true story: how art gave me my life back
posted: March 12, 2014
By age 21, Tori was educated, well-travelled, in great physical shape and living in the Big Apple working at her dream job. She had everything she thought she ever wanted. The problem was, she was desperately unhappy. This is her story—in her words—about how she discovered art as a way to cope with and bring attention to eating disorders and anxiety, both of which plagued her path.
I always put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, to over-achieve, be an all-star athlete, to be friends with everyone, and to be someone who’s always happy. Ironically I never knew what happiness really felt like until last year.
I remember waking up one morning years ago and things just felt different. I felt poorly about myself, my energy levels were low and I had no spice for life. I was unhappy with myself. My self-esteem was in the toilet.
When I left college after getting a Fine Arts certificate, I went abroad to study in Italy and I travelled the Mediterranean afterwards. At this time I started to feel different again—in a good way, but also a bad way. I felt freedom, and I had to make important decisions for myself, on my own, in foreign countries.
Tori (right) at Piazza del Pantheon in Rome during her study abroad
When I returned home after travelling I got really depressed. I couldn’t stop living in the past; I couldn’t get over the present reality and how time had just flown by. I realized I had lost touch with my art. This is also a time when I had lost touch with yoga and my body was craving active ways—like yoga and strength training and running—of expressing my built up anxiety. Looking back now I realize that my life was completely off balance.
I went back to exercise and I painted in my free time. Some nights, I would paint until I was absolutely exhausted.
Then I started getting tired all the time. Some days it was really hard to get out of bed. I didn’t have the motivation to go to school to finish my Communications Degree, push for my goals with my career, or even spend time with my family. I would rather dwell in my bad moods. The only thing was, I didn’t know why I was so depressed. I had everything I wanted. My zest for life disappeared and I got obsessive over things like my weight, working out and going out.
I left for South East Asia in the spring of 2012. I thought I was simply in a rut and that I needed to get out of Vancouver, but the dark feeling followed me. Even in the presence of ancient ruins, beautiful wonders of the world and crazy fun parties, my moods never lifted. I would feel a taste of happiness for 10 minutes, and when it would disappear and I would obsess over trying to hold on to it.
A brave face in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
The one time I cried with happiness was when I received my scuba diving certification. I had accomplished something I never thought I could do and I regained some confidence, but it didn’t last. I started to worry about money and my weight. I basically stopped eating on my trip and I gained some sort of self-control and pride by doing so. My travel buddies were really concerned about me, but they couldn’t help—nor did I want the help. I felt like my actions were helping me.
Smiling for the camera in Angkor Watt, Cambodia
I came home and I was ultimately depressed. I remembered this sensation from after I’d returned home from my trip to Europe. Going into withdrawal after extensive travelling is normal, but not to the extent I experienced. I lost 20 lbs and I felt amazing. I was never overweight, and I was now on the verge of being too thin.
Then I got a phone call from the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City. I had applied to go to this school the previous fall and was wait listed, and now they had accepted me. I had no choice but to pack my bags and leave, thinking again, “This is all that I have been needing, is to leave Vancouver and start a life for myself elsewhere.”
Things got really bad.
Tori in the Big Apple, at last
I was living in New York City. I had finally made it! This was my dream, and I planned out my life so I wouldn’t ever have to move back to Canada. I had a dream job, working for a sports management agency for professional athletes like Tiger woods, and spent my weekends doing disaster relief with basketball player Tyson Chandler and his family, planning a charity platform for another basketball player, Kevin Love, and events for baseball player Derek Jeter. I was going to the best fashion school in the world. I was dating a famous comedian. I was 21 and I really thought I had it all. It was during this time that I lost complete touch with my artwork and sense of who I was.
I had no time for myself. I would pick up my paintbrush every now and then, but my inspiration was on empty, so I rarely made the time to sit and paint. I couldn’t press pause on my busy lifestyle, and I told myself that I “didn’t have time to eat.”
Slowly but surely, as my mental health began to dissipate, my zest for life and my gratitude for being lucky enough to be able to pursue my goals were pulled away from beneath me. Just like that my dreams were gone, because I was sick.
Hamming for the camera in a friend’s apartment in New York City, not far from rock bottom
Here’s what was going on in my head at this time: Every time I couldn’t resist eating food that ‘wasn’t on my diet,’ I’d cry. I genuinely hated myself, yet I liked doing it too. I wanted to feel the excruciating pain of self-hatred. I want to bask in depths of disappointment and indulge in feelings of failure.
When I shamefully looked at myself in the mirror I would point out my endless flaws and punish myself. I would work out everyday. I needed a slim stomach in order to ensure my success as a person. I decided it was essential to have a chiseled jaw line. I wanted a slim face and neck. My hair was never long enough. I need pronounced cheekbones and skinny legs. I could see my bones poking through my skin, and being able to see my pelvic bone, rib cage and spine was the utmost satisfying thing I’d ever seen. This vicious cycle continued until I had nothing left to like. It was bizarrely gratifying, and I felt as though I was accomplishing something. The more people would comment on my weight, the more motivation I found to get even thinner.
After my first semester I decided to move home. My mother picked me up from the airport and when she saw me she cried, and I cried with her. I didn’t know what had happened to me. I was a completely different person than I had been four years previously, and than who I was when I left Vancouver about six months before. I felt like I had failed. I was embarrassed about my boney frame, about failing, and that I had nothing to fall back on.
I started back at lululemon, where I’d worked on and off in the past few years. It felt familiar, it felt like home. I went through therapy and my therapist suggested I make time for myself to paint and draw. So I did.
I started painting whenever I had free time. I poured my soul into my paintings, never really thinking about what I was painting, just letting the brush translate my feelings onto the canvas. I never deliberately selected my colour palette either, but my paintings, which used to be dark and somber, became bold, confident and texturized. My artwork never made an appearance from under my bed, until one of my friends from lululemon our athletic stylist Giulia, suggested I have a show.
Tori’s artwork then and now
My first art show happened at the Park Royal lululemon location on December 8th, 2013. Before that I had never shown anybody my work. The show was a huge success, and I even sold my artwork. That day also marked a year that I had been back in Vancouver after my time in New York, except I now felt like a completely different person. I wanted to expose myself, be vulnerable and talk about my struggle.
Talking about my eating disorder actually helped to cure my illness. Being brave enough to declare my vulnerability and to own it has inspired me to no longer live my life as seriously as I did. This hasn’t been an easy path. Every day is still a struggle to find pleasure and joy, but it’s so worth it.
I want to spread awareness about this disease and empower women to speak up and share their stories. I want to show everyone that art can be a perfect outlet for the abundance of emotions we can’t digest or describe.
Tori today, healthy and happy
Tori is a key leader at our West Vancouver store, one stylish lady and a budding artist. Her next art show is ArtBar on Thursday March 13th (1994 West Fourth Ave., Vancouver, 7pm-10pm). For this show she’ll be joined by artists Jourdan Tymkow (photography), Lisa Wick (painting and typography), Micayla Gatto (graphics) and Chloe Devine (mixed media).