Painting is My Sanity

Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t painted anything since June. Three months; no painting. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but when paint is your Savior, blood, and breath, being without it is like slowly losing oxygen.  When you go without what sustains you for an extended period of time you shrink and your living becomes disjointed, constricted . . . strained. Or at least this is what happens to me when I have to push making down on the priority list. I can only exist in non-making mode but for so long before I’m reduced to a shell of myself, a hollowed out encasing of the woman being an artist helps me embody.

Painting is something I turned to unexpectedly in 2012 after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I grew up writing, dancing, and doing theater as a teen and in my early-mid twenties, but visual art was something I had given up on in my junior high art class. However, after my diagnosis, I was in search of something I could add to my self-care routine as part of my treatment. My therapist suggested I try making something. I went to Walmart intending to purchase yarn to take up crocheting again, but walked out with small, cheap tubes of paint, brushes, and thin sheets of canvas to experiment on. I didn’t know what I was doing when I sat down for the first time to try. I don’t think I even necessarily even wanted to, if I’m honest. But I did, on a Saturday, after a particularly grueling therapy session that left me feeling raw emotionally, and my slightly hypomanic, very agitated mind reeling. My kids were with their father for the weekend, and I needed to keep myself from falling into the gravity well of loneliness I felt as I sat alone in my apartment. Resisting the urge to cope with the intensity of the pain aroused in therapy by putting sharp edges to skin, I picked up the brush and paints I had purchased and poured it out across the canvas instead.

addyestaysmall

What I put on canvas initially didn’t really matter, especially when I was caught in the tides of hypomania or depression. What mattered was that I was just getting what was in my head OUT. I needed those things OUT, as I tried to find my footing in stability in the management of my illness, and in wholeness as I healed from the impact of childhood trauma during and after those therapy sessions. Painting became a way for my mind and soul to process and compartmentalize the intersecting identities & stress present in my life as a Black, single mother, college student, freelancer, abuse survivor, postpartum depression survivor, and Christian with a shifting faith. Once I realized expression was in and of itself a form of self-care for me, paint emerged as my medium of choice more often than words or dance to convey thought and emotion.

It’s been nearly four years since I first picked up a brush, and during that time I’ve found healing, liberation, and whole, embodied self every time I’ve sat down to discover and express what’s waiting. That’s why going without this summer as I navigated a big move with my family and nearly 6 weeks of travel was starting to tax my spirit. I had started to feel disconnected from myself, ravaged by the stress of it and the rapid cycling in my mood that comes as Fall approaches. I had been feeling lost and at the mercy of circumstance and a biological chemistry that betrays me. But I finally painted yesterday, in my new workspace, for the first time in months. It felt like coming home. It was exactly what I needed to grasp just that much tighter to sanity. I painted, and I can breathe again.

addyebbutterfly

You can check out A’Driane’s paintings by clicking the link on the sidebar.

A'Driane Nieves

A'Driane Nieves

Writer at AddyeB
A’Driane Nieves is a USAF veteran, writer, artist, speaker, and postpartum depression and anxiety survivor living with bipolar disorder. A'Driane's writing, focusing on the intersections of life, motherhood, art, music, faith, race, and mental health, has been featured on BlogHer, UpWorthy, EverdayFeminism, Postpartum Progress, and the 2015 Austin Listen To Your Mother ensemble. In 2014, she was a BlogHer Voice of the Year. In 2015, she was nominated for an Iris Award for Most Thought Provoking Content. An activist with a heart for serving, social good, and mental health advocacy, she believes art and words can foster dialogue and serve as a catalyst for personal growth and responsibility. She lives in California with her robotics loving husband and three boys.
A'Driane Nieves

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  • Love this! I read the Creative Call (so highly recommend this book) when I was struggling with anxiety and feeling “disjointed” as you say. I had started dabbling in writing again but it always felt like this selfish thing, this “extra” thing on top of work and life and family and God. I had grown up as a dancer, writer – art was who I was. And I had lost myself when I let myself think all of that was fluff when it was really how God created me to be and worship Him. When I am not creating in some form I feel stifled and through that book God kept speaking to me about how I was wasting something special He had given me by NOT using my creative talents. Keep creating and keep breathing!

  • alexandra

    Do I love that you’re writing here? Yes, do I love at how I know you will bring others close to a spiritual relationship with their beliefs? Yes. OUr spirituality should know no definition or confinements. Instead , it should be celebrated for the gift it is. Which is exactly what you’ve done here, A’Driane. Thank you.

  • I went through several years of not writing. Barely even a recipe card. Little by little writing is returning to me, and, yes, just the other day I think I caught myself exhaling. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • Michele, good thoughts on your journey … little by little, each of us learned to walk .. now you can take each small step and be grateful. Peace! @LatelaMary

  • Terri

    “I’ve found healing, liberation, and whole, embodied self every time I’ve sat down to discover and express what’s waiting.” Thank you for your words. I am writing the above line in my affirmation journal. Love the flow, so lyrical – “discover and express what’s waiting.” Wishing you a weekend filled with colors, paints, and discovery.

  • Wow, this resonates so deeply with me. Thank you for your openness in sharing your story. I too am a postpartum depression survivor and the journey out was precipitated by God through art. Looking forward to checking out your blog.

  • A-Driane, your art is so evocative – I love the way you use color. And I totally identify with your feeling about art as a way of putting the pieces together. That’s music for me. Glad your voice is here at the Mudroom.

  • I was just looking at your paintings the other day (as they’re linked from the mudroom) and they are just beautiful. Full of so much life. Thanks for sharing all your art here. Glad to have you join us!

  • “When you go without what sustains you for an extended period of time you shrink and your living becomes disjointed, constricted . . . strained.” So well put. I’m just getting back to writing after a difficult few months. Though I feel the pressure decreasing, it’s like swimming the first time of the season as a kid…will I remember how? Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Anita

    Thank you so much for sharing this, A’Driane. I’m so grateful you gained this practice in your life and have pursued it this way. You are adding so much to our world by sharing your writing and art. Like others, I’m getting back into writing and working to be purposeful as well as creative…I’m looking at you for inspiration.

  • That painting makes my heart leap! Thank you for sharing your story, the journey of healing you are on, and the gift of art that sings to the souls of others! It was meant to be shared to bring such glory to the One who created all things for His great,pleasure! Oh how He delights in the gift He has given you!

  • Adrianna~ What a beautiful discovery: “I painted, and I can breathe again.” You have found the golden thread which holds you and which draws out what is in your heart. And your prints are breath-taking! Welcome and best wishes! @LatelaMary