ArtPrize Artist Explores “The Pull” of Living with Depression and Anxiety

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Image of Nicole Van Dyken in front of her artwork
Nicole Van Dyken knows what it feels like to live with a dual diagnosis of anxiety and depression. At this year’s ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, her entry “The Pull” will help others understand too. She hopes the meaning behind her painting will help dispel stigma surrounding mental illness and to encourage those afraid to seek help to do so. “It’s my visual interpretation of, in my imagination, what it would look like for someone to experience anxiety and depression simultaneously,” the Chicago-based artist said. Van Dyken’s piece will be displayed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s downtown Grand Rapids headquarters during ArtPrize 10, which takes place Wednesday, Sept. 19 through Sunday, Oct. 7. The international art competition will award more than $500,000 this year through a combination of public and juried votes.

Art imitates life

In Van Dyken’s entry, surreal imagery surrounds a human figure, with two distinct visual styles representing diverging experiences. Depression is smoky, hazy, dark and unclear in “The Pull”, while anxiety is represented by a jungle landscape, danger – and worry – lurking just beneath the surface. That disconnect is something Van Dyken has experienced for years. She feels fortunate to be in a good place thanks to a combination of medication and therapy and wants others to understand they don’t have to suffer, that mental illness is as treatable as other medical conditions. She knows friends and family members who have yet to seek treatment, despite struggling. “Some people are ashamed,” she said. “There’s a lot of stigma around it so they pretend it’s not there.” The loss of a close friend to suicide is part of her inspiration for putting her own mental health struggles out there to spark conversation. She knows all too well what can happen if mental illness isn’t addressed and wants to do everything she can to advocate for treatment.

Pursuing a dream

Although she’ll likely always deal with depression and anxiety, managing her mental health allows her to fully pursue her artwork, a lifelong dream that recently took off. It also helps her contribute as a wife and as a good mom to her four young children, including newborn twin boys. “That would not have happened if it weren’t for me admitting to myself that this is real, this is something I’m dealing with and getting help for it,” Van Dyken said. If you’re visiting ArtPrize, make sure to check out Van Dyken’s work at Blue Cross’ downtown Grand Rapids location at 86 Monroe Center NW. Listen to her story in this video:
If you need mental health help, talk to your primary care physician or seek treatment from a mental health professional. If you need immediate assistance, call the lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Photo courtesy of Nicole Van Dyken
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association