
The shift happened last Thursday when it hit me that despite feeling unsafe, I’ve actually been safe. I’ve used the rationalisation for a while, but it finally dropped into place.
Going to Brighton last Sunday and Monday was a decision to go out because I wanted to, not because I felt that I had to. I have spent most of the last week out as well, as an act of protecting my mental health. There’s a workman decorating the communal space and having him around triggers my experience of paranoia, so I’ve been out every day, and I will be for the next week too. Sometimes it’s knowing which fight to battle and which to accept. The good news is that I’ve stayed at home this weekend. I’ve felt anxious, I’ve experienced paranoid thinking, but it’s been at a level that I can cope with.
The fear has reduced significantly, and I believe this has had a positive impact upon my eating disorder. I’ve increased my food intake to around 3/4 of my bodies daily requirement. My body is larger than I want it to be, heavier than what I feel comfortable with, but I’m eating more and I feel better for it.
Life is still a challenge, I don’t find living easy, but this week has been more enjoyable. Getting out with my camera on my trip to Brighton was very enjoyable, and shooting whilst being down on my knees has been a learning experience and I’m going to post about that over the next couple of days.
A friend sent me a link to an artists call for submission for a health related exhibition. Submitting was such an invigorating thing to do. I felt alive with enthusiasm and passion. I haven’t had the motivation to continue with embroidering on photography as yet, but it will return. I’m sleeping for longer and up later in the day, my most creative time, but the motivation will return.
Relapse is an all consuming and powerful force. I feel like I’m a surfer on a giant wave, with no ability to either stop or slow down. At some point I will reach the beach and be thrown off of my board, but that’s such a long a way in the future.
I’m currently eating one ciabatta or panini per day. I’ve been prescribed fortisip, but I cannot face the additional 300 calories that a bottle would give me. I know that may sound stupid, but I can’t do it. I’ve stood at the open fridge staring at the bottles, but I can’t do it.
My weight loss has slowed down, which will be for two reasons, one) initial weight loss is mostly water, two) my metabolism will have already slowed down. I find this stage demoralising, I know the speed of weight loss will increase again and I’m holding out for that.
Severe restriction of food intake creates a voracious interest and obsession with food. This isn’t just for people with anorexia, it happens to non eating disordered people who are forced to starve. (see the Minnesota starvation experiment). I fantasise about eating meat and I can’t help but compulsively buy carbohydrate rich foods, despite knowing that I won’t eat them.
I’m horrified by how much weight I have put on in recovery. I want my bones back.
There are times that I feel painfully out of control, and others where I feel so deeply in control of my restrictive behaviour, it’s an intensely enriching buzz. But I have a long way to go before I lose enough weight so as to be underweight again. Sometimes I want to recover, and I still attend 12 step recovery groups, but the desire to get thin is paramount.
I’m not sure whether blogging about my relapse helps me or not, I’m undecided. But my blog is an honest account of my experiences, it’s one of the things that I do, and I enjoy doing. I certainly have enjoyed adding some recent photos into the text.
Firstly, I would like to say that I am going to stick with the title “Some Emotional States Of My Anorexia And Strengths Of Recovery”. Initially I had some reservations about the length of the title, but I find that its appropriate as an anchor to the work which I have produced.
I would like to thank my tutor Jayne Taylor for the level and quality of feedback and interaction that I have received from her throughout the course. I would also like to thank the Open College of the Arts for the standard of the coursework, and for their excellent support and kindness with regards to the difficulties that I have experienced with my health, and the impact which this has had on my ability to study. If you are considering studying any of the creative arts, at foundation or undergraduate level then I would highly recommend the Open College of the Arts. You will not be disappointed. Although the OCA is based in the UK, they also accept international student. All of the courses are open/distance learning. Please check out their website here for further information.
There a few points that I would like to comment upon
“It was very significant that you allowed the strong autobiographical themes to emerge through your work, and the leap forward can be seen through your assignment output across the course. You’ve worked incredibly hard and have put a lot of time and energy into your work, and this is all very evident here – well done indeed.”
The coursework leading up to assignment three was a turning point for me. It was during this section that I began to explore how I could use photography to explore and express my experience of life. The course material gave me the opportunity to try the exercises in the style of different photographers, and I was able to create a mini photobook called A Hermits Journey, and a sequence called Sick of Bulimia. I gave of myself in both of these pieces of work, and A Hermits Journey was featured in WordPress Discover and received over 1,000 hits.
There were many bullet points relating to Jaynes perspective of the of my assignment in which she draws out my methodology and how thorough I have been with my preparation and progress. But I would like to comment upon this
“The use of your own self-portraits in the work shows immense growth in your confidence, both personally and as an artist, and this is heartening to see.”
For me to use self-portraits is a scary experience. I have been working up to this over the past two years, gradually taking more steps from using my shadow, the use of face masks, and now revealing my face. My reticence to present and exhibit this piece of work, but I do aim to exhibit my work, I have a gallery in mind, and I am going to need Jaynes advice on how to approach them. I believe in the quality of the expression and technique, and this work deserves exhibition. I am worth it, despite my fears of showing my face.
“You had some reservations about how to make the embroidered snake have the same visual impact as the other works – hopefully the Google image search we did has helped you see how a stronger silhouette might be all that’s needed to make this work. The important thing is to keep looking until you find an image you feel enthusiastic about working with. The snake image seems to have special significance, being linked to medicine and alluding to the transition from sickness into health – so take your time and enjoy it! (Might a gold thread work here, as a kind of alchemical effect, maybe?)”
In Native American Shamanism, the rattlesnake, called Utsonati, symbolises medicine, which I interoperate as turning poison into medicine. It would have made an excellent finale to the series. However, all of the embroidered animals so far have been flying animals, and I think it’s important to provide visual consistency, and the snake would offset this. So, I am considering embroidering a stalk onto the final portrait, with the stalk symbolising new life, and recovery from an eating disorder is in many ways developing a new life.
“Good documentation of your process all the way through. Nothing to add, except to say that the process is as important as the end result, especially while studying, so this is an excellent practice to maintain.”
The process is the most important part for me, and I love how an idea can change, alter and develop given time and space. During this assignment I have rarely embroidered for more than two hours per day, and I have had a break after the first hour, often a few hours before returning to the embroidery. When I begin to sew in the morning, I spend time looking at the developing artwork before stitching, and looking at the guide photo. I thoroughly look and see what I am producing. Without the seeing the quality of what I am producing would be diminished. Working more than a couple of hours per day would be unwise for the same reasons, because the level of focus upon the embroidery becomes too narrow and fixed.
The research was also important to me, and I have tried this exercise using three different styles, two of which have been a permitted collaboration which makes use of Laura Letinsky’s series Ill Form and Void Full. Although I have decided not to use them for this assignment, I will show them here at some point in the future. My research was thorough for this assignment and included exploring other photographers who work with hand stitching on photography, shamanism and the use of masks.
My ideas and research can be viewed hereas well as here.
Throughout this assignment I have recorded how my ideas have been refined as well as reporting on my progress and the processes. When I view fellow students work, I love to see the process of how they make photography, from the initial idea to the end result, which is often reworked. I have also had the opportunity to receive feedback on my progress from fellow students at the OCA London Regional group.
I have to be honest and say that I am proud of how much effort I have put into this assignment, and amazed at what I am producing. I did not expect this when I began this assignment. My sole aim was to see if I could develop a new technique to carry forward into the undergraduate degree in photography, and I was willing for this assignment to be a failure. It has been entirely the opposite.
Fuck, life is hard at this moment in time. I’m experiencing intense paranoia, suicidal thoughts and severe relapse with anorexia.
Yesterday I struggled so much that I went back to bed, which is something that I never do. Today the paranoia and fear were so intense that I couldn’t stay in. I’m paranoid that my neighbours are going to attack me, so I packed my camera and went out. Thank god for photography, it’s saved me on many an occasion.
Suicidal thoughts are building up, which is linked to the paranoia. I was in a building today which had a viewing gallery on the tenth floor, which is open and has an easily climbable fence. I looked down, imagining jumping, which sent shock waves of fear along my legs. I didn’t do it, I can’t do it, but it’s a venue logged in my mind.
As for the anorexia, I had two weeks of eating a ciabatta with either peanut butter or marmite per day, and since then I’ve not eaten anything for eight days. I know that not eating anything at all makes it harder for the paranoia and suicidal thoughts to dissipate, which I don’t want, but I can’t eat. I’m obsessed with food but I can’t eat, can’t do it.
I feel completely fucked.
However, I am doing things to cope.
I’m still attending 12 step eating disorder recovery meetings
I’m being honest with people about the state of my mind
I’m attending therapy
Yesterday I went back to bed
Today I went out
I have been out with my camera
I’m making plans for future study
I’m visiting a friend next week
I’m planning things with the OCA London Regional Group
I’m continuing with my embroidered photography
I’ve kept my spiritual life up
I’m exploring ways to fund living costs so I can study BA hons photography
I developed some photos in Lightroom this evening, which are found below
I’m doing what I can right now, I’m doing my best, and this too shall pass.
Anorexia is such an insidious illness. I relapsed a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still in it.
The weight gain in my recovery simply got too much for me to bare. I’ve tried so hard, and I’ve stuck to my nutritionist plan. However, I’m on 4 psychiatric medications and these slow the metabolism down and their side effects include weight gain.
I’m restricting my food intake again, down to 1 ciabatta per day, and now I haven’t eaten anything since Wednesday afternoon. I know the risks of malnutrition and starvation but I have become assessed with target weights and becoming thin again. I don’t want to eat and no one can make me. Encouragement will only increase my sense of defiance.
I believe that I’m so sensible and intelligent in many ways, but not when it comes to my eating disorder. Initially I asked my mental health team for an eating disorders dietician, but now I don’t want to engage with one. If I had a dietician and they agreed for me to lose weight, they would only sanction a 2lb per week weight loss. I’ve lost 14lb in two weeks so there is no weigh I’m going to slow the weight loss down.
Firstly, I must say that although I’ve now completed Foundations in Photography with the Open College of the Arts, I have not finished the 5th Assignment. However, I had my final tutorial last week, and the assignment continues as part of a body of work on eating disorders. I intend to continue with “My Emotional States of Anorexia and Strengths in Recovery”, of which I am still embroidering on the photography. Once completed I will write an artists statement and an exhibition proposal.
Sounds big to me, and what’s amazing is that exhibiting my photographs is a possibility, a possibility which I would never have imagined when I started Foundations in Photography.
One year prior to enrolling on the course I was desperate, scared and unable to leave my home for more than a five minute trip to the chemist to pick up my medication. A good friend said that I needed to do something different to rebuild my mental health, and so I bought a camera. My camera gave me a life. With a camera in front of my face I was able to gradually build up the time I spent outside. On top of this I discovered the peace and mindfulness of photography.
I set myself small projects to try and develop technique and style. Photography became a passion, it set fire to my soul. That spark is the reason that I enrolled on Foundations in Photography.
Being on a low income meant that I was worried that I couldn’t afford to apply for the course, so I applied for the Open College of the Arts bursary. I put together a written statement which was accompanied by 10 photos, with explanations of why I had taken them. I recieved the full bursary, which is half of the course fee’s. Looking back on those photos I can see that they were pretty poor, but I had a good understanding of why I had made them.
Beggining Foundations in Photography was a daunting experience, but I found the course material to be clear. My approach was to follow it to the letter as I was afraid of getting it wrong. I had no idea of how to use my camera in manual mode, but I soon got used to it by following the guidance in the course handbook.
The first assignment was a thoroughly enjoyable exercise. It was the first serious attempt that I made on researching and planning a photo shoot. I managed to produce three or four strong photo’s.
Assignment One (2017)
However, I really came to life during the third section of the coursework, specifically exercises 3.3. I broke away from the brief, I tried a few different styles of photography, and developed my own interpretation of the exercise.
My best photo’s come from a place of authenticity and exploration of self. That’s not the only Photography that I do though. I’ve explored portrait, and I am improving in this area, and I love macro and events photography. Going out and making developers my photographic eye, and keeps my enthusiasm going. The OCA encourages that we continue shooting for our own enjoyment outside of study.
My favourite assignment was the fourth one, Responding to a Theme. I produced a hard hitting piece of work on the themes of self hatred and self love.
Self Hatred – Self Love (2018)
Although I’ve now completed the course, I am continuing with assignment Five, which is part of a body of work exploring which I’m producing about eating disorders. This is a mixed media art project in which I’m embroidering on photography. I wouldn’t have had the idea or confidence to attempt to learn an additional skill if I hadn’t studied Foundations in Photography.
One of the most important aspects of my development has come from the Foundations group email. It developed into an opportunity to critique each others work. It’s been such a helpful practice. It’s not easy to have my work critiqued and to analyse others photography, but it’s developed the way in which I view photo’s, and consequently, the planning and production of my own work.
The written aspects of the course have been enjoyable as well. I like to think and write, I find studying to be rewardingso I’ve put a lot of effort into it. My use of Photoshop and Lightroom were poor at the start of the course, I still have a long way to go in this regard, but I have developed some useful skills and techniques as well.
My tutor has been invaluable. Not only have I been given guidance and feedback on the assignments, I’ve also recieved ideas and information for further development, and suggestions on which photographers to research and review. This feedback has been tailored to the work that I am producing and my personal developmental needs. Thank you Jayne.
The student support services have been on hand as well. I became ill during the course, and needed to seek an extension. They took my difficulties into account and they checked up on my health and well being every few weeks. The level of care and compassion was wonderful. Thank you Lia.
My goal now is to complete my current project about anorexia and then sign up for the BA in Photography, and I’m going to study again with the Open College of the Arts. Open learning suits me very well and the OCA coursework and support has been top notch. Studying this way suits my life style and keeps the pressure off of me. I’m feeling very grateful this morning. Thank you OCA
This piece of embroidery has not been easy. Once I had pricked the photo I was overwhelmed with the amount of holes and the complexity. It’s necessary to make all of the holes before trying to work out where the hell to embroider and which threads to use. This photo has been demanding in terms of energy and focus.
The process is enjoyable though. I’m seeing the commitment as running parallel to the effort I have to put into recovery from my eating disorder.
My working title remains as “emotional States of my anorexia”, however the embroidery is about recovery, change and growth, and this needs to be reflected in the title.
Embroidering onto my self portraits has started to feel like an act of self love, whereas initially I felt neutral towards the process of pricking and sewing upon myself.
My tutor and I will be discussing my progress next week, and I look forward to her guidance, especially in relation to one of the remaining animals (I’m not happy with the snake) and with regards to mounting them. The electrical tape which I use to secure threads is bulky in the areas where I’ve taped several loose ends.
Things are going very well for me, and on the whole my eating is now intuitive. I am able to select foods that I want to eat. Sometimes I have the foods that I want to eat, and other times I eat something that I fancy. I may eat out or I may cook at home, depending upon my other plans.
Here’s a salt and chilli beef which I cooked at home.
Many places in London have Street vendors who sell a variety of foods. I’ve seen bubble waffles for a while, but I haven’t dared to have one until Saturday.
It was delicious. Hot Nutella on the waffle, with chopped snickers, strawberry, cream, and more Nutella drizzled over the top.
I had this at snack time, but because the calories were so high I considered it to be lunch and had a snack at lunch time. My nutritionist was impressed that I was able to do so.
My recovery has developed very quickly since August. Initially I was on a weight gain regime, then onto maintenance, and now I’m learning some flexibility.
My nutritionist agreed that I could try a new food this week. We didn’t specify what that should be, but that I could choose it on the day.
Yesterday I ate at East Street in Rathborne Place, just off of Oxford Street in London. East Street has a menu of many Asian foods. I chose a hot and spicy Thai chicken dish with Jasmine rice. Now that’s the kind of food I want to eat more off. It was delicious. The service was quick, friendly and accommodating (I changed tables because I felt a draft where I initially sat), the food was tasty, and the restaurant was stylish.
I needed some new clothes, and purchased a fab pink jumper and matching pink shirt, pink really suits me, but my real self-care was buying a bath bomb and soap from Lush.
This was a reward for me having the courage to follow my heart and move to London. The photo of the bath bomb isn’t good, but the bath was. I smell like a fizzy lemon. Truly lush.
It was cold and wet in London yesterday. Not my favourite conditions to be outside in, but there’s always a photographic opportunity if we seek it out.
Firstly – I know have a working title for my assignment… “The Emotional States Of Anorexia”. The emotions that I’m photographing all relate to different emotions that I have experienced that relate to my anorexia.
Defiance (fuck you! I won’t eat and you can’t make me)
Pride (Yes – another target weight hit)
Rage (I fucking hate my self)
Joy (I can wear those new skinny jeans now I’ve hit that weight)
Fear (I’m so fucking scared of eating, l will have to kill myself if I do)
Grief (I hurt so much I can’t cope anymore)
Now I know that you know that I hate my photo being taken. I hate seeing photos of myself. It’s taken me sometime to build up the willingness to photograph myself. Tomorrow and Thursday I have the pain of seeing my face when I develop them. Fuck sake. Why am I doing this. I could have used someone else as the model.
Thing is I can’t. I know that these emotions are extreme and trying to work with a model and talking them into these states is gonna be challenging and time-consuming. I know these emotions and the thoughts that go with them. They’ve been a second skin that I’ve lived in. Consequently it’s taken me an hour to make these photos.
I’ve not liked doing it at all, but, I’ve got the photos that I need. I’ve captured the emotions. Am I putting them up on here? Not bloody likely. Once I’ve embroidered over them then I will publish them, but they, of themselves, are not the final piece of work. They are just part of a still life audio, visual installation that will be juxtaposed with the Laura Letinsky photography.
If I put my displeasure about the photos of myself to the side, I feel excited. This is coming together. My creative vision is clear, I can see the outcome.
Will I exhibit the six pieces I am creating? Damn right if I can get the right curator and the right space. It’s weird how I can feel so confident of that when I can’t stand seeing my photo. Perhaps it’s because my portrait is just a part of a larger piece of work, that my face will be sewn over? Perhaps it’s just a dichotomy of the human experience.