Straitjacket Project

In 2009, exactly one week before Mother’s Day, my mother killed herself. As the years passed, I imagined this fact would get easier. It didn’t. It changed, absolutely, but it’s always there. Some days, unexpectedly, it still cuts my gut open. It still pulls the breath out of my body and holds me suspended in space and time, gripped in shards of ice, then releases me to free fall back to a world where people are acting like everything is normal. Like the sun is shining and clouds exist. Like food tastes good. Like your face can shift into a smile or you can laugh and mean it. Like you can love someone and be loved back. It’s jolting — both to be taken away from this, and to be returned. There is not always logic to when this strikes. It is exactly like, out of nowhere, the ground simply ceases to exist.

In 2017, as I faced the anniversary yet again — and as I started putting language around my own struggles with mental health and the complexities of being raised by an undiagnosed, untreated, mentally ill mother who committed suicide — I decided I wanted to engage with her story in a more direct way. The ugliness, the horror, the overall shitty-ness of it all would always be there and be part of my story, so how could I transform it into something beautiful? And in doing so, take some power back. And in doing so, perhaps heal. 

During the years we were taking care of our mother, my sister gave me a piece of vintage Victorian mourning jewelry made from vulcanite, which I still wear from time to time. Drawing on this talisman and the idea of beautifying death — decorating the mourning process — I began stockpiling black beads to sew onto a straitjacket in the spirit of victorian adornment. 

I absolutely love the texture made by the beads. It becomes a landscape. So I think of landscapes, and remind myself that my mother’s landscape does not have to be mine. This is an active, ongoing choice. I think everyone wrestles with the idea of becoming their parents, but in my case, it’s not some trivial pondering that ends in an eye roll or smirk. It is a matter of life and death. My survival hangs in the tenuous balance of that nature/nurture question. For me, both nature and nurture are heavily weighted to one terrifying side. So I believe we make our own fate, because I have to believe that. Even when it feels like I am wrong. Even when I feel like Sisyphus, straining against the impossible at perilous angles. I choose to push back. And I have to believe that by the simple act of pushing back, I am transforming myself.