My name is Amy Diener. I am a Bangkok based artist from New York. I specialize in colorful mandala dot paintings. I’ve had a long history of battling obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and utilize my art as a coping mechanism to relieve anxiety. It’s also a catalyst to initiate dialogue surrounding OCD and destigmatizing mental health.
Although my OCD story started when I was 17 years old, there were many traumatic childhood events that led up to it. These were triggers that left a stamp on my later teenage years into adulthood. Growing up, instilled within me was to never forget anything - from my softball mitt, to my violin, to my house keys, to my homework. If I forgot something, I was yelled at and would cry. I recall one time I was getting driven to a softball game, and I had forgotten my mitt. We hadn’t even left the condo development, and I was scolded for forgetting it and told I could no longer play softball. It was that dramatic.
When I was 17 years old, I slowly started to experience OCD symptoms. It started from always making sure my important things were not leaning against each-other as I was afraid they would get damaged. Gradually it manifested into other forms of OCD. By 19, my OCD morphed into repetitive hand-washing, bathing, and mental rituals that focused around not forgetting things or ideas.
I kept it a secret for those two years because I was ashamed of myself. The only time I had a chance to be still without feeling embarrassed or worrying was while I was painting. Painting became a positive distraction I looked to for healing. When I had to revert back to reality, OCD caused me a tremendous amount of suffering and worrying.
At 19, I made a conscious choice to come out to my boyfriend. He had no idea what I was going through. Unfortunately, although he was genuinely trying to help, my OCD ended up getting worse. He didn’t understand how to treat me, and instead told me to rationalize everything. I kept asking for reassurance from him, and that also took a toll on our relationship. At that point, I knew I had to tell my mom what I was dealing with. She found me a therapist, but that therapist didn’t know how to treat OCD. It took a couple different therapists to find one that specialized in OCD using ERP (exposure response therapy). Starting from age 20, I began to start walking on my road to recovery. I was taught ERP techniques and prescribed Zoloft antidepressants. Once I had art, proper therapy, and meds, I began to turn my life around. Now, I am 30 and have a very mild case of OCD.
I’d like to touch more on my art. I started creating mandala dot paintings about 6 years ago. I was naturally playing with adding tiny dots to my works. The dot obsession took over in 2016. Dot painting requires you to dip and drop acrylic paint one dot at a time. I am able to achieve stillness, concentration, and relaxation through this repetitive dot process. It pushes me into a state of “liminality,” a pause or space in between with no thoughts.
Doing anything repetitive aids in that brain break. Painting dots forces you to concentrate, because you want the dots to be as perfectly round as can be. My OCD worries fade during this creation process. We all need some creative therapy in our life, and mine happens to be dot painting.
After viewing my art and story, I want others to understand that we are not alone in this and should not be embarrassed of our struggles. Instead, acknowledge them and work hard to triumph over them. After sharing my art and story to the public in 2018, many individuals reached out to me saying they were going through something similar. I’d like to be that inspirational artist who spreads awareness about mental health, pushing sufferers over the edge to overcome their fears.
Another thing I want others to take away from my art is that creative repetitive outlets are every-day essentials. I encourage you to discover which repetitive activities you enjoy. Replace the repetitive thoughts in your brain with a repetitive embodied experience. Maybe this is dot painting, pottery, yoga, dancing, or playing guitar. Bring joy, peace, and focus into these activities. Leaving you with my artist tagline, “Spreading Joy One Dot at a Time.”
I came across AADA through their Instagram page. I resonated with the content shared. I loved the tagline, “Triumph Over Anxiety.” This is the exact same mission I have. I attended the International OCD Conference in 2019, and saw some educational posts in partnership with AADA. This immediately caught my attention. I then proceeded to go to the AADA website, and found very valuable research and resources regarding mental health. I enjoyed reading over the blog posts and watching the informative videos. I had participated in a really powerful exposure in person at the IOCDF conference with Dr. Jonathan Grayson, and so I loved his talk. There are just so many amazing resources, and I’m looking forward to reviewing more that AADA has to offer. I wanted to write a story for AADA specifically for these reasons, in addition to the fact that they are an American Association. I like to partner with US based non-profits since I am an American myself. I’m honored to be considered an AADA Ally.