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Complex matters of the mind

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma - Arts and Education Coordinator
An artistic depication of addressing myths surrounding Bipolar Disorder by Markham Johnson.
An artistic depication of addressing myths surrounding Bipolar Disorder by Markham Johnson.
Amitabh Sharma

The complexities of the human brain are best known only to the creator – the metaphysical being that’s omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. As humans we tend to, with our limited knowledge base, perceive things at their face value, and most times, as much as we might not admit, the constraints of our contemplative power can rationalise as much and no more.

Those, who zoned out, understanding Bipolar Disorder is as complicated to understand as the preceding paragraph – and it is one artist’s keen desire to create awareness about the condition and more importantly, clear some myths and misconceptions.

“The fundamentals of my work express reality and truth about bipolar disorder,” said Markham Johnson, whose installation – Contemporary Art and Bipolar Disorder – was mounted as a part of the final year Visual Arts showcase at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

“As it is a mental illness,” Johnson said. “The body of work aims to shed some light on the disorder and how it affects individuals in Jamaica. The research was influenced and driven by something very distinct within this area of mental health.”

Johnson used minimalist designs to create posters, flyers, promotional material and feedback forms to engage audiences and to get the message across.

According to Mayo Clinic, Bipolar disorder, which was known as manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

When a person is depressed, they may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When their mood shifts to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), they may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable.

These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgement, behaviour and the ability to think clearly. Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any.

Creativity and Bipolar Disorder

There is ongoing research to find a correlation between creativity and Bipolar Disorder –Several studies show that people who are affected by Bipolar Disorder are more likely to show high levels of creativity.

Expressing oneself beyond the realms of the ‘timetables’ set by societal norms – could help ease one’s challenges.

“It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore,” singer Mariah Carey told People magazine, talking about her being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. “I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love - writing songs and making music.”

Carey is among the numerous celebrities – actors Mel Gibson, Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, singers Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Sinead O’Connor, author Ernest Hemingway, to name a few - who have been diagnosed with this condition and chose to come out in the public.

But a vast majority choose to remain silent for the fear of being chided, called names and laughed upon – it is stigma that is unbearable at times.

“Stigma plays a role among those who suffer from the disease in the battle of their mind as it promotes shame and anxiety,” Johnson said. “Undiagnosed persons are fearful of seeking any form of help that leads to a lack of interest or pleasure in most activities. It becomes difficult for them to realise the emotional instability and how it disrupts their lives.”

Through his work, Johnson hopes, that he would engage people in meaningful conversations, encourage dialogues and understanding among the friends and family of those who are living Bipolar Disorder and critically create awareness about the condition.

Before her death in 2016, actress Carey Fisher (famous for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars) was a prolific and vocal advocate for Bipolar Disorder. She spoke about her own experiences and how it affected her.

“A manic phase is not predictable,” Fisher once said in an interview with USA Today. “The last time, I hacked off my hair, got a tattoo, and wanted to convert to Judaism.”

Like any human challenge, it requires loads of patience, understanding, acceptance and workable solutions to address Bipolar Disorder – there might not be a ‘one size fit all’ situation. Visual representation coupled with artistic interventions –infusing positive messages, educating the wider population - can be a strong medium to bring about a change in the mindset.

“This work,” Johnson says, “is therefore relevant and becomes imperative as it presents an opportunity for teaching about Bipolar Disorder.

“The illness is not a death sentence no matter what stigmas are stated,” he added. “...because life does go on...”