How I Used Art as Mental Therapy – Pt 1

Hello! My name is Tiara Matonda and I am from Zimbabwe. I’m currently freelancing as a copywriter as well as creating therapeutic artistic content for my Instagram page. I was diagnosed with ADHD ( Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and dyslexia when I was in grade 6 at the Dominican Covent primary school. It has been 13 years now post-diagnosis and I had my most recent psychiatric assessment early March 2020. I would like to share my journey with you on what it is like to have Adult ADHD and how I have managed to cope and overcome the challenges that come with this diagnosis and other mental health struggles.

Background

Growing up, for as far back as I can remember, I was a daydreamer. I would sit and my mind would wander as if I was in a reality of my own. In primary school, I frequently gazed out the window of my classroom that was high enough above the ground that all I would see was the tops of the jacaranda trees that lined Herbert Chitepo Street and the blue sky over it.

When I would gaze I wouldn’t necessarily be paying attention to the view I was looking at. Rather, the scene outside my classroom window created the perfect blank canvas for the pictures in my mind, oh and so many pictures they were. Most times it felt like I had so many images at a time that the only way I could calm the business in my head was to doodle them constantly. If not, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

So from a very young age, I was always drawing, doodling and painting. The problem came when it was time to learn, participate in class and get work done. In-class assignments were a nightmare. I would start at the same time as everyone else and without fail something would distract me, from a sound, to smell, anything that triggered any of my five scenes was enough to throw me off my train of thought as new thoughts, stories and pictures would flood my mind. Trying to get back to where I was, to what I was thinking about took time and wasn’t always easy. And before I knew it, the lunch bell was ringing, all my friends were leaving to go play and I had to stay behind and try to finish the task before me. 

At the time all I knew was that I was “slow” and required more time. It went from being “slow” and feeling different and strange to being called “lazy and rebellious” and feeling frustrated, confused and angry. The more I became aware of the way my brain worked the more I thought “if I just try my very best I can change it”. I would constantly lose things, all things. I was always in trouble for never having my hat, or my name badge, or my homework.

I just simply couldn’t remember things no matter how hard I tried. My memory was progressively getting worse and it was starting to affect my life. Being in detention all the time for missing hats and blazers meant I didn’t really get enough time to spend with friends, which lead to me feeling alone and misunderstood most of the time. 

Adolescence, puberty, family drama, plus having this diagnosis in a society that didn’t prioritise mental health and learning disabilities threw me in a deep depression in my teens. By the time I was 17 I had an eating disorder and many elements that caused me to be sick and in and out of the hospital. High school ended, and I was able to get into Vega School of Branding and Marketing in Cape Town, not because of my grades, but because of my art portfolio. I got my acceptance letter and for the first time in a while, I thought, “maybe I can do it, maybe I won’t fail”.

One requirement for their students was to provide all documentation certifying mental health disorders and learning disabilities. I had a recent assessment from the time I wrote Cambridge A’Level, which allowed me to get extra time in exams and tests. That was all I used these assessments for. Not to get further help, as I was constantly told that people with ADHD would grow out of it in their adulthood.

I was yet to find out the hard and painful way that, in fact, that wasn’t the case for at least 60% of children who are diagnosed with ADHD. Halfway through my first year in University, the combination of the untreated depression that stemmed from my teenage years and living away from home for the first time created a deep pit within me. I wasn’t able to get out of bed most days and on the days where I did try to get my life together, I could never complete a task or simply remember to eat. 

The school counsellor suggested that I go home and see a psychologist and so I did; and it was around this time that I first started taking medication for depression and anxiety.  I returned to school, restarted my first year and promised myself things were going to be different. I was going to make lists, lists with checkboxes next to them. But those checkboxes were never filled.

I had so many lists of things to do, and still, I would forget. For the ones I remembered, it took me ages to concentrate and focus on them. Usually, around 2 am, when the sun was down and the city was quiet, I could finally get some work done. Still, the forgetful behaviour and poor memory still led to me forgetting to take my medication and at some point, I stopped taking the anti-depressant and anxiety medication.

Through the years, with the help from friends and family, I was able to climb out of the depressive hole that I was in and really started to realise the causes of my anxiety. I read a couple of articles about Adults who have ADHD and found communities online where they shared experiences on what it’s like to be neurodivergent. I hadn’t given it much thought at the time but the process of healing had begun.

*****

In her spare time, Tiara enjoys painting and putting together creative, fun video clips involving the use of fruit as inspiration for her nail designs. She finds this and other forms of art to be amazing for her anxiety and has also discovered that her videos are an outlet for other people with similar mental health issues. Tiara frequently hosts live, Lo-fi paint sessions on her Instagram where she answers viewer’s questions on various topics and allows her audience to get to know her a little more.

Social media has increasingly been a cause for anxiety for several millenials, and her goal is to create a relaxed atmosphere for people using her social media platform. You can watch more of her fruit-filled, deliciously inspiring videos here. If you would like to be featured as a Black Creative or business owner, you can reach me on my contact page or leave a comment and I will follow up with you privately. Stay tuned for part II 🙂

Live painting session

4 Replies to “How I Used Art as Mental Therapy – Pt 1”

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