A’Driane Nieves didn’t attend art school, and she never dreamed of becoming an abstract artist.
“I knew I was a creative, but I identified as a writer,” Nieves told CNN.
That changed when Nieves began to struggle with mental health conditions. Painting is not only therapy for the mom of three, but now, it’s her career.
“Painting is now the primary way that I express myself. It’s just so grounding for me, and it’s just given a lot of freedom to my creative voice,” Nieves told CNN.
Nieves experienced severe symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety after giving birth to her second son in 2010. Heart palpitations, excessive sweating and a feeling of detachment from her son engulfed her.
“I remember his cries being such a trigger for me. I remember feeling very guilty, just confusion. I did not understand why I was experiencing what I was experiencing,” the artist recalled. “I hadn’t experienced that before, especially with my first child. So, I definitely didn’t have any awareness that that was normal.”
One in 8 women in the US experiences symptoms of postpartum depression, also known as “baby blues” after giving birth, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nieves eventually got treatment and her symptoms improved, but her mood still fluctuated between extremes.
“And I reached the point to where I started having suicidal ideations. And that’s when I knew that I really needed to seek intervention.”
As a US Air Force veteran, Nieves remembered that she had access to veterans medical care. And after consulting with the intake psychiatrist at the VA hospital in Pennsylvania, he diagnosed her with Bipolar II disorder.
“I found a lot of comfort in knowing that there was a medical reason for why I had been experiencing all the turmoil that comes with having hypomanic and depressive episodes,” she said.
From there, Nieves was referred to a therapist to help develop a treatment plan.
“My therapist suggested to me that I find a way to build or create something constructive with my hands to help manage a lot of the agitation and aches and pressure and just frustration that I would feel during my hypomanic episodes,” she said.
Nieves tried crocheting for about two weeks.
“It was too tedious for me.”
And one day, she picked up paint and a canvas. As she poured the paint on the canvas and moved it around with her hands, she felt a sense of relief.
“Within 45 minutes to an hour, I felt completely different than I had before,” she said. “And It was a really transformative moment.”
The art of healing
Nieves grew up in an abusive household. Her doctor had explained to her that because of her family history, she was at high risk for developing a mental health condition like PPD.
“And then he explained that due to my grandfather having schizophrenia, I had a susceptibility to developing bipolar disorder,” she said.
But Nieves has not been defeated by the conditions. Since she started painting in 2012, she’s created more than 1,000 abstract pieces.
Painting isn’t the only way Nieves manages her bipolar disorder. She takes daily medication. She contacts her psychiatrist if she notices any changes in her symptoms, and she also sees a therapist regularly.
In 2012, she established her nonprofit Tessera Arts Collective to amplify the work of Black and brown women and non-binary artists who primarily work in abstraction.
“Now, I really focus my efforts on just telling my story, especially as it relates to my art,” she said. “You just never know what people will connect with.”
“I would like to encourage anyone who’s living with bipolar disorder to be kind to themselves, to practice self-compassion, and remember that you are worthy. You have the right to live a full and healthy life even while managing a chronic mental health condition like this.”