“Toxic relationships’. ‘Gas-lighting’. ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’. All terms that, over the past five years, have moved firmly into the mainstream, fuelled by the erstwhile occupant of the White House’s brazen display of all three.
Yet it would be wrong to think that these are new phenomena. While the world has been given a rather explicit psychological explainer this past half decade, some people have had to survive with being in close proximity to those whose only focus is themselves. Helen Naylor is one of these survivors, and she’s written a fine memoir of her life called My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me which has had an incredible reception after being released last week.
Helen’s mother, from as long as Helen can remember, suffered from ME, and later in life Parkinsons.. Her father was also acutely unwell with a respiratory problem, and was unable to do a great deal. At a young age Helen was their de-facto carer, due to being the sole well person in the house. Or so she thought. It wasn’t until much later that she realised that the mother she idolised was in fact making it up in a form of extreme narcissistic attention-seeking.
Munchausen’s syndrome is not to be mistaken for hypochondria, where the sufferer truly believes they are ill. Rather, as in Helen’s mother’s case, they are fully aware of the true state of their health, and affect the symptoms of illness for attention. Often this can be taken to extreme lengths: undergoing unnecessary medical procedures; taking prescription medicine despite (because of?) the inherent risks involved; injuring themselves to get attention.
(It’s) an insight into a deeply narcissistic human who nurtured her faux-illnesses over the needs of her own child
Helen moved to Nottingham to study at the University, the first time she’d lived away from her parents, both incapacitated with illness: or so she thought. Liberated after a lost childhood as a carer, she made Notts her home (she currently lives in Stapleford). This distance enabled her to take a step back, and realise the essential dysfunction that underpinned her life. The demands. The neglect. The suspicious injuries she’d sustained as a child.
Yet it wasn’t until her mother’s self-inflicted death that the full extent of the life-long lie surfaced: her mother was a dedicated diarist for nearly six decades, logging each day in a mundane, but occasionally chilling manner. Routine shopping trips are given equal weight to other family members being hospitalised, the latter pithily dismissed as annoyances that draw attention away from the diariast. This realisation not only confirmed Helen’s worst fears, but exceeded them: an insight into a deeply narcissistic human who nurtured her faux-illnesses over the needs of her own child.
It would be easy to dismiss this as ‘misery-lit’, the slightly snobbish (misogynistic?) catch-all term for memoirs of a troubled life. Yet that would be unfair, and inaccurate. This is an engaging story, told well, with deep messages about human nature, familial ties and how someone reshapes themselves after realising their life is a lie.
It’s attracted the attention of the national media: since the release date on the 25th November she’s been featured in the Times, Telegraph, sat on the This Morning couch with Phil and Hollie as well as appearances on the BBC, GB News, Times Radio etc. At time of writing, her book was surging up the charts: no mean feat in the competitive Christmas market.
Helen will be officially launching the book at Lakeside this Saturday (4th December), and you’re welcome to come along. Drop by between and come and meet one of our brightest new talents.