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.


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.


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

A'Driane Nieves
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