News feature – Art as a means of survival By Aria Cindyara

Jakarta, (ANTARA News) - Amid the lack of recognition and stigma towards mental health issues, Hana Alfikih has somehow found her way to make peace with the crippling delusions and extreme mood swings that she experiences, with tools she never thought would have saved her life, canvases and paint brushes.

The woman, born in 1992, is now known as Hana Madness, the doodle artist with a cause. "Art has become an armour for me. It protects me and my sanity," she said.

Hana had long been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, both of which she is still suffering from.

Schizophrenia, as described by the American Psychiatric Association, is a chronic brain disorder, from which the sufferers can experience symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and concentration.

It is believed that there is no cure for schizophrenia at the moment, although researches continue to be carried out and generate new and safer treatments. Hearing voices, distorted perceptions and beliefs, bizarre behavior and trouble with logical thinking are common among sufferers of the disorder.

"I was really psychotic," Hana said, adding that the delusions had interfered with her ability to maintain a socially accepted life. It started with the disturbance it had imposed on her performances in school, and before she knew it, she began going in and out of the psychiatry ward.

"When I was in middle school, the delusions got really bad and it affected not only my education, but also the relationship I had with my family. I had no one. I would not come home because my psychotic tendencies would become really active somehow," she reminisced.

Young Hana was suffering from not only one, but two mental illnesses. Aside from schizophrenia, she was also clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental condition that inflicts extreme mood swings that include emotional highs, often referred to as mania, and lows, which is the depressive state.

There are several different types of bipolar disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and each type indicate different levels and patterns of mania and depression.

Similar to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder is also a lifelong condition and can be maintained with certain treatment plans including medications and psychological counseling.

Both options, however, were not on the table for Hana. "Back then, my family did not see it from the scientific perspectives, instead, they took me to a witchdoctor to get me fixed," she said. Admittedly, the treatment she received from her family was not helping with her condition.

To this day, many families still resort to the spiritual route when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, as education towards the issue is still insufficient, especially in smaller and more rural areas.

As her mental condition continue to worsen, practicing art have always been the dim light in her dark days. Hana realized, very early on, that art was the one thing she still manage to enjoy doing. "I had no choice," she said, "I had no friends at school, everyone stayed away from me. So, sketch books and drawing pens became my loyal companions in those lonely days," she said.

The salvation she found in art made her believe that others, who suffer from similar conditions to her, can also find a platform to express themselves, and the possibility is not limited to only art.

"Not everyone has such fondness for art, I suppose, but I was very much inspired by it, because there are a lot of artists in the world who became famous because of the mental conditions they had, and I believe that art is strongly related to the psyche," she said.

Today, Hana is known for her signature doodle art that featured unique characters, and she spent most of her time managing between campaigning for the awareness of mental health issues and doodling away.

In her most recent project, she collaborated with the British Council and Art Brut, a foundation she co-founded with her partners, to have her paintings exhibited at the National Gallery in Jakarta.

She had also further expanded her concept of merging art and mental health when she had patients of mental hospitals from Solo, Lawang, Bali, Bandar Lampung and Jakarta, express themselves and uncover their thoughts through painting.

The paintings were then exhibited, alongside her own, in the National Gallery, as part of the Breaking Boundaries Festival (Festival Bebas Batas).

The recognition she had gained from her art has fueled her passion to spread the awareness towards mental health issues to the general public, but more than that, she is now more determined to pave the way for those who are suffering from similar conditions to her own, and inspire them to find their own sanctuary, a safe place that art had been able to provide her with.

"Art saved my life. Becoming an artist allowed me to not only express myself but also educate my family. I can create a platform to voice my own thoughts and for them to be heard. I hope to be able to do the same for those who are also suffering from similar conditions," she explained.

Source: ANTARA News

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