Creative Cure: Treating My ADHD With Art

It's too easy to push creative endeavors to the side when daily stresses and obligations pile up. But art - as an alternative therapy or simply a daily joy - is worth my attention.
ADHD Coach Blog | posted by Beth Main

Today was a monumental day: I finished a project.

Why is this monumental? Because I’d been unable to get started on this project for a good five years. And when I did get started, the project went in fits and starts and dragged on for months before it finally caught fire. But once it caught, I made incremental progress every day. And finally, I feel fulfilled.

Art was a big part of my life for a long time. It was one of my majors in college. I had my own pottery studio in the early '90s.

As my life expanded to include career and family, my art kept getting back burnered until it finally fell off the stove entirely. If you’re a mid-life ADDer like me, I’m sure you can relate.

I’d been feeling the pull to get back into art for a few years. The pottery equipment is in my basement, waiting patiently to have new life breathed into it and be of use again. But a prerequisite to setting up the studio in my “new” home is creating a space for it (i.e. unpacking, or at least moving, boxes from when we moved four years ago). Cleaning out the basement is not a priority, so it remains an obstacle that won’t be removed any time soon.

Recognizing that I was at a standstill with the pottery, I decided to try a different art form. One that doesn’t take up as much space. I became fascinated with Mandalas . No studio required: I could create them with a sketchbook and colored pencils. But somehow, my creativity and my available time never quite matched up. My perfectionism got in the way. I just couldn’t get started. Too many years of stagnation had taken their toll. I needed some inspiration. Some accountability.

Then I stumbled upon Rainbow Vision , a local stained glass studio that offers mosaic classes. “Start most any course any week. Flexible attendance is available”, the web site said. Woohoo! Nearly instant gratification! I signed up for a three-week class.

The class went well at first. But it became clear quite quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my piece in the time I had allotted for it. I’m really not sure how I expected to complete a 15x15 mosaic in six hours, but there’s the old ADHD inability to estimate time for you.

I hadn’t realized there would be homework. Glass cutting is messy. Not as messy as pottery, but there is a good bit of setup (to protect furniture) and tear down (you want to be especially thorough cleaning up if you’re cutting glass in the kitchen). Any time you have setup, and know you’ll have to clean up, and with ADHD, you will have procrastination. And so I quite often didn’t get my homework done. I couldn’t possibly go to class if I didn’t have my homework done, right?

Flexible attendance was a double-edged sword: I loved the accountability inherent in a class, not to mention the clarity that quality instruction provides (hard to not know where to start if the teacher is right there showing you), but the flexible part of it meant that I didn’t actually have to go on any given night. Weeks stretched into months.

However, I was quite determined to reintroduce art into my life. It was – and is - important to me. There was a big part of myself that wasn’t being lived. A value not being honored. I was also determined not to waste my investment in glass-cutting supplies. I was not going to let my teacher – or myself – down!

Desperate for a solution, I set up permanent shop in an corner of my living room. With just a TV tray and a pizza box, I was able to leave my work-in-progress out all the time. It looks a little messy, but that’s okay. I was creating again! Every day I spent at least twenty minutes on my project. I gravitated to it.

"Let me just spend a few minutes over here..." You know how that goes. Nothing ever takes a “just a few minutes”, it always stretches out way longer than we intend. I used my ADHD distraction and hyperfocus to my advantage. It doesn’t sound like much, but 20 minutes a day adds up to over two hours a week. I certainly wasn’t finding two hours a week otherwise.

One masterpiece finished. I am pleased with it. Now it’s time to start a new one. My space is still set up in the corner, so I expect it won’t be long before that pizza box is full of glass again. Maybe I’ll mosaic myself a nice work table someday...

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