Abuse and chaos from childhood were triggered by an untreated bipolar mother, leaving me with post-traumatic stress disorder. To make matters worse, I found out in my early twenties that I inherited the same mental illness that had haunted me throughout childhood.
Years later I underwent eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and the brain gymnastics successfully changed many vivid traumas to manageable memories. Although I will always live with mental illness, I feel hope that all is not lost thanks to brain plasticity applications.
- The artwork submitted offers an image of the brain as an organic object, like a tree, that grows and changes dynamically. Within the foliage are two brain scans depicting the differences between a “normal” brain and one affected by bipolar disorder.
- Below the camouflaged brains is an image of synapses as branches and a yellow plastic connector with red blood flowing in the form of red plastic string wrapped in red wire. Linking the two brains illustrates that we all come from the same roots and shows the intricacies and interconnectivity of this complex organ.
- The plasticity theme is highlighted with the string, the cellulose green bubble wrap, the miniature doll and tiny vixen (my totem animal).
- Branches with LED lights in various positions portray the process of neurons firing up and the flexibility of our wiring.
- The plastic doll symbolizes coping mechanisms to trauma. As a child, survival fears forced me to play the nice, perfect doll in order to stay safe. I often disassociated to get through painful experiences. The brain is resourceful in its efforts to protect.
- Hidden beneath the surface there is a silencing person stuck in trauma, portraying the shame of mental illness. Of course, no child is perfect or devoid of anger so the “Shhh” image also serves to depict the repression of disowned feelings. Later EMDR therapy would help me find the treasure waiting to be discovered within my over-stimulated amygdala.
- The root system was deliberately expanded to take up a third of the piece. This is to illustrate the importance of where we come from and how our past experiences shape the brain throughout our lives–not just some arbitrary developmental threshold as previously thought.
- Frayed cords depict roots and reflect the web of neuron offshoots and possible paths available.
- At its deepest roots, a miracle happens: neural pathways are re-routed and regeneration of circuitry flows.
- Finally, every effort was made to engage brain senses with this artwork. The 3D lights, discreet glitter in root network synapses, coffee grinds spread on the tree trunk, the choice of bubble wrap that many enjoy touching and popping, blue sugar crystals in the sky and the tugs of childhood symbols with doll, cartoon animal sticker and fast food kids meal yellow toy.
- The brain: an organic wondrous web of possibilities offering hope to those who thought mental illness was a cruel life sentence with no chance of parole. I still dare to imagine a better world–one where the gifts of people living with mental illness are recognized, pioneered by a rethinking of brain plasticity.