ADHD: The Ideal Companion to Mental Health Creativity

Stephen-2

Movement Started With A Knee
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photography

It is so clear in my mind, just like it was yesterday. Was a Friday, late morning and as I prepared to leave for work, the cocktail was mixing in my head with the ingredients of anxiety, stress, depression and the thoughts of self worth and purpose to living overwhelmed my head. It was too much and as I spun out of control and my emotions grew out of control I knew I could not go into work. I picked up my phone and called my wife. “Anne I need to go to the hospital, I need you to come home and take me, I need to get help for my mental health.” Immediately my wife was home and we were at the hospital and getting checked into the mental health outpatient program. This was the start of admitting that I needed more help then what I could get from my general physician. It was time to face this disease head on and go to war with it, Knowing there would be many battles in this war, but in the end I could hopefully win the war in the end. The war to find myself again and find my purpose here on earth.

Power To The People Portraits
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photography

4 months passed and then came the decision to return to work. Was I ready? All I knew is I was not ready to do what I did before and resigned from my current role in management. It was time to put my health before work. I won’t lie to you was I scared? Yes. Did I have a hard time the first couple of shifts back to work getting out the door without fear and floods of emotion coming over me? You bet I did. But I was determined with the support of my wife to beat this and get this done. Now I must be honest it was not easy, it was not always a bed of roses at home either. The medication stripped me from being the kind person I once used to be, I was now a different person, I was easy to snap and become irritated. I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. However through all this my wife became the rock that held our home together. When so many might have left, she dug in deeper, planted the roots and foundation of our family tree stronger and did not let them uproot.

Empowering Us All
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photography

As we entered into 2020, 14 months after taking this enormous yet important step to get more help for my mental health we knew something still wasn’t right. In the year there were too many side effects from the medications, the therapy sessions were working to a point but not working if you know what I mean. Then my wife came across an article, did more reading and more research. We started to cross reference my symptoms, my impulses, my focus to details and thought could it be? Could I have never been diagnosed with ADHD? Was this part of the challenge that was creating and impacting my mental health? We decided to seek out a Cognitive Therapist and go down the path of getting properly diagnosed. However being a grown adult and 45 did not make this task easy. If you are not aware this is a developmental disease that takes place and is developed before adolescence. You don’t just create this as an adult, it is born in you and you have to prove that by the age of 12 it was present in the individual to have a formal and medical diagnosis. As the process began so did Covid 19 and the challenges of getting questionnaires filled out, getting information to the therapist etc. However a connection like no other I had ever had with a therapist had begun to develop. There was real trust, ability to open up about things I never had before and the encouragement to start using creativity as a tool. You see I had always been heavy into art until my last year of high school then the pens, paper, markers and paints went away. Fast track to the holidays of 2019 and a gift from my nieces. A sketchbook and a set of ink pens and the words I will never forget from my one niece. Uncle Steve I want to see more drawings by you and show me as you complete them. Little would I know that these tools would be the magic to start me back on the path to art. 26 years later in the month of March 2020 I did my first serious drawing. An ink drawing of Johnny Cash and the fire rekindled. Drawing after drawing came, counselling sessions past with conversations about my art.

Nina Simone and Johnny Cash
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photography

Then one day I came across an old set of markers, the kind used for fashion drawings and my style was born. Realism yet abstract, bold lines and colours with a graffiti type feel. I started tackling the images of people and those that were impactful in the world of activism. My images for the most part took shape with social justice issues including women’s rights/equality, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous equality and the LBGT community. Then came the biggest step yet. So far I had completed work of people I had no connection to in any type of personal touch. What would it be like to reach out to someone, see if they would collaborate and respond. So I did and I tried my luck with Talia Schlanger, a radio host in Toronto. A simple, yet nerve racking message to send through Instagram read “ In August I am going to start a project of some of my favourite CBC radio hosts in my art. Do I have your blessing to depict you”? It gave me new confidence, a new way to approach my art asking questions about personality, favourite colours, what drives an individual in life etc. I will always be grateful for this experience, this special piece of art and most importantly the time that this person took out of a busy life to impact a new artist in a way that will never be forgotten! The other defining moment in gaining confidence in my creativity and ADHD was the message I received through Instagram after the completion of an art piece. The piece was a response to a hate crime in my community and I depicted an art image of Notorious BIG and the power of Hip Hop in rejecting the message of hate. It was one of my more directive pieces and there it was a message “is this one for sale”. One of my first sales and one with a social justice meaning behind it. It was not about money or creating a price for the work. It was more the internal gratification that a piece I had created with a strong message was recognized in this way. I will always be grateful to Erin Lynch for her support and the way she encouraged my creativity to grow.

Notorious B.I.G/Nadia/Talia
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photography

Finally the official diagnosis came of ADHD and this new journey. Medicating my ADHD has made things more clear, given me new focus and taken a lot of the pressures off that created the other things around anxiety and depression. By all means it is not perfect. I now have the blessing of unleashing my creativity, but have the challenges of living without regrets and not being mad about what road life would have taken if I had been diagnosed as a kid. Life would not have had this other beautiful road, helped me to have a greater appreciation and love for people with mental health. I also would not have ever had the compassion for social issues and maybe never taken this direction with my art. I am still unclear where my creativity will take me and how I will grow in it. I do know that it is with me for the rest of my life and that whatever format I work in I will always look to use it for the better good and tackle important issues of the times. Sometimes all you need is that little encouragement and it comes in the smallest ways. One of my followers and supporters of my art is a fellow artist from Toronto who has used her artistic platform to create conversation around social issues. Nadia Lloyd the designer of the Black Lives Matter face mask worn by the Toronto Raptors has not only been encouraging, but also helped to create buzz about my work as a new artist. Nadia also gave me the privilege of capturing her in a portrait earlier this year. Courage comes in a different form right now of art and creativity rather than speaking, but Nadia has reminded me that we all have gifts and those gifts can be impactful and that the “Marker is mightier than the sword.”

Georgia and Imagination
Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photograph

Look for me down the road. As in a conversation I once said “You can have the first interview if I make it big” and the individual responded “ Forsure but not if, but when you make it big.” I remind myself what making it big means and it is never about the money or the wealth, it is about the impact that one’s art has on people, community, society and the world. That is making it big!!!!

This is my family, my rock, my support. This here is what defines my family!

Art by: Stephen Rea / Instagram @fineart_projects
Photography by: Steve Cook / Instagram @sc_photograph

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