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Living with Trauma

By Marie Rice

Artwork By Rachel Berson

The physical feeling of mental illness is difficult to put into words, but even harder to depict in art. When the pain we go through every day cannot be seen, it is easily dismissed by others, but is still just as real as any other internal affliction. To the bearer, this pain can go from bothersome to overwhelming with the flip of a switch. Anyone who has struggled with mental health in the past can understand how frustrating dismissal of their problems is, so the artist of this work, Rachel Berson, is focusing on depicting the feeling of trauma itself.

Trauma can leave physical scars too, but it’s the emotional ones we deal with constantly. The first work depicts a fractured eggshell, playing on the phrase ‘walking on eggshells.’ This work is meant to depict life right after a traumatic event occurs. People who have just experienced something traumatic are rightfully fragile, because they no longer have the luxury of feeling comfortable in their own skin, or safe in their homes.

Their entire world has shattered around them and they alone are left to pick up the pieces. Weeks can stretch on numbly after a traumatic event, and maybe one thinks they may never feel again, then a word, an object, or even a color brings everything crashing down.

Triggers are never easy to avoid, typically being seemingly insignificant or common things, but they have a powerful effect on people. As depicted in this work, living with trauma is like walking on eggshells; one can try to avoid a mess by being sensitive to the fragile state, but the shell we build around us is bound to crack under pressure.

For people living with chronic mental health problems, it’s typical to hear, “it’s all just in your head.” This is meant to be a dismission of one’s struggle and more often than not, leaves the receiver feeling like a fraud or worse. However, this phrase could not be more correct: mental illness is simply trauma to the mind.

Psychological trauma may not be visible, but it’s still as real and as physical any other kind of trauma. If mental illness is all just in your head, by extension, so are strokes, brain tumors, and other ‘legitimate’ afflictions.

In the second work, ‘Long-term Memory’, Berson aims to depict the long-term effects of living with trauma.

The image focuses on the part of the brain where long-term memories are held, called the Amygdala. Here, this part is shown red with inflammation. Berson is portraying trauma as an infection of the psyche, a festering wound that just hasn’t healed quite right.

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