Art: My Great Escape

The way I understand it, my OCD is the way my brain distracts itself from the anxiety I feel. I do rituals over and over again to make myself feel safe, by doing these repetitive things I think are important, I forget that I'm anxious.  I've been struggling with both ADD and OCD for most of my life.

 

When I was in Second Grade (7 years old) I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I had a learning disability that made it harder for me to retain information than my peers. Before my teachers knew I had this disability, they assumed I just didn't care about school. I was unable to pay attention and would ignore my teachers to talk to other students. I was often called to the principal's office for being too out of control in class, I remember three separate occasions where I was called to the principal's office for laughing so hard that I disrupted the entire class. My punishment was to sit quietly in a tiny room in the office for 30 minutes. After seeing a psychologist, I was given my formal diagnoses. The principal, my teacher, my parents, and myself sat down to formulate a plan as to how I would move forward by learning how to manage my outbursts. With ADD came many obstacles; for example sometimes it took me 3 hours to do my homework, I would have screaming tantrums because I was frustrated but didn't know how to communicate it to my family. A few years later, at around 9, OCD really started to creep into my life. I would only wear clothes with the tags removed, I would wash my hands until they were raw and bleeding, and the clothes I wore had to be cotton only because every other fabric was itchy.

 Me, age 5! I'm so stylish!

Me, age 5! I'm so stylish!

 

Throughout my life, I've used different ways to cope with my OCD and anxiety, but the 2 game changers were art and horseback riding. From ages 7-21 I rode horses on a regular basis, my parents bought me Chip and then Sailor, a horse I had until my senior year of high school. I can’t recall a time in my life I haven't struggled with anxiety, but riding and taking care of horses occupied my mind enough to allow me to forget about my anxiety momentarily.

 Me and my beloved horse Sailor , 2007

Me and my beloved horse Sailor , 2007

 

As you may already know, I started painting on a regular basis about three years ago, while I was in grad school. For a year I did watercolor paintings every single day. Painting let me forget, for an hour or two, just how much my dissertation was stressing me out. Although I struggled with a learning disability throughout my education, by the time I got to college, I knew how to manage my ADD so well that I was able to stop taking medication for it. I was able to finish all of my higher education without prescriptions drugs aiding my concentration.

 

I still struggle daily with my ADD, anxiety, and the depression that comes with mental illness, but I've learned how to live in harmony with them. I take Zoloft daily to help with my anxiety and depression as well as consulting with my friends and partner about my feelings on a regular basis.

 

For me, creating comes from a happy place, so it's important that I only paint when I'm feeling myself. If i'm sad or upset, my art suffers. Painting is a celebration of my life, a personal diary, and I don't like to dwell on the negative, so why write a dark story that will only continue to keep me feeling sad.

 

Every day I use different ways to cope with my OCD.  However, when I paint it's just me and the story I'm painting. I don't think about wanting to wash my hands, or the germs that may or may not be in my bathroom. I'm thinking about the color, the brush strokes, the motions of my creative process, and nothing else.

 In North Carolina this past August at Donna Downey Studio, happy to be creating with lovely peers

In North Carolina this past August at Donna Downey Studio, happy to be creating with lovely peers

 

 

Painting is my zen, and I'm so fortunate to have found my calling.  Thanks for reading and learning more about me!

 

 

Smiling because it's worth it

Leah