Life isn’t picture perfect. Meet the artist painting her way to recovery

 
 
 

Yvette Hess was an overachiever in university. She juggled completing multiple courses, working full-time, running student organisations, all while being a single mother. It seemed she could do it all. Until she couldn’t. For every staggering high, Hess experienced sinking lows. More than just going through a slump; she was mentally unwell. After spending time in therapy, Hess was diagnosed with depression, bipolar, and anxiety disorder. Finding that out helped her understand what was happening, but not how to cope. For years, she tried to escape her emotions. “I used alcohol to make me feel complete,” Hess says. She felt ashamed. There seemed to be no way out.

When Hess was admitted to a psychiatric ward, she joined their recreational art classes. That’s where she rediscovered a childhood hobby that helped her heal. “When I started painting, I could see what I was feeling,” Hess says. “I found it easier to ask myself the hard questions.” In the three years since, she has used her art to express and confront her emotions, rather than avoid them. The process has given her the courage to stop depending on alcohol, and stay on the path to sobriety. “My strategy definitely has become about self-empowerment,” she says. “Taking responsibility for your healing because it’s your life.” Today, Hess is married, a mother of three, and working as a writer and painter.

Some days are still difficult. But Hess has the tools to face what she’s going through, and wants to share them with others in a similar position. “There are a lot of things we are scared to talk about with regards to mental health in South Africa,” Hess says. By opening up about her experiences, she hopes to create a culture of understanding, and replace shame and judgement with support. It’s a huge task, especially in a society where physical health is prioritised and mental illness is stigmatised. Hess is taking it one step at a time. By recognising that mental health matters, we can paint a brighter future.