Writing with the guidance of a writing mentor can assist the healing process by enabling self-discoveries. Tanya Motiani, who has severe anorexia nervosa, shares how writing is helping her to discover ‘potential for contentment’:
Since starting to work with a writing mentor two years ago, I have made discoveries about myself, both simple and more complex. Some have been straightforward, others more subtle, but all have been worthwhile if not beneficial to my sense of self. I believe the growth I have experienced has been facilitated through the writing tasks set before me. Some tasks have been somewhat daunting and challenging while others have been comparatively undemanding. All have been enjoyable.
One of my main discoveries about myself is that I am not as resilient as I thought I was. This realisation came about through exploring and writing about the grief I was experiencing over my father’s death, which had occurred two years before I met my mentor.
Although Dad was almost 90 years old, and I knew deep within that he would probably die soon, I know now that I never really faced this reality. His death shook me to the core. Suddenly, I felt alone and abandoned, utterly bereft of the person dearest to me in the whole world. I didn’t cope. When I cracked and crumbled in that first year following his death – well before hooking up with my writing mentor, life was a total fog. I withdrew, my eating disorder got the better of me and became extreme, I lost faith and confidence in who I was. I fell apart in a way that was totally unexpected and out of character for me. I even had to give up my long-time employment for a period. All of this I viewed as personal weakness at the time.
Two discoveries emanated from this dark episode. Firstly, I came to realise that I needed professional help, and secondly, I was able – eventually – to admit to myself that it was okay to need this assistance. With family support, therapy, hospital intervention, and medication, I was able to hang in there. But what really changed things for me, albeit slowly, was starting to work with a writing mentor. Only then, with the narrative as a medium, could I begin to fully explore the grief I so struggled with. Through self-reflection and understanding, I also was able to understand my eating disorder a little more. Likewise, I began to recognise and learn more about my comorbid diagnoses, depression and anxiety, one writing task at a time.
Through this process, I have been able to develop and/or reconnect with skills and strengths. The simple process of writing has brought back fond memories of my four-year literature degree and I again relish the magnetism and power that words on paper have always held for me. Writing has become not so much a task, but a treat – something to be excited about, something that has provided routine in my scattered world post Dad’s death.
A new skill I have acquired is the notion of putting myself first. I love to help those around me, and, through my writing mentoring sessions, I realised that to do this effectively – and in the manner to which I was accustomed – I needed to develop a degree of self-compassion. For a long time, I was extremely hard on myself for not coping with Dad’s death. This attitude increased my vulnerability in succumbing to the grip of anorexia, and I had to really work on self-preservation and self-compassion. This came about, eventually, through my writing, through meditation, and through time. Therapy helped too – writing therapy, yes, but also psychological and psychiatric treatment. I am grateful for the varying streams of help and support that are available to me. More importantly however, I am grateful to myself for diligently pursuing all these therapies.
Another significant new skill – although its required qualities are innate to a degree – is nannying. I had worked in an early learning setting for the previous 11 years, and now I set about remoulding my skill set. I transitioned from secure employment where I was part of a team, to self-employment. I also went from caring for 20 children at a time in a structured educational environment to caring solo for several children at a time in a family home. Nannying has enabled me to bring more of my authentic self into the workspace. I choose the activities and can indulge my passions for art and craft, games, cooking, and mindfulness.
Strengths such as creativity and spontaneity have also come to the fore. These qualities had been firmly side-stepped and suppressed by my eating disorder. Nannying has also improved my confidence levels and this is another skill I have developed since hooking up with therapeutic writing. Not only have I proved to myself that I can work again, but I have also improved my confidence levels so that I now go out more and socialise, I enjoy activities outside of food, and I get out and about in the wider world, albeit generally with my family.
Going forward, I have dreams, plans, and hopes (although I didn’t when in the throes of grief – when I couldn’t see past the present day). My main goal is to be as healthy as I can in mind, body, and spirit. Apart from ensuring I get enough sleep, food, and exercise, I plan to maintain my therapies and to continue writing for self-discovery and growth. I will also try to maintain my passions for walking, country drives, reading, cooking, watching movies and paper-crafting as ways to keep nourishing my soul.
Another hope is that I do not regress with my eating disorder. Through writing mentoring and other therapeutic support, I will continue to learn how to better manage my depression and anxiety. For example, I will endeavour to understand where these disorders stem from – what causes them and why. I hope to learn how to deal with life events through self-loving means rather than the self-harming yet seemingly protective shield that anorexia has always afforded me.
I also plan to sustain my skills of socialising as I am experiencing how good this can feel. Through the community writing group that my mentor leads, through the meditation class I run fortnightly, and my Pilates class, as well as through frequent communication with family and friends via text, letters, and emails, I hope to achieve this. I would also like to uphold my newfound courage to engage in new friendships.
I hope to continue my nannying job and extend my ability to be flexible with regards to accepting different nannying positions. Recently I have taken on two different families with mentally disabled children and though this has been challenging, it has also been fulfilling. I hope to create more fulfilment from my nannying work going forward. I aspire to nurture and inspire the little people I care for while sharing myself with them.
In terms of plans, a big one is to travel again. To this end, I am planning an interstate trip with a family member in 2022 and an international trip with family in 2023.
In terms of dreams, I long to be a grandparent. I watched in wonder as my own parents embraced this phase in their lives and look forward to a whole new chapter and adventure with grandchildren of my own. Similarly, I indulge in dreams about what retirement might look like for my husband and myself.
Writing has helped me to move beyond some very dark times, lost in my eating disorder, to discover potential for contentment.
Tanya lives in Geelong, Australia, with her husband and her pet kitten, Sherlock. Having recently resigned from her part-time job as an assistant kindergarten teacher, Tanya now works as a nanny. In her spare time, she likes to meditate, write, read, watch old movies, walk in nature, cook and birdwatch. Her favourite place to be is at home, often with a candle lit to induce feelings of peace and contentment. Tanya enjoys her nannying jobs as she feels there is now purpose and meaning to her life, helping parents and making small humans happy! Through her pastimes, she seeks to improve her wellbeing as she continues to suffer both from the grief of losing her father in 2018 as well as a deeply entrenched eating disorder. Tanya uses the craft of writing as a therapeutic tool to help her understand, and ultimately resolve, these issues.