Eating disorders affect patients’ lives on many fronts: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and interpersonal. Sometimes it may feel like the person with the eating disorder – your daughter, your friend, your teammate, or yourself – starts to disappear as the fears, habits, preoccupations, and distortions of the eating disorder take hold. Interests dwindle, creativity wanes, and zest for life becomes a thing of the past.
This experience was one of many described by author/musician Jenn Friedman, who returned to the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders last month to share stories and songs she penned over the course of her recovery from her eating disorder, a recovery that involved two hospitalizations on our inpatient unit. Jenn spoke about how her passion for music – singing, playing the piano, writing songs – vanished during the years that her eating disorder was at its worst. Fortunately, through her recovery, Jenn was able to gradually rediscover her lost art. Recently, she has channeled her creative energies into a marvelous project: a book about metaphors and images she found to be helpful in the course of her recovery and an accompanying CD of beautiful, heartfelt songs that bring the themes of the book to life. Jenn now devotes time to sharing her art through outreach to eating disorder treatment programs and awareness initiatives, including events aimed at clinicians.
Jenn’s story and art serves as a reminder that recovery is about more than the reduction of eating disorder symptoms; recovery provides an opportunity for rediscovery of lost pieces of identity. One of the metaphors Jenn uses to describe this rediscovery process is that of planting seeds in a garden to see what will grow. She notes that the suffering of the past adds richness and fertility to the garden, so that the fruits and flowers that grow there are more vibrant and beautiful than they would be otherwise. This hope-filled image encourages patience, gratitude, and continued commitment to recovery and rediscovery.
Jenn’s battle against eating disorders has been waged on many fronts: as a research participant in multiple studies here at Columbia, contributing to the scientific understanding of these illnesses; as an author whose work will be an inspiration for many others as they journey through their own recovery; as a musician whose songs communicate deep, relatable emotions; and in her own recovery. Many thanks to Jenn for her willingness to share her story, her talents, and her message of hope.
Written with permission from Jenn Friedman.