By Roberta Nichols, Special to the Independent
Where her art was once flat and one dimensional, recovering anorexic Nansea Williams returns to Laguna Beach’s Sawdust Art Festival this summer with three-dimensional work, a visual expression of how much her life has changed.
Prior to treatment, Williams’ friends described her as a vacant shell, unable to focus on the present. Now, she sees the world as three-dimensional and full of life. For the first time in years she feels fully present and alive, and the vibrancy of her art in Booth #401 reflects that change.
She almost didn’t make it through last summer’s festival. After a series of illnesses left her weak and underweight, she became so frail she could hardly walk. Her family invited a visit to recuperate in Florida, but she stubbornly refused to go until she had finished out the summer.
Once the festival ended, she was hospitalized again. Weighing 99 pounds and barely able to get out of bed, Williams managed to pack a few things, board a plane, and fly east to get the help she needed.
Unbeknownst to Williams, her family already was researching treatment options. They suspected anorexia was to blame for her unending illnesses and severe weight loss. Williams had struggled with anorexia since the age of 17 growing up in Madera, Calif., but she didn’t understand or fully acknowledge the life threatening disease that literally consumed her for 25 years. She enjoyed feeling skinny.
“The scariest thing was that I knew I was killing myself by slow suicide. I was at war with myself and I didn’t know which part of me would win.”
Last summer, she got by on 200 to 400 calories a day, about the equivalent of a medium order of McDonald’s fries. Williams, a Laguna resident since 2007, describes herself as having “no quality of life,” due to chronic nausea, a lack of energy and the inability to even walk on the beach.
Last October, she entered Renfrew Center, a residential eating disorder facility in Coconut Creek, Fla. She didn’t know the level of surrender expected. Meals are monitored. Patients are chaperoned for an hour after each meal so they cannot induce vomiting. Eating more than she was accustomed to made her feel physically sick. Her organs hurt as they began to repair the damage wrought by malnourishment. She wanted out.
By her third week in treatment, she started to feel better. Williams realized her own role in causing her illness, but still hated seeing her body expand. As pain ebbed, creativity emerged. She started making wire flowers for fellow patients or coloring pictures to whoever needed a smile.
After five months in treatment, Williams knows her disease will always be lurking nearby. For now, she turns her thoughts elsewhere, mostly to art.
Her new line is called “Bloom,” and it was created in honor of girls who struggle with life-threatening eating disorders and bloom on a journey to reach the top.
She knows her own story might have ended at an early age, like that of a Renfrew friend, Kate, 32, among the 20 percent of anorexia sufferers who die prematurely from complications related to their eating disorder.
Kate’s death underscores Williams’ desire to tell her own story to help others get the treatment they need.
Roberta Nichols, a communications consultant based in Chaska, Minn., is a long-time friend of the Williams family.