The Girl with the Schizophrenic Mother

Yet another idea I am playing with, possibly for A5

One idea I’ve had floating around my head for ages is to go through some of my experiences growing up with a mother who was suffering from schizophrenia. The problem is that a lot of what I want to say revolves around her house. For the way those images look in my head at the moment, it wouldn’t make sense to make those images anywhere else. My mum lives in London, and I have been instructed to make images for this assignment somewhere close, somewhere I can return to again and again. I can’t do that with her house because I can’t visit her alone and I can’t go to London several times a week anyway.

Photos of my mum, taken by my dad. 

However, part of this is trying to work with this idea of being the girl with the schizophrenic mother. It’s been part of my identity for a long time. I realised this when I was thinking about the roles I have and the expectations I have of myself and that others have of me in fulfilling those roles.

Several weeks ago I’d been reading Identity Theft, the book of an exhibition curated by James Putnam. I don’t know much about the actual exhibition; I picked up the book in Oxfam Bookshop in Highgate because the title grabbed me instantly. Of particular interest to me was the work of Gonkar Gyatso. He has explored cultural identity in staged images, but in all of them he appears as an artist which seems to imply that no matter what cultural background he is exploring, that aspect of his identity is the most important for him. I thought about how I would approach such a series; how would I explore aspects of my identity? For me, I think it would be about working through the various roles I take on in my everyday life. I think that is where the confusion lies for me. In the same book I also saw work by Alice Anderson which I researched further online. Being someone with frizzy hair is also a part of my identity I suppose, so it was interesting to see her use her hair so prominently in her art. In an article in the Independent, she said, “We’ve all got memories. What’s interesting is when you start to make something with them. Anyone can just tell you their story.”  Interestingly, in Identity Theft there is a quote from her that says, “I am reinventing my childhood through the re-imagining of my own memories… creating links between myself and others”. So I think these ideas are quite useful.

I started a list of the roles I have; there are a lot of them. Among the most obvious that many people can relate to are the roles of mother, daughter, sister, partner etc. Being female feels like a role – it comes with a set of expectations and behavioural requirements. There are a lot of roles I take on by virtue of where I am – living in Dorset I become an outsider because I’m a Londoner. There are things I choose to do: I’m a violinist / musician, I’m a student.

However, the role that I can never seem to loose is that of the girl with the schizophrenic mother; it seems to override all others. I cannot stop doing it, it doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with or when you are looking at me. It is always there. When my mum dies it will be there. And like all those other roles I think it comes with expectations that I am supposed to fulfil. It’s worth me examining what those expectations are at this point, because although mental health is now supposed to be a subject we can talk openly about, we don’t talk much about the effect is has on family, beyond the impacts on the mental health of the other individuals involved.

I know that I avoided any creativity for a long time because of the expectation that I would be ultra creative because of her illness and that that would drive me mad. (Hence the study of maths and physics). There seems to be a link in the minds of many people that schizophrenia and creativity go together. There’s an expectation that I could go mad (no I won’t, it’s too late for that). That this runs in families (not this type of schizophrenia) so I must have some kind of inherent weakness perhaps? People who know me know I’m not the type to go mad, but I often wonder if during times of stress that everyone experiences, people are watching out for what they may subconsciously think is the inevitable? So the expectations that people have of me in the role of someone whose mother is schizophrenic impact the expectations that they have of me in other roles.

Anyway, it may be too late to explore these ideas for A5 now because I am still not sure what direction I would like to approach them from. But I will conduct more research into these ideas over the summer and especially into the work of Alice Anderson.

 

6 thoughts on “The Girl with the Schizophrenic Mother

  1. Catherine says:

    These roles that can be placed upon us can be such a burden. When I first began studies with OCA I read about some work by Amanda Tetrault https://www.lensculture.com/books/7627-phil-and-me. This was based on polaroids she had taken of her father, Phil over the years as a way to try to understand him. From what you’ve written I know this isn’t feasible for you but I’m sure you will find your own way at a time and in a place that feels right to you.

    Alice Anderson’s work looks fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

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