CLEAN SLATE: Yvette Hess with one of her paintings. Picture: Candice Miller
Cape Town - It has been exactly 150 days since mental health activist Yvette Hess, 31, from Mossel Bay, realised she was an alcoholic. Two months after battling to quit drinking, she discovered that painting can help with the process.

“I initially concluded that I had a problem when I decided that I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness about mental health disorders. I realised that I was too unfit and needed to let go of certain habits. Drinking was one of those habits,” said Hess.

“At first I was in denial because even though drinking was part of my daily routine, I didn’t drink to get drunk. I just drank because it made me feel good. I would even hide the bottles in my cupboard so my husband couldn’t find it, as I was ashamed,” she said.

After being diagnosed with depression, bipolar and anxiety disorder, Hess discovered her new-found passion - painting - at a psychiatric clinic in Durbanville after her third major depressive episode.

“Since I got married in 2012, I was admitted to different psychiatric hospitals every year, for three weeks at a time, but my husband has always remained supportive and loving. About two years ago, I decided to paint as it was part of the recreational activities offered at the clinics.

“I went a step further and then went for classes at the mall. After about four or five classes I decided to start painting at home, and soon after that, I realised it could be a substitute for making me feel better, which indirectly was a substitute for the alcohol,” she said.

Being sober for 122 days, Hess said she now feels she has a greater sense of self- control and self-awareness. “All the baggage I have I can now put onto a canvas, but I don’t feel bad about it like I used to with alcohol. It’s liberating. When life hands me lemons, I paint them.”

Her art now goes for up to R5000 as she is saving to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on World Mental Health Day in 2019. “The trip I am planning is to raise awareness about the various mental health disorders people are faced with. I will be climbing with 14 other activists with different types of mental health disorders,” she said.

Hess’s art also made it into The South African Artist magazine’s three-year art calendar. “I am so excited and feel blessed, as I just started painting, and my work is already being recognised on such a big scale,” she said.

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Cape Argus