Another student recommended Phil and Me after seeing a post I’d written about my mother’s mental health and my desire to document it. I had to order a copy to the university library at AUB. It took some time to arrive but it was worth it.
I wish there was more explanation at the beginning to put the work into context. The feelings of shame and embarrassment that Amanda Tetrault feels are the same feelings I have experienced in the past with my mum.
Phil is not only a victim of his disease, he’s also a victim of poverty; he looks like a tramp, and my mum is exactly the same. She has become a victim of poverty and diseases that go along with it that she probably wouldn’t suffer were she mentally stable.
Phil had an alcohol problem; that’s different. There are several differences in experience – I suppose the main one I pick up on is that Amanda Tetrault is clearly left with the feeling that despite his illness, her father loved her. I don’t feel that about my mum. Her belief is that I am responsible for her in some way, that I should take care of her, and with a family of my own even if I wanted to take care of her I would always fail. She blames me for the voices she hears, she has done for a long time and so even when she doesn’t think I’m broadcasting them directly into her head, she often seems to believe that I’m doing something to make it happen.
The section at the end of Phil and Me shows that Amanda Tetrault felt, and still feels, supported by her family – her mother, grandparents, etc. This is definitely not a feeling that I am left with after my experience. I was blamed and felt unsupported. Despite my efforts as a child, teenager and then into my 20s and 30s, as far as my family seemed to be concerned it was me doing something wrong that somehow made my mum ill and caused her to behave the way that she did.
I was somehow responsible is a thought that stays with me. For a long time I couldn’t see why I would be and I felt very scared that I would get ill or I would make someone else get ill. Then, when I had counselling, I realised that I was not responsible in any way, and the idea that I was was an abdication by my family and a form of abuse. In a way by making me a scapegoat and telling me and each other that I was at fault, an odd kind of power was ascribed to me. Very strange because I felt so powerless, and as an eleven year old girl when her issues really kicked off I really was.
Now I am just left feeling powerless when I get calls at crisis points and the rest of the time I do not get involved. I know that a lot of people don’t understand and because they have sympathy for the person with mental health issues (which is fine), they discount the abuse that that person can inflict, and the hurt that they can cause. The fact that someone is ill doesn’t stop abuse from being abuse, and it seems that it’s difficult for some people to understand that. So my experience is very different in that respect.
I am left with anger and frustration about the situation I was left in and the things I was expected to take responsibility for at a very young age. Frustration at carers who clearly have absolutely no understanding of the past and just see me as a daughter who is not visiting her sick mother. I’m still left with fear when I see my mum, fear that she will attack me, that she will try to hurt my children, fear at my home over a hundred miles away, that she will turn up on my doorstep and see tigers and computers coming out of the walls and I will be forced to defend myself and my family from her psychotic rage.
At the moment I won’t take photos of mum; not directly anyway. I want to show what is happening, but I feel for the person she was or could have been, that she would be embarrassed about what happened to her and so I don’t want to put her, that non-existent person, in that position. Maybe later things will be different.