Published by Muswell Hill Press, Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too takes the reader on the artist Q.S. Lam’s journey through the labyrinthine passages of psychosis describing her strategies and struggles to recover from the impact of the illness on everyday life, drawing on her personal experience, using art, not medication, to keep well. Review by Colin Hambrook.
For those of us who are gifted / troubled / obsessed enough to get locked inside the revolving cabinet of psychosis there is a daily round of attempting to make sense of our experience; to contain the excesses of what psychosis imposes on us from impacting on those we love. Q.S. asks herself questions like ‘Do psychiatrists have all the answers?’, ‘What constitutes the right type of health care?’ and in examining the causes of psychosis through reflecting on her own narrative she gives valuable insight into the growing research into the stress-related nature of psychosis. Q.S. writes candidly of being subjected to abuse, often of a sexual nature, as a trigger for the onset of a complex mental health condition.
It is important to highlight that Q.S. has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, not schizophrenia, a condition that consists of extreme highs and lows, depressions, and at times auditory and visual hallucinations precipitated by the onset of psychosis. In the book she questions the diagnosis and highlights the pitfalls of being labelled with a diagnosis that is, like all mental health labels, very arbitrary.
Q.S. Lam describes her journey as a mother who on the one hand gives all that she can to her young children and on the other is desperately seeking to minimize the impact of postpartum psychosis from affecting them during the times when ‘Fred’ (as she names the voice in her head) takes over. Described by Stephen Fry as “absolutely unbelievably brilliant”, Q.S.’s story is an enlightening if often painful read, giving powerful descriptions of the negative aspects of hallucinatory experience and the imaginative and equally powerful techniques the artist has developed using her exquisite skill and ability to create artwork from a mind allowed to roam unrestricted.
I know from personal experience the difficulties of having being raised by a mother with ‘schizophrenia’; a mother who loved her children, yet could not help herself from descending into states of hell from where she was haunted by the most torturous auditory and visual hallucinations. Was she a ‘good’ mother? She gave each of her children lots of things in life to love about themselves and about the world, which is as much as any mother can do. And within the pages of Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, QS talks vividly about her relationship with her children. Particularly touching are the drawing exercises she undertakes with her son who creates a squiggle, which he then tells his mum to turn into specific images.
She also tells the stories about the friends, fellow artists and professional colleagues who have been part of her life. Madness is an acceptable romantic notion within the visual arts world as long as you don’t admit to being ‘really’ mad: and coping with rejection is an ongoing theme within Q.S.’s narrative. And above and beyond the stories of being disabled by the ignorance and discrimination she encounters is Q.S.’s insistence on taking ownership, taking action and seeking support when she recognizes the signs of a psychosis erupting.
Q.S. charts a journey through the doors of over 40 different psychiatrists plus their teams in an attempt to find a path towards recovery. In the process she is thwarted over and again by the lack of knowledge, expertise and integrity that exists within the mental health services both here and in Belgium. Running through the thread of her narrative is a commitment to making Art; used as a way of calming and emptying the mind; a way of releasing the hold that invasive thoughts have over her perception of the world and identification with it. I know from experience of psychosis how embedded specific alien, negative thoughts can become; and the impact that the Arts can have in freeing oneself to rise above the insistence of powerful, and at times life-threatening, auditory and visual processes that you have little or no control over.
In conclusion Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too gives a tantalizing glimpse into one fine artist’s world, complete with a selection of her delicious drawings.
Published by Muswell Hill Press, Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too is on sale for £17.95
ISBN 10: 1908995157
ISBN 13: 9781908995155