This is a very sad but ultimately triumphant memoir that deals with the impact of Munchausen’s on both the author’s mother, the author herself, and their family and friends more widely. Helen Naylor’s mother had Munchausen’s Syndrome (also called Factitious Disorder), and over the course of this memoir we see Helen slowly realize that her mother has been lying about her illnesses and abusing her. During Helen’s childhood, her mother says she has ME/CFS and spends most of her time resting and leaving Helen to take care of herself. Then she says she has Parkinson’s and insists on going into a nursing home, even as it becomes increasingly clear that she is not ill. Helen intertwines her family’s broader story with her own internal struggle to break free from her mother’s control.
I think what the author captures particularly well here is the loneliness and self-doubt of the abused child. Almost everyone around Helen tells her to support her mother or ignores the neglect and abuse that she’s suffering. When she does raise it with a friend later in life, the friend gets angry at her for not being kind to her mother, even though her mother is lying and manipulating everyone around her. This makes it even harder for Helen to break out of the supportive role she’s been forced into for her whole life. In this case, the love of her husband and her own maternal instincts combine to enable her to finally create boundaries and mentally escape. I also liked the inclusion of her mother’s diary entries, which gave a unique insight into the mindset of someone with Munchausen’s/Factitious Disorder.
This was an interesting read and one I’m glad I picked up. Munchausen’s had always been a particular interest and I appreciated the personal look that the author gives us.
Warnings for child abuse and neglect, psychological abuse, gaslighting, fat shaming/encouragement of eating disorder