A big piece of recovery, at least for me, is learning how to find peace in living in the moment. When suffering from a mental illness, especially with anxiety or eating disorders, you spend a lot of time living in your head. Endlessly flipping through a mental catalog of numbers, worrying about what you did or consumed, figuring out if this cookie you’re eating now will make you gain 5 pounds later, nervous about what you’ll have to eat or if you’ll be able to exercise later–forever caught between replaying the past and agonizing about the future. You completely miss the here-and-now.
It can be nice (and I’d argue, necessary) to find something that brings you away from that, that shows you what living is meant to be like. For me, one of those things is photography.
I always had an interest in photography growing up, but never knew the logistics of it or even had a real camera to work with. Then, about 3 years ago following a massive breakup, I decided that I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to follow a passion and not worry about failing or being laughed at. I decided I would finally buy myself a camera. I did some research and pooled all my money from Christmas and the Target giftcard I had and set off to buy a Canon EOS Digital Rebel. I knew nothing about photography except that when I started taking pictures, I lost all track of time and didn’t care about anything else in the world.
I spent the next few years teaching myself how to use my camera by just going out there and doing it (I got to take a photography class in undergrad too, which I loved!). Trial and error. Taking pictures of anything–books in my room, my backyard, my cat. Studying photos I loved. Did I become I pro photographer? Not by any means, but that doesn’t matter to me.
I developed a particular affinity for nature photography. When I was out hiking in the woods, I felt a connection to the earth and it helped me remember that I was a living thing too, created as special and strong as the trees around me. I felt beautiful when I could feel the sun shining down on my back, my hands and knees smeared with dirt from crouching down to get the perfect shot of the moss on the logs. I was removed from my disordered headspace and the toxic culture that can often surround us–these trees didn’t care about my weight, whether I was wearing makeup or not, what my job was, how many friends I had, or what calories I had eaten. They simply existed in the now. They just were, and that was enough. And so when I am there, I am able to let go of those things too. I am able to just be.
Find something that makes you happy to be alive. Find an activity that you can lose yourself in, that you do just for the happiness and satisfaction it brings you. Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll be good at it. It doesn’t have to be anything swanky. You don’t need a fancy camera or high tech cooking equipment or the oil paint collection of Van Gogh. Dare to be a beginner at something. Dare to follow your passions.