Madeleine, a college student being treated for anorexia and insomnia by an art psychotherapist, reports that her reaction to stress is to ignore her hunger. “When I’m anxious or sad, it’s hard to eat something. My friends notice; they also have eating issues. Girls get competitive: outwardly concerned but not genuinely concerned. They’re trying to lose more weight than you.” Perfectionism also seems to eat at her. “I want to put 100% into everything. But I am learning it’s just impossible to put 100% into everything. You have to give and take in some places. I learned that the hard way in the first couple of weeks of school by not sleeping.” After brainstorming ideas for her dreamscape, Madeleine decides she wants a dreamscape that reminds her to make time for taking care of herself so everything else won’t fall through.
To get on track, the visual’s dominant theme becomes restfulness. Once Madeleine is well rested, she can start sensing when her appetite kicks in. We opt for a body double that registers sleepiness, yet the body is neither her own nor another human body. The figure is a sculpture found at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Next, to associate the sculpture with Madeleine, we add her favorite pink headset from Urban Outfitters to mirror how she gets sleepy from reading and listening to music. The strawberries dominating the dreamscape are designed to remind Madeleine to eat healthy food, because she’s not on the college meal plan.
Here’s what Madeleine reports one month after being in possession of her Suggestive Dreamscape:
I hung my dreamscape up on my dorm room door, so I see it when I leave in the mornings. The whole thing looks really peaceful, which is the goal for this year; to find some peace, sleep and eat. When I am getting to sleep, that sleeping figure is in the back of my mind.
It’s funny we were just talking, Mom and me. We’ve been making peanut butter sandwiches just like in the dreamscape. The Dreamscape stays with me because it reminds me that there are things that I can eat that won’t do any damage. When I see it, I begin to hope that there’s a possibility for living in a way that doesn’t make me ill. To get things done, do well and succeed without making myself ill. Life doesn’t have to be like that. It can be: get healthy, get sleep, be happy.
For more about cases like this one, visit The Healing Memory Project, my collaboration with art psychotherapist Lauren Lazar Stern.