Mental Health and Justice Commission: System

‘System’ is a continuation from my series of identity drawings, on a larger scale (three and a half metres wide). It is drawn to connect in a complete circle and immerse the viewer in a network of organic forms. The drawing depicts the fragile system of the self, where every aspect affects the next in a delicate balance. Lack of sleep can tip things out, stress knocks on like dominos. Medication can influence this chemical balance, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

‘System’ explores parts of ourselves that are never seen in daylight. Neurons form networks in the drawing, neural pathways which get stronger with repetition. There is a sense of continuity, things are in flux as we move through ourselves. 

My research into advance directives introduced me to the concept of continuity and discontinuity of identity. Typically, our identity shifts and changes over a long period of time, so your childhood self would gradually become who you are in your senior years. In bipolar, there can be a sudden change in your identity - in a manic phase you could become more outgoing, reckless, inpatient, or develop a sudden belief in religion where there was none before. In a depressive phase you might become withdrawn, lose confidence, feel paranoid, lack motivation. This break in the continuity of identity causes problems where the earlier well self wants one thing, and the present unwell self would make a completely different decision. This is where an advance directive becomes helpful. In writing down your wishes for your treatment when you are well (for example, what medication you would or wouldn’t want to take), you are making decisions for your future unwell self, who might want to refuse medication completely.