On Motherhood, Madness & Creativity
My eyes are hot, then wet, my tears like someone else’s. I am writing into my first novel, imagining the point-of-view of the brother, Doren, who struggles with schizophrenia. Alone in my studio in a fifth floor walk-up in Hoboken, New Jersey, I look out onto the hills festooned with crumbling tenement buildings, straining to get inside the character of Doren, to be him.
My first novel is called Can You See Me? The title comes from a line of Doren’s when he asks his sister if he is visible. Doren is often confounded about inside and outside, vision and reality. It also refers to Sarah’s invisibility as the sibling of a brother with severe mental illness, her brother’s significant needs and struggles eclipsing her own.
Can You See Me? is the story of both Doren and Sarah Solomon, a brother and sister so close they share a secret place, imaginary world, and private language during childhood. While Sarah eventually grows up and relinquishes their private haven, Doren holds fast to their enveloping world. What happens when the person you love most, best, falls prey to schizophrenia?
This is my story.
That day, a sweltering July afternoon, where the air feels more like vapour, I knock off early. My husband, Michael, and I are due at an appointment with a genetics counselor in New York City.
Not only does my older brother struggle with schizophrenia, so did my husband’s late father. His mother, a survivor of three concentration camps who died prematurely when he was sixteen-years-old, experienced crippling depression, delusions, and paranoia, what we now know to be post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but which did not have a name while she was alive.
At that time, Michael and I both volunteered at Fountain House in New York City, a haven for people with schizophrenia. I taught creative writing and Michael worked with his clients on computer skills. The work was fulfilling and redeeming, as we were not able to help our loved ones with schizophrenia as much as we hoped.
We are not sure, Michael and me, whether we want to have kids. We long to, but the thought of having a child with schizophrenia, the most severe form of mental illness, is terrifying.