Art and Chaos with Mimi Feldman
Miriam Feldman is an artist and writer from Los Angeles. She and her husband of 37 years, Craig O'Rourke, have four grown children and seven grandchildren. An unexpected turn in their lives propelled her to begin writing a few years ago.
Miriam's 32 year old son, Nick, has schizophrenia. He was diagnosed at nineteen years old, and for the past twelve years, their lives have been filled with doctors, firemen, ambulances and policemen in an unending search for support and answers. Miriam says that "Schizophrenia is an unknowable disease that shifts in frightening ways as the years go by." She is a relentless advocate for her son and navigates the cliffs of the mental health system, doctors who simply want to medicate into oblivion and the harsh effects of stigma about mental illness.
Jason and Elizabeth spoke to Mimi about the "collateral damage" of having a son with such a severe mental illness -- the damage that often falls on the siblings who are, inadvertently, often marginalized. Mimi's son Nick was a serious artist himself, a "golden boy" much beloved by his entire family, so while the build-up to his diagnosis at nineteen was chaotic, the loss was felt by each member of the family differently.
A prodigious painter, Mimi turned to writing in order to tell this story. Once she started writing, everything came back to her, and she found herself creating a memoir about the ten-year period where the family sought help for what was first considered his "anxiety," then a mood disorder and finally, his diagnosis of schizophrenia. Mimi talked at length about the period following Nick's diagnosis and after the family "stabilized" him, describing her realization that she was a "ghost" and not living life in the way that she wanted. She contemplated, "not in a melodramatic way," driving off of a cliff to put herself and her son out of misery.
"Obviously, I didn't do that," she said. "There's just this part of me, a little Energizer bunny inside, that said, 'okay, this is just ridiculous.' I have not worked this hard, loved this much, tried so hard to just not have a life anymore. And I had to find a way to reclaim it." It was then that she began to meditate and practice yoga.
Jason, Elizabeth and Mimi talked at length about the nearly impossible conundrum of the suffering that their children and their families go through yet the grace that goes along with that suffering and the inner strength that one finds -- even a calm acceptance in the most difficult of times.
Mimi says, "And I think that we find, we reach into ourselves and we find this core this, you know, this basic strength that we can sustain ourselves. And it has to do with our footing and our connection and our place in the universe."
Mimi has secured an agent for her memoir, but until it's published you can read her writing and see some of her and her son Nick's art at her blog, The Asylum of the Universe. You can also subscribe to her Instagram here.
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A woman who worked in the hospital in janitorial services who pulled me into a closet in a hospital and told me that I needed to get strong and be strong, that "this is it. This is your life now. I've never forgotten her."