I didn’t know much about photography or mental illness when I took this photo of my mother some 45 years ago. Schizophrenia wasn’t discussed. I wouldn’t have posted this but for the “stop the stigma “movement which I support. My mother was physically strong, very strong, that’s why the focus is on her muscular arm. She also had a genius IQ. The grip on the pack of cigarettes says much as does the “distance” of her stare. I took a digital photo of the original photo, so the clarity of the original which I hand- developed is missing. But still present is the strength of her arm.
She was institutionalized for a time at Greystone Park State Hospital in New Jersey along with the legendary folk singer/composer Woody Guthrie–“This Land is My Land.” I wonder who else was there because, while smart, my mother, Woody and other gifted people weren’t considered “normal”? The procedures used to treat these patients, in particular, my mother, were barbaric by today’s standards. She was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and came home in a quiet rage over losing control of her life. The rage lasted 40 years.
I was told my mother wouldn’t take her medication, that’s why more drastic measures were employed to “calm” her. Shame on the medical profession back in the days of electric shock therapy and lobotomies. The message today is clear: schizophrenia isn’t a death sentence, a person can overcome the inability to distinguish between the real and the unreal. A strong support system, therapy and lots of understanding can do wonders.
But for me I have this photo that over time has become more of a reminder than a memory: stop the stigma.