Content warning: Eating disorder
Paint was all over me. My fingers were blue, the floor was brown and my camera was bombarded with hundreds of “artsy” photographs. I got in so much trouble for spilling paint all over my family’s rug, but it was all worth it.
Ever since moving to college, I noticed the increasing workload and distance from hometown friends caused a downward mental spiral. I’m in a much better place mentally now, but something I still turn to when I’m feeling stressed is art.
My love for art started in the form of those little “sketchbooks” from Target. I started out scribbling with crayons and eventually fell in love with visual art all together.
I even got my family involved; we watched Bob Ross videos and “how to paint cherries” tutorials together online.
Through this experimentation with art, I learned this: art is not only a way of creating beauty, making important political statements or bringing people together, but it is also a way of clearing one’s own mind. Artists can use their medium for personal relaxation; it doesn’t necessarily have to be made for the public or to share at all.
This is something I was fascinated to learn — while I had used poetry to clear my own mind without sharing it before, I didn’t realize that one could do the same with visual art.
However, I know firsthand that it can be hard to turn to art when you’re extremely stressed or sad. When I first moved to college, I developed anorexia — rather than using art, I used an obsession with avoiding food to cope with the stressors of my new environment.
However, as I began to have more hope and wanted to get out of the dungeon of my eating disorder, I began looking at art on Instagram and saving pictures in my home. These images inspired me to draw and get my feelings out and finally live.
When I was away from my family and worried that they had forgotten about me, I drew my mom. I’d sketch pictures of her face so that I could feel closer. Feeling closer to loved ones through art helped me want to recover. And, whatever your struggle is, I hope you might consider turning to art, alongside journaling, therapy or other forms of coping, to recover and reconnect with your inner child.
It’s strange that the art that I, and many others, created in the more stressful parts of our lives is the art that we value or cherish the most. I think this is because it shows the battles we have fought and overcome.
So, I challenge you to try and draw, paint or doodle something as a means of improving your mental health and expressing yourself.
Personally, I can say that art helped my anorexic bones die — and while they’re dying, I continue to feed myself food and art. After every meal, I’ll do something creative to prevent other urges. I sometimes do a simple coloring page with colored pencils, go for a walk while listening to music and take pictures, write a poem, paint my dad, replicate a drawing of yellow and orange flowers, and more.
Something I suggest when starting to use art as a medium for improving your mental health is to pick your favorite color and just go with it. You don’t need to be inspired and paint the Mona Lisa. Just use that pink or green or orange shade until the page is seeping with ink and color.
I remember when I first started this. I used baby blue and the pages went from just a single layer of paint to drawing blue faces and blue jewelry on my sketch pad. I really enjoyed this.
The best part about using art to cope with challenges is that they change your mind. In my experience, improving mental health has much to do with being open to changing your mind; if you are willing to hear, for example, that eating a banana won’t make you sick, then you are willing to change and challenge the things you’ve heard in the past.
Art is like a crutch, like a shoulder to lean on and so much more. Art is a friend.
Art will always be by your side, even if no one else knows what you’re going through. Art understands you, and when you’re ready, other people will definitely understand you, too.