Kathyna Hatla: Painting Clouds Upside Down - OC87 Recovery Diaries

Kathyna Hatla: Painting Clouds Upside Down


Kathyna Hatla is an artist who lives in Bryan, Texas. Kathyna’s soulful paintings of the natural world are filled with beauty and light and color, though they are informed by a journey filled with pain and depression and struggle.

“I use the analogy of the storms, because my life has been pretty stormy the past couple of decades. But I always try to incorporate some light elements to show that there is beauty in the storm.”

On April 4, 1999, Kathyna was out doing the “mom thing” (as she says), shopping at Walmart to pick up goodies for her four children’s easter baskets, when, out of nowhere, she weas gripped by a shooting, burning pain that caused her to go numb. After consulting with her sister who is an RN, Kathyna walked into a hospital emergency room, and sadly, never walked again. She was diagnosed with Transverse myelitis (TM), a rare neurological condition that affects the spinal cord.  There are many different causes of transverse myelitis, including infections and immune system disorders that attach the body’s tissues.  Kathyna is paralyzed from the shoulders down, with limited mobility in her right hand.

Kathyna’s physical recovery was difficult, but when she got home after spending five months at an inpatient rehab center, her mental health crumbled. “I had the physical therapy with my legs, the range of motion things I did the occupational therapy. We had exercise, but I don’t remember anybody really addressing the mental aspect of it.”

Soon after returning home with no idea about what to do next, Kathnya added severe depression to her list of challenges. “I just felt pointless, purposeless, and I just felt like I was struggling to breathe. 


​“The closest I can think of comparing it to was some of these movies that you see about astronauts out in space and how they go to work outside the spacecraft and the tether comes undone and they’re drifting off into space. . . That’s what it felt like. It was just a void—no up or down, just directionless and no feasible, comprehensible way out.”

After months of feeling numb, overcome by the loss of control of her body and falling into a deep depression, Kathyna made two important decisions that led her on a path back to herself: she would return to work as a teacher, and she picked up a paintbrush.

According to Kathyna, art has given her control in a world where control was extremely limited. “I have lost so much control over other aspects of my life. This was something I could do, that I had creative control over, and I could express myself. It was kind of a creative therapy, if you will. And I could choose the colors and I could choose the paint strokes and I could choose the picture I wanted to express.”

There is, in fact, beauty in the storm, and Kathyna’s journey is a wonderful example of how to look for it. As OC87 Recovery Diaries Editor in Chief Gabe Nathan says, “This is a very moving and poignant piece and, I think, a love letter to anybody who experiences something—be it a loss or an illness or a trauma—and wonders, how can I possibly continue on from this? I think this film answers that beautifully.”

I hope you enjoy this film, which, incidentally, was co-directed by Stephen O’Shea, an OC87 Recovery Diaries contributor and one of the two subjects in “Hell or High Seas,” a series of OC87 Recovery Diary videos that evolved into a feature film about a navy veteran’s journey to round Cape Horn in an effort to battle his own PTSD and pave a smoother path for veterans returning home.

EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Glenn Holsten | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

See Related Recovery Stories: Depression, Mental Health Short Films

Glenn is an award-winning director who loves to create compelling documentary story experiences of all lengths for screens of all sizes. He is an avid reader, studied literature in college, and his passion for stories with strong characters and interesting narratives stems from those years. His career as a visual storyteller began at WHYY (the public television station in Philadelphia) where he worked for 15 years before becoming an independent filmmaker. In addition to his PBS documentaries about arts and culture, he has directed films about justice and human rights, and now, mental health. He was emboldened to undertake his current documentary project, Hollywood Beauty Salon, a colorful feature-length documentary about surviving mental illness and finding the courage for recovery, after his transformative experience directing OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, along with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston.