How does one find truth in unspoken family abuse? Is it possible to break the silence of buried family secrets and develop something powerful out of these traumatic experiences? These are the questions I began to ask myself when I stumbled upon my mother’s watercolors, ones she had made at the age of eighteen during a psychotic episode. It was then that I finally understood the origins of her psychosis.
My father had collected all these watercolors in a portfolio. I held them in my hands on Christmas, laid them out together with my son to take a closer look. What lies behind her struggle? I asked myself. So I began an investigation into my mother’s childhood and the abuse she had experienced.
I started by reinterpreting her watercolors in photography, staged in a studio with real people. I felt I needed to make a statement, to establish a new confidence for these psychotic events. This process is at the heart of my new book, Seeing Her Ghosts, a collection of essays, poems, and artworks by over 50 artists and writers who seek truth in psychic crises — truths that are often caused by dysfunctional families, and the resulting trauma, truths that are hidden out of shame and helplessness.
Seeing Her Ghosts illustrates the emotional load and fear that is produced by a mental-health diagnosis. It gives an impression of the feelings that lie behind each individual drama and outlines a conversation between mother and daughter in photographs, watercolors, and diary extracts. The journey of making this book was therapeutic for my mother and helped in her recovery; I hope it helps others understand their family backgrounds and confront their own emotional struggles, to accept and truly see that all these effects of sadness, anger, rage, distress, and despair originate from a deeper conflict.