This Photographer Documented Her Sister’s Life With Schizoaffective Disorder

Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership with Clinton Global Initiative University.

Jen, the second-oldest of four sisters, had her first major breakdown at 15 years old. Since then, Jen's mental illness has had a profound effect not only on her life, but on her family as well. Now, Jen's younger sister, Martha Fleming-Ives, a Brooklyn-based artist, has compiled photos, journal entries, and collages from throughout their lives into a moving series, Red Parts Whole.
Fleming-Ives explains that six years ago, her sister was able to work regularly and was married. But since then, her illness has become more serious. She's been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which includes symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Fleming-Ives describes Jen as "the smartest person I know," but says her sister now struggles with day-to-day tasks like getting somewhere on time and paying bills.
Fleming-Ives explains that her family has held held Jen up to high expectations, including those set by well-known (and well-meaning) celebrities who reveal their own struggles with mental illness. "We have examples of celebrities who say they are mentally ill, but they are still able to do so much," she says. "And I know that my sister struggles with that a lot — that there's an element of 'Why can't you just conform?'"
Fleming-Ives explains that this pressure just causes Jen to feel more isolated. "She definitely sees herself as having to be separate... There is an anxiety about feeling left out or different and trying to compensate in all these other ways to be normal."
Fleming-Ives says she's had to reconcile her own mixed — and sometimes contradictory — feelings toward her sister. "It’s very complicated when you have a family member with mental illness," she says. "There’s a lot of love and guilt and anger. But that you can feel these multiple things for people at the same time is always what interests me."
Click through to see a selection of images from the series.

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