The Brainy Bunch
A neuroscientist, some clay, and a craft project that helped me to explain my mental health!
When I consider my neurodivergence, I think of the potential to create.
My desk is the foundation for writing and crafting, and it brings me solace to let out all the emotional pangs and struggles of these neurodivergent experiences. Since I tend to hover over expressing my feelings about mental health, I wanted to make these concepts digestible for the public eye!
Even with my experience in the neuro field, mental illness is still difficult to convey. It differs for everyone, and not all folks lie on the same position within the spectrum. Additionally, many stereotypes in casual conversation about mental health go hand in hand with the uncertainties people have about these mental disorders.
For instance, you may be walking around the mall and see an "OCD" joke plastered on the front of a shirt display. It doesn't seem like much, but it's hurtful nonetheless. Or, maybe these stealthy jabs happen during work conversations when someone mentions their partner is "totally bipolar." None of these terms are very kind to those who experience these disorders on the daily, but they are words that still penetrate through . Despite rising awareness of mental illnesses, those biting jokes and disbelief about such conditions being "real" continue to thrive within modern day rhetoric. Physical illness is usually well accepted, but mental disorders are often misunderstood. Therefore, the cycle continues if no education about how and why these mental illnesses develop is enforced.
As a woman with OCD, anxiety disorder, and depression...how exactly do I navigate life or inform others about my struggles?
By using fun clay models of the body's neurological systems to show how these illnesses are indeed real!
Starting this project was chaotic but exciting. In the beginning, I couldn't decide what type of artistic medium I wanted to use. For hours I shuffled around painting, collage work, and even embroidery! However, I figured that polymer clay would allow me to make some cute desk pals or keychains of some common bodily components.
The materials I used included an assortment of colorful polymer clay, scissors to cut out shapes or small pieces, and many handheld tools to mend the clay. The main goal of this project was to create neurons, mini brains, and amgydala buddies!
Various regions of the brain have a major role in mental illnesses. I chose to make models of neurotransmitters, the amgydala, and the whole brain in order to explain their functions in the body.
Neurons- issues with the amount of communication between neurotransmitters is considered to be a reason for mental illness. Neurotypical brains may have entirely different activity in comparison to neurodivergent folks when looking at MRI scans!
Amgydala- The amgydala is the center of emotion, especially fear. While having a disfunction in this region is certainly not the only part of anxiety disorders, it contributes.
Here is my first complete brain I made!
This brain was formed using strips of polymer clay, all folded together. I used scissors to cut small pieces of black clay for the adorable face!
Regions of the Brain & Mental Illness: What Does this Clay Brain Mean?
Prefrontal Cortex- We call this the forebrain region. It controls the processes of function, reasoning, logic, and problem solving. This is the troubleshooting part of the brain, and it has a lot to do with learning capabilities!
Limbic System- Emotions, emotions, emotions! The midbrain is responsible for all those feelings and how they are regulated. Having a mental illness can alter how these are experienced.
Brainstem & Amgydala- The hindbrain cares about your survival! These built in instincts are a part of the classic "fight or flight" moves you do in situations of danger, trauma, etc. These play a big role in how you may respond to stimuli in the environment in connection with mental health!
After a long day of mending and baking the clay, I finally finished my lovely neuron and small amgydalas! The amgydalas are fused with orange, yellow, and red colors, to match the neuron. I added some faces on them to make them more fun and be cool conversation starters. Having these friends around can open the door to making neuroscience more approachable.
Introducing Norton the Neuron and the Amgydala Trio! Keep them at your desk or in your bag to remind you that mental illness is real, valid, and not something to be ashamed of. Physical illness is always believable, but mental illness is hidden underneath the skin. While it may not be something that can be pointed out on the street, having these lovely clay pals can actually help remind others that the body is more complex than our physical appearances.