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Daughters and Sons

July 14, 2003

Authors, Filmmaker Focus on Children of Consumer Parents

NAMI Literature Award winners Bebe Moore Campbell, Virginia Holman and Lynette Brasfield, along with filmmaker Susan Smiley, address the challenges, heartbreaks and rewards of growing up with a parent with mental illness. Together, their recent or soon-to-be released works provide important new perspective on the experience of children of parents with mental illnesses in confronting challenges at different stages of life.

Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories from a Decade Gone Mad), is Virginia Holman's touching memoir of her mother's untreated schizophrenia. One year after Patty Hearst was kidnapped and robbed a bank in 1974, Holman writes, "my mother lost her mind and kidnapped my sister and me to our family cottage." She and the children hid in rural, coastal Virginia, because she believed that they had been inducted into a secret army. She believed, writes Holman, that they had been "trusted with setting up a field hospital. We lived in that cottage for over three years."

Holman's book also explores the ways that the legal and clinical system during the 1970s and 80s prevented her family from getting her mother the treatment that she desperately needed. Holman has written for Redbook, Self, DoubleTake, USA Today, and the Washington Post. A portion of Rescuing Patty Hearst received a Pushcart Prize in 2001.

In Brasfield's Nature Lessons: A Novel, a woman returns to South Africa after 20 years to search for her missing mother and truths about her family history under apartheid. It explores the strain in family and social relationships that arise from paranoia that can be rooted in mental illness or an oppressive political regime. Last week, Booksense 76 selected Nature Lessons for its list of Outstanding New Fiction for July and August 2003, considered by independent booksellers to be "unique and provocative." Booklist has described the novel as "gripping…part mystery, part dark comedy, part harsh political reality."

In September, look for best-selling author and National Public Radio Morning Edition commentator, Bebe Moore Campbell's Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry (G.P. Putnam's Sons). In this children's story, Campbell describes the joys that a young girl finds in her day-to-day activities, despite the sometimes difficult moments that she experiences with the symptoms of her mom's bipolar disorder.

Out of the Shadow, a documentary film produced, directed, and written by Susan Smiley, premiered at the NAMI's 2003 Annual Convention. At age 21, Millie Smiley was bright, beautiful, and newly-married with an infant daughter. Shortly thereafter, she attempted suicide. Over the next several years, Millie's symptoms of schizophrenia emerged in force. When her daughter Susan was four, and her second daughter, Tina, was still a toddler, her husband left and remarried. As the chaos of Millie's life unfolded, Susan and Tina realized they had to mother her, even though they themselves were children. When they left home, Millie's life unraveled completely. Susan, who has traveled the world producing television documentaries for The History Channel, Discovery, and PBS, has found healing and a sense of mission in making Out of the Shadow. This work-in-progress chronicles several years of Millie's life through the ups and downs of her illness, within the public health system. Today, Millie lives in a group home, and for the first time in 25 years, holds a job. She is a portrait of dignity and courage, due in no small part to her daughters' love and perseverance.

All of these works will do much to raise awareness about families living with a loved one with a mental illness and to help combat stigma.
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