Updated: May 24, 2021
.... and Why I Chose to Turn my Love for Art into a Business
A thing happened... I got featured on True Love East Africa March edition, more specifically the Life is Beautiful section. First of all, to be featured alongside comedian Esther Kazungu was... just wooooooow!!! :-)
In the article I talk about when I started art, the transformative moment when I turned it into a business and what I envision for the future. This blog post expands everything I discussed in the interview.
There is still Stigma around Mental Health and those Publicly Known to have experienced challenges
Aside from being an artist, I am an account manager at a digital marketing and advertising agency. Quite recently, we were in a meeting with a client, trying to come up with a list of influencers we would use to help amplify the brand's messaging. So I named a lifestyle influencer that I was sure was a perfect fit for this brand - capable of pushing premium brands because she lived a certain lifestyle that was relatable to the kind of people we were targeting.
"No! No! No! Didn't she have a mental breakdown?"
"Urrrmm... so you don't want to use her?"
"No, I don't think she fits our brand given her past"
We went on with the meeting and at every interval where I wasn't doing the talking, I was processing what had been said. I tried remember when this particular person had a breakdown and whether it was a trending topic. All I could recall was there was a time she was trending on Twitter as she was going through a public break up. Of course she had a mental breakdown, if at all she did! Don't we all have a breaking point?
Next thing I thought was, "Your product (the client's) offers a benefit for one's wellbeing and health, so shouldn't mental health be a real conversation to have so people see the value in your product?" This made me realize there is a lot of work that needs to be done to deal with the stigma around mental health.
There is a need to normalize talking about depression and other mental health issues, and not every discussion needs to be depressing. There is still a societal stigma around talking about depression even though we're seeing more conversations happening online around it.
How Art was a part of my journey dealing with Depression
In 2018 I was really struggling with depression. It was impacting everything, from my relationship to my job. At the time I was working at Homeboyz Radio as a Social Media Manager. For some reason I decided to reveal what I was going through with the Head of Presenters and Breakfast radio host, G-money. I thank God for what happened next because that's how I later met Anita, a psychologist who uses CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as a means to help people gain tools to manage depression. (This is a story for another day).
Anyway, so this one time Anita gave me this exercise. "For this week, when you can I would like for you to try and draw something. You're going to draw what you feel depression looks like, for example, is it an elephant? A big black dog? Whatever you feel it looks like. Then you can label the various parts of the elephant with the things that trigger the depression, for example, is it your relationship right now the trunk of the elephant - why do you feel it's the trunk? Are the feet representing your job? Do this and bring the drawing to our next session."
I went ahead and used the elephant as my example. The drawing didn't need to be professional looking, but given I liked occasionally drawing, I wanted to give my best to this assignment.
I was surprised by the relief I felt articulating what I was struggling with through a drawing. Often times for a lot of people, when we're going through an intense emotion, it's hard to put what we're feeling in words - that's why we listen to a sad song that somehow magically got our feeling just right.
Something unlocked that day. It would be a year and half later that I would decide that art was my calling. It would take even more time for me to realize what I wanted to say through my art, and even more time to realize the impact I wanted to make.
Which why I am where I am today... A visual artist with a dream to use art to open up conversations on mental health. I'm still figuring out how I can get loud about this... but the journey is ongoing and I am confident I am getting there.
The Role of Art in Improving Overall Health
There is a reason why you feel joy when you listen to music, visit a museum or art exhibition, dance with friends and watch a play or performance at a theatre. This feeling is so abstract, yet there is a real biological result from it that impacts your overall health and wellbeing.
The obvious outcome of depression we're all aware of is suicide, but there is so much more that results from the mental disorder... a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, a weakened immune system are just the tip of the iceberg.
Engaging in the arts has been proved to help people deal with a wide range of mental disorders, not just depression. Art engagement (both visual and performing arts such music, dance, film, literature et al) could be a cost effective solution for consumers that supports other forms of solutions such as psychological therapy and drug treatments.
We are social beings and the ability to express yourself and engage with other people does so much good for us - art is the conduit for this.