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Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Mother
Both authors were interested in this subject for many years, and Margaret Brown discloses in her preface that she also had first-hand experience with her schizophrenic mother. The authors interviewed 44 women and men about their harrowing experiences, and it’s a tough book to read. The mothers were so extremely ill, and mostly untreated, and in many cases the children were raised solely by their mothers without the help of any extended family. It’s an incredibly valuable and moving book, the first of its kind, and deserves much more attention than it’s gotten from the press or from NAMI.
Mommie Dearest Despite the campy, over-the-top film made from this book, it is still one of the first accounts of growing up with a personality-disordered mother. The book has its flaws, but also many familiar stories of control, humiliation, undermining, and maddening inconsistency, with Joan Crawford always appearing tp the outside world as the model mother. Several women in Daughters of Madness said that when they read this book, it was the first time they knew they weren’t the only girls who had experienced such a chaotic and destructive relationship with their mothers.
Searching for Mercy Street
Linda Sexton Gray is the daughter of Anne Sexton, the Pulitzer-prize winning poet. Sexton was in and out of hospitals throughout her life, and eventually committed suicide. Her daughter, Linda, a writer herself, speaks movingly of her mother’s good and bad periods, and about the seeming complete lack of boundaries in her relationship with her mother. Sexton will be a familiar-sounding mother to those who grew up with dazzling, narcissistic, inconsistent mothers whose mood swings and personal needs dominated family life.
Wishing for Snow Minrose Gwin is the author of a number of books about gender, race and region, and teaches at a southern university. She uses her mother’s poetry, letters and so forth, as well as her own pieced-together understanding of her mother’s difficult history, to tell the story of her mother’s severe and long-standing illness. As her mother aged, she became even more difficult, and Gwin recounts in gritty detail the decades-long struggles between her and her mother as she tried to get her mother the care she needed, and tried to set some limits to what she could tolerate in her mother’s resistant, erratic and often hostile behavior.
Resilient Adults: Overcoming a Cruel Past , Gina O’Connell Higgins has been studying resilience for more than twenty years, and for this book interviewed forty “resilient” adults, both men and women. They all had multiple significant stressors in their early years, ranging from parental mental illness and alcoholism to long-term physical and/ or sexual abuse. She defines resiliency as being able to establish, in adulthood, satisfying work (she includes parenting in her definition of work) and an intimate relationship of more than ten years. This is an important and enlightening book, as it shows many of the similar challenges resilient survivors face, regardless of the labels carried by their parents.
My Mother’s Keeper: A Daughter’s Memoir of Growing Up In the Shadow of Schizophrenia, Holley writes the story of her mother’s descent into paranoid schizophrenia and homelessness, and of her own ceaseless attempts to help. She was a devoted and adoring daughter, and reflects longingly on her mother’s career as a singer, and her beauty and potential as a young woman before she became ill. Holley is insightful about her conflicted feelings about her mother over the years, particularly when she was most resistant to any help, and writes honestly of her quiet wish that her mother would die, so that the whole family could be out of its misery. She continued to care for her mother for many years in very difficult circumstances.
Daughter of the Queen of Sheba Jackie Lyden is a foreign correspondent for public radio, reporting from some of the most dangerous places on the planet. In this memoir, however, she locates the dangerous place for her as a child: at home with her bipolar mother. Her mother could be exotic and grandiose, thus the title – but also unpredictable and hostile. Lyden’s down-to-earth grandmother was a mainstay in the family, and Lyden writes beautifully about the dynamics of the family and of her own pull both toward and away from her incandescent mother.
You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes
Laura Love is an acclaimed singer and song-writer, and in fact has recorded a CD of her own songs by the same title You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes. In this memoir she tells the story of her and her sister growing up with the schizophrenic mother, with race being an added complicating factor as the family is African-American. The girls spent some time in orphanages as well as living with their mother, and didn’t know their father until adulthood. Love’s mother was severely suicidal, and made several serious attempts while her daughters looked on. Once she involved the girls in her suicide plan and only by happenchance was that plan derailed. Love writes that she feels her past is behind her, and that her life now is very satisfying.
When Madness Comes Home: Help and Hope for The Children, Siblings, and Partners of the Mentally Ill The author has investigated family difficult family relationships in her other well-respected books, and here interviewed 75 people, both men and women, whose siblings, parents or offspring were mentally ill. Many books covering this range of experience concentrate almost all of the attention on parents of mentally ill children, but she reverses the order here. She’s a gifted interviewer and writer, and in focusing on both what and how these people survived, she lets them tell their stories in their own words. Her writing is spirited and hard-hitting and she clearly feels deeply for the men and women with whom she spoke.
Out of the Shadow (2004), a film by Susan Smiley, is more mainstream than Tarnation, (below) as Smiley is an experienced documentary maker. The film depicts present-day struggles and challenges of Smiley and her sister trying to help their mother accept her diagnosis, treatment, and the housing and work that are available to her. It also uses home movies, old photos, and interviews, to show their lives, as children, with their schizophrenic mother. It has been shown on PBS and won the 2006 NAMI Media Award. (Google the title for more information)
Tarnation (2004) by Jonathan Caouette is the first film made by this self-taught film maker. It’s organized in a collage-like fashion, incorporating elements of home movies, sound recordings, and so forth. Reviewers vary in their response to the film, but it is certainly worth investigating. (Google the title for more information.)