Artwork for podcast My Family, Mental Illness, and Me
Camilla Strøm Henriksen
1st December 2021 • My Family, Mental Illness, and Me • Bespoken Media
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Norwegian film director and actor Camilla Strøm Henriksen's mother had a mental illness, and she channeled the experience into her film 'Phoenix'. As an older sister, she says she felt a great deal of responsibility to her younger brother.

If you would like to support children and young people living with parental mental illness, please donate to Our Time here: https://www.justgiving.com/ourtimeuk. To find out more about Our Time, please visit www.ourtime.org.uk/.


If you are affected by anything you hear in this podcast, there are people you can talk to for support. You can contact your GP, www.samaritans.org or www.childline.org.uk. If you are a young person, you could also talk to a teacher or other trusted adult.

Transcripts

Dr Pamela Jenkins: This is My Family, Mental Illness... and Me.

[Intro music]

My name is Pamela Jenkins and I’m a researcher at the Mental Health Foundation. My mum, Irene, lived with a mental illness. There were voices only she could hear and she could quickly switch from feeling very high to very low. No one ever talked about it with me when I was young, even though I knew my mum was often unwell. When I was in my 20s, that’s when a psychiatrist told me that my mum had schizoaffective disorder. Sadly, I lost her quite recently to Covid-19 but even though she’s gone, her mental health will always be a huge part of my life.

In each of these podcasts, I’ll speak to someone else whose parent has or had a mental illness. In the UK, there are at least three million children of parents with mental illness. If you’re one, it’s really important that you know you’re not alone.

My Family, Mental Illness... and Me is a podcast series from the charity Our Time with support from the Mental Health Foundation. Our Time champions and supports children of parents with mental illness and their families. We’ve put links to more information in the show notes.

ct your GP, the Samaritans on:

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I’m Camilla Strøm Henriksen and I’m a writer/director. I’m Norwegian and based in London, working in film and television. I made a film a couple of years ago which you might have seen. It’s called Phoenix and it’s possible to rent it on Apple or streaming devices. That was largely built on my own experience of my own childhood. It took me a long time to make that film for several reasons but when I realised I wanted to tell my own story and write my own stories, that was the story that was pressing and I needed to tell that story. Through that process, it was a very therapeutic experience for me actually to make that film and it brought back a particularly difficult period or that traumatic experience, which I will you about in a bit, just because my childhood trauma was circling around some events and so I based the film around that. I think that has helped me as well to keep some of these issues alive in a way and I’m in a dialogue with them and that process of making the film helped me with that dialogue. I’m just saying that because I think all kinds of expressions of something you have experienced is really helpful, whether you make a film, or make a short story, or draw a picture.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, absolutely.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I think that’s really helpful. That’s the starting point. So I grew up in Oslo in Norway. I have a younger brother who is five and a half years younger than me and we lived with my mother after they got divorced. They had quite a turbulent relationship and so there was a lot of back and forth but he was a man with his own problems on his own account. I mean it wouldn’t have been ideal if he’d stayed either I think but with my mother… there wasn’t a diagnosis back then. When I was growing up from the age of, let’s say, eight, which is when I think he first moved out, she started to have serious and more noticeable mental problems. There wasn’t really a diagnosis, although she went to therapy. I didn’t hear any names but it was maybe something we would now call borderline disorder. That feels more like something that you would have used.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: I was going to ask what you remember her behaving like.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I think she was seeing the world very much in black and white and so either you were with her or against her. Her family, her parents and her older sister, were kind of enemies and I felt it was very important to be her ally because if not, I was also in that category of the people who didn’t understand her, so that was quite difficult. She wasn’t violent physically but she was violent in her psyche and in her outbursts, so she was quite aggressive. That was also something I felt that has obviously affected me and I felt that I had to be treading carefully around her. Also, I had a younger brother and so I felt that I was protecting him against her outbursts but I also feel that I, as a daughter, was more exposed to her anger or resentment. I think he, as a cute little boy… well, he was [laughter] and also a different sex and so being a boy, he somehow didn’t represent a threat to her. In my film, I set that in a period when I was a young girl in the film and 14-years-old because I think that’s the age where you are going from a child or even 12 or 13 now, younger and younger these days, and going into puberty. You’re turning from being a child into a young woman and I think that was also particularly threatening for my mum unconsciously because she felt she lost her life, her youth and her beauty. She had this difficult relationship with my father who was the long lost-love of her life in her world and so I think age and sex had to do with the difficulty as well. She was more and more reclusive and so I felt that that world inside that flat was very much its own world.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: How would you compare your life within the flat and then your life outside the flat?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Well, in the beginning, I felt that life within the flat was very much centred around my mum and her needs and more and more so. I mean we had good moments too because obviously, there was a strong bond between the three of us. She had periods where she was worse and also she was drinking quite a lot on top of it. She didn’t really use medication as far as I remember. So it wasn’t all bad and she had good periods and when she had those periods, she was quite a lively woman and warm. Yeah, it was all about her [laughter] and her moods set the agenda and I think more and more so but my relationship outside was changing. So in the beginning, I was quite okay and I was still able to be quite free outside and also actually, when I was in school, I was okay but then after her depressions and her darker period got worse and she was more aggressive towards me, my fear of how this might end was taking a stronger hold of me because I was more and more dominated by fear.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Were you concerned for your safety or for your mother?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Well, not my safety. I’m not sure if I was conscious of what the fear was. I think I was afraid and I was thinking of this a lot because obviously, as you know, if you have difficulties in your childhood, this is something you have to deal with later.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: It doesn’t go away.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: It doesn’t go away and so it’s a constant process but I think that I had a general fear of chaos and that is quite an existential fear. So maybe on a deeper existential level, I had a worry about my own safety but not like I was thinking she was going to kill us, or harm us, or set the house on fire, although [laughter] she actually did once but that was by accident. We woke up and she had prepared for Christmas… because really loved Christmas and so Christmas was our good period and so she was always making a lot of things and that was nice. They were nice periods and she was making a lot of things. For advent, she had made something where you light one candle each Sunday up until Christmas. Anyway, she’d made this and she obviously had a couple of glasses of wine and then put it on. So we woke up in the middle of the night and the whole living room was on fire because it had fallen down and the firemen were there. That was an accident and so I don’t think there was any intention [laughter] to burn us all down. She was deteriorating and that made my mood and my psyche more fragile and I was quite depressed. My teenage years started at 12 or 13-years-old and I was depressed and I felt I wasn’t really engaging in school. I was engaging with friends. I felt very different and that culminated in her committing suicide.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: I’m sorry.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: When I was 16, the year before, I somehow decided to run away and to go to a college. So I went to this school on the other side of the country and I realise that was also a way of escaping her because it was quite bad leaving my brother with her and I think that, on a subconscious level… I wasn’t worried about him directly but I felt that I was leaving him behind or abandoning him.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: You felt a responsibility for your brother.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yeah, yeah, exactly, because she wasn’t great to be around and that year was hard for him. I was away and I was relieved but the really traumatic thing was… I was going to return at the end of May and I talked to her on 12th May in the evening and she was really depressed. My brother was away with some neighbours on a weekend trip. I was only 16 but I was quite mature and I used to talk to her about her problems because she had no filters. She talked to me about everything since I was a kid, so I was very attuned to her problems [laughter]. She then said, ‘I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom now and I can’t go any further. You can only go upwards from here, I suppose.’ I said something which I remember quite clearly which was, ‘Yes, I think you’re right but obviously, you can also go a while below the bottom before you go up.’ I was just being quite logical [laughter]. That night or the day after on 13th May, she committed suicide and my brother, who was 11, returned from a weekend with the neighbours and he found her. I always felt that I should have found her and it was wrong that I kind of exposed him to the culmination of that difficult time.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Had you and your brother, when you were growing up, spoken about your mum’s mental health together before that day?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: A little bit but not much. I can’t remember so much how we spoke about it. He was quite young. No, I think I was more protective of him because I was exposed to her dialogue about it all the time and so I felt that my responsibility was to shield him from it.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Did you speak to anybody outwith the home about it?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: One of the lifesavers for me, which was very important, was that I had a teacher when I was young from when we started school at the age of seven. For six years, we had the same teacher in primary school. So from the age of seven to 12, I had this teacher and I was starting school just when it was starting to fall apart between my mother and father. That was kind of parallel with my first year at school and this woman was so great. I used to go after school and she was very patient. She let me stay and I talked about my mother’s problems and she wasn’t judgmental. I mean she was just listening. She let me talk without judging my mum and that was really important I think because then I felt I could really… because if she’d said, ‘Your mother is not right. We should involve somebody,’ I would have stopped. I would have said, ‘Oh, it’s all fine,’ because obviously, you don’t want intrusions. You want to protect your parents.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, which is interesting because despite it being a difficult situation that was having such a profound impact on you, you still are, as a child, so protective of your family and your home and the idea of anybody else coming in and disrupting what is already, you know, a disruptive situation anyway but the idea of a further disruption is just terrifying.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, and I think actually, for me, having that experience with her, I got very attached to her and I kept in touch with her later and I think that has helped me to have a certain trust in the world because I think one of the big issues for children who are experiencing traumatic experiences with their families and you don’t have your needs met, then you have trust issues and relationship issues for the rest of your life. It’s something you have to deal with because obviously, a relationship is something that is really difficult and you can’t trust them and I have that for sure in my intimate relationships. But in terms of still having the capability to trust the world, I’m sure that she helped me with that by just being there. If you have that lifeline, it makes a huge difference.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and some people don’t, for whatever reason. They might be afraid to speak, like you said. It’s interesting because I do some research in schools about talking about mental health and stigma and a lot of the young pupils, who are secondary school age, will talk about not wanting to discuss mental health or mental illness, if they’re having problems, with anybody who is too close to them because they want somebody who is a bit of a step removed, like a teacher, or a family friend, or an aunty. Somehow they want that type of trust where they feel like they’re less likely to intrude or tell anybody else and they’re also not confronted then with it every day because it’s not a person who they’re seeing at home or it’s not their best friend. Anyway, it’s just interesting and I think you’re absolutely right. I think it’s so important and I’m so pleased that you had somebody like that. Did you ever speak to friends? You talked about your teacher not being judgmental but did you ever speak to friends? You said you had your grandparents on your father’s side. Did you ever speak to anybody else about it?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: No.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Was it the judgment that you were worried about? Why did you not speak to them do you think?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I think that I felt that I was too removed and it was too difficult for me personally to talk about it. With my grandparents, I kind of realised that they were not the type who would have understood and with my grandparents on my mother’s side, there was too much drama there. So in terms of my friends, I had good friends but I think that it was too difficult for me personally to talk about and too painful I think. I was very controlled as a child and I didn’t want to talk about things I didn’t feel like I could control. Obviously, there was chaos in that world and I was just trying to bear it really.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s an interesting word, chaos. That’s a really good word to describe it.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yeah, chaos is really good and I realise you have that sort of deep fear of chaos because your parents are so chaotic and you feel that there is an abyss of chaos that they might fall into. They might already be in it and you might fall into it if you’re not careful. So I think that fear of chaos and that abyss of chaos has always been a driving force in my life. Unfortunately, life is chaotic and so then you start to be scared of life that you can’t control and then you become obsessed with control or you are obsessive with other people and try to control other people but I think more often, in my case at least, it’s more about controlling my own life and making sure that I’m not interrupted or that I’m not exposed to chaos.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s interesting because you talk about, again, the inside and the outside and so within the home, you were experiencing what you were experiencing and then outwith the home, you weren’t necessarily talking about it. You were getting on and you were going to your grandparents and going to school. That, in and of itself, on the one hand, can maybe add to that feeling of chaos because you’re leading almost two separate lives. The control that then comes from that, even though that feels chaotic, is about trying to keep those two lives separate and in the right box where they need to be. It’s only now, as an adult looking back again, so much for me personally is about realising what I was feeling then and being able to understand it now as a grown-up. The life at home with my mum existed very separately from the rest of my life, even right up until when my mum passed away. She existed in a sphere and my life was built around that sphere and it’s a very strange feeling. It feels like there’s a bit of yourself that’s there that not everybody necessarily knows about or knows much about and that the majority of people weren’t really engaging in. I’m being a wee bit abstract about it but… yeah, so my mum was at home by herself with a severe and enduring mental illness. I wasn’t there often and when I was, I would always try and control what was happening at home and worry about her and try and tell her to stop talking… ‘Stop talking to yourself, Mum. Stop talking to yourself.’ If we were going to the shops, I’d say, ‘Right, you can’t talk to yourself when we’re at the shops.’ She had no control over that and I had no control over that but I kept trying to gain that control and then that adds to that chaos. When you’re living a life outwith the home where that’s not there, that feels good but it’s always in the back of your mind that chaos awaits. It just feels like chaos is everywhere, even when it’s not. So I can understand that word. That was a big ramble [laughter] but it’s…

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: No, no, but it’s interesting. Yes, for sure. When you are out of there, and when the danger is over, let’s say, and when your life is not about your parents’ health issues anymore, you’re still searching for that feeling of control because that is a comfort in your life but actually, it’s stopping you from living. I think it’s important to get that message across that to be super capable is also a coping mechanism.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely, because at a younger age, in a funny kind of way, you become independent from your parent in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have had to. Just related to that actually, you spoke before about feeling responsible for your brother. Did you feel responsible for your mother and for her care? Because you talked there about feeling like a carer and that is a big issue for children of parents with mental illness. Even if they still are at home with their parent, they quite often are carers for their parent. Was that something you felt that you were or did you feel a sense of responsibility towards your mother?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I think I did but… it was somehow incorporated into so many other feelings. I wouldn’t say I felt responsible specifically but I felt that I was a part of her, in a way, so I can’t really answer that question because it’s a little bit like… people have asked me later, ‘Did you feel guilty?’ Well, I never felt guilty but I mean, Jesus, guilt and shame is what I’m struggling with also and so of course I did but it’s not like I can pinpoint it and say, ‘Yes, I felt it was my responsibility that my mother washed her hair.’ It wasn’t like that. It’s also because she wasn’t that helpless either. She was quite fierce and strong and she felt, very often, like an opponent that I had to fight with or protect myself from but I had to be there as a backup. I had to be aware and I had to hold… it was more about taking care of my brother and me against this furore [laughter] of emotions or chaos of emotions.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: You mentioned guilt and shame there and that you do feel that. Why is that?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yeah, that’s a very hard question. I think it’s also because I haven’t really been dealing with the trauma. I’ve had a lot of therapy but, again, I haven’t really found a good trauma therapy which I think that I would be very ready to do now. I’ve been circling around it, so I haven’t really grasped maybe where exactly this guilt and shame comes from, like the shame of not being taken care of. If you don’t feel loved or your needs are not being taken care of, you…

Dr Pamela Jenkins: No, that’s interesting because so often, thinking goes towards the guilt and the shame to do with the child feeling guilt and shame because of the parent or the way they were with the parent but actually…

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Towards themselves.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: …towards themselves and as a result of the behaviour and the mental illness of the parent.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, the lack of care as well. The basic lack of care that is actually a consequence of the mental illness.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: And when you’re a child, you don’t know that that’s not because of you. A child internalises everything and thinks everything is because of them or it’s their fault and it’s just so important for children to know that, regardless of how their parents’ or carers’ mental illness is presenting, it’s not their fault. Here we are both reflecting now as grown-ups on that and there are so many children who are not able to do that as a child. You can’t reflect and understand as a child. In an ideal world, there would be more help and support for these children because, at the moment, there is little and certainly, for me, there was medical input with my mother but when it came to me… I’m an only child and for the child of the parent, the services that are in place and the support for them is… well, it was none for me in terms of social services and healthcare. I had a supportive family. But it’s difficult and there are a lot of children who must feel very alone.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, and what do we do with that?

Dr Pamela Jenkins: I know. Well, hopefully, this will help.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Awareness always helps.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: When you were a child and living with your mother, was there any impact on your mental wellbeing at the time? Did you have any mental health problems yourself at that point as a result of what was going on?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I think depression. I was depressed but I was functioning. I was depressed for a couple of years there from maybe the age of 13 to 15 and then I went to this school, still being depressed but feeling a bit better there because obviously, I was away and doing stuff. She then died and that was a new world then obviously. I then returned and I was then 16 and my father, who was a severe alcoholic, intended to come back and live with us but that didn’t work at all because he was drinking too much and he had his own problems, so he wasn’t really living there much. I didn’t want to say that and so, together with him, we lied to the child services because, at that point, they were saying, ‘Mother has gone and there are two kids. Who is there as a caretaker?’ We said, ‘Yes, he is,’ [laughter] so we lied because I was really scared then that my brother and I would be sent to foster homes and separated. I wanted to stay in that flat with him, with or without my dad but the best case was with him being out and just giving us money. That was my plan. As you can imagine, it wasn’t great for any of us but later, when my father came back, I was moving out and trying to make my own life and my brother was a little bit older, the more of my problems manifested and my depression came back. I started to develop this eating disorder; not like full-scale or it dominated my life but it was a retreat. I used it as kind of a self-harming thing that you do to have a release of pain, I guess.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: And control?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: And control, for sure. Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve never stopped functioning. I’ve pursued my goals. I wanted to be an actor and I did it. It wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to be but I always had goals and that gave me a sense of purpose and meaning. It’s something I would like to communicate which I think is important because… I talked about the danger of being super capable which I think is an issue for child caretakers but there is also another thing I feel strongly about. I felt really strong and independent in those years when they were asking, ‘Do you need help?’ I said, ‘No, I can live with my brother.’ I was 16 or 17 and I thought I could do everything. You are really strong and you have developed this sense of independence and I think it’s important to give yourself credit for that and be proud of that because you are actually developing super skills. You get immensely strong in some areas and consequently, weak in others but nevertheless, these really strong areas are also your force and that will help you as a resource in your life. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that and be proud of it.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely. I think that’s such an important message and the resilience that is building, that you might see straightaway, is being built by these experiences. So many children of parents with mental illness, such as yourself and I’ve had experiences as well of periods of anxiety, or depression, or struggling with your own mental wellbeing, these experiences as well are building strength and building resilience. It’s about trying to remember that. Oh my goodness! When you talk about, you’re… I mean I can really relate to your demeanour and the way that you talk about it because that strength that we were just talking about I think really impacts on that as well. You are calm and matter-of-fact about it. You are very resourceful and you’ve taken these experiences and moved them through your life in a really positive way but have you always been that way or is that something you feel has been cultivated through these experiences?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: A bit of both, I guess. I think I came with something and then it’s been enhanced. I think that was developed quite early because obviously, as you know, mental illness doesn’t start overnight. There were problems in their relationship and there was a lot of drinking. There was a lot of chaos already at a very early stage and who knows how much love my mother was capable of giving me as a young child anyway. I think that feeling of having to be in control and protective may have started in infancy. That’s how I look at it. Again, that is something that I’m struggling with; that kind of control and stoicism because now I feel I don’t need the control and the stoicism anymore. It’s just hindering me. I am capable. It’s such a deep neurological pattern in me that I’m still using it even though it’s stopping me from living more. I would say I do come across like that but this is something that I’m now working to get rid of a bit more [laughter]. Again, I’m happy for who I am and I wouldn’t want to be different. I’m not wishing for a different life. That ability to be quite calm when it’s stormy, I think that’s something I’ve had since I was quite little. That has also protected my inner life. I’ve done that and I think that enables me to be creative and also not to be afraid of going into directing or acting when I was more than 30 and starting school. I’ve made big changes in my life, like moving abroad. I’m not so easily scared off and I think that is actually something that I have developed because of my history, let’s say.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s interesting as well what you say now in terms of the control. It’s nice to get to that point. So the control has really served you very well to get to this point and now it’s nice to hear you say, ‘Actually, I don’t need that anymore.’

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: More than anything, I need to get rid of it because if not, I’m not going to have a rich life. It has to do with everything physical because the body and mind, as we know, work together.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely. Talking about infancy, because it’s a really interesting thing for me, how young were you when you first recall an experience that might have indicated that your mother or father was experiencing a mental illness?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Well, I think it started early. I can’t say there was a moment. It was part of the normal behaviour there.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: So it was just always there.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, and I wasn’t really aware that my mother was mentally ill until she committed… I mean I was defending her behaviour towards myself and to others right up until just before her suicide. I think it was just before I went to that school when I was around 15 or 16 that I realised it was not…

Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s interesting this idea of infancy and when a child first becomes aware. My mum’s diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder. I’m not if we have mentioned that before but…

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: I don’t really know what that is. What is it?

Dr Pamela Jenkins: So schizoaffective disorder is, in simple terms, a combination where somebody has symptoms both of schizophrenia and also bipolar disorder. My mum experienced psychosis, hallucinations and also depression, paranoia, anxiety and the whole shebang [laughter]. This was going on since before I was born and after I was born. Interestingly, I think I was very, very young and I only realise now that I realised then because it’s normal to you at the time, isn’t it? You don’t know any different. I grew up in a loving home with loving parents. I always say this about my mum and I know she was a very kind person. She had a very kind and good heart. I really feel like her mental illness didn’t define her and never ever did for me. When I think about my mum, her mental illness was not her for me ever. She was always just my mum. In spite of that, she was a very good mum and the reason was that she had a good heart and I felt loved. I realise that I am very, very lucky for that. In saying that, I realise now that the outward presentation of her illness or her symptoms that included the volatility, the talking to herself and the hallucinations, it was what I knew and it was impacting on me even when I was very small. I think I remember being three and developing a real anxiety around vomiting and that has stayed with me to this day [laughter]. I am terrified of being sick and I recently learned that the name for that is emetophobia. From a very age, I would start to panic and worry about being sick and I didn’t like to be in spaces where there were a lot of people. It sort of subsided but then when I was a teenager, it came back and I found it difficult to go to school, to get on the school bus, to be in class and so doing exams, I’d have to sit at the back. I would get myself in a real panic. I never was sick, I should state. It was all anxiety. My father died when I had just turned 11 and due to my mum’s illness, I moved to stay with my aunt and uncle and my two cousins which I was hugely fortunate to do and I am eternally grateful. It was when I was a teenager that it really came back, the anxiety and the panic. My aunt and uncle made sure that I spoke to a psychologist and talk through what was going on and it was all because of my mum. It wasn’t my mum’s fault and I’m not blaming my mum but the way that, as a child, I had processed what was happening and her illness, I had never spoken about it and I was worrying about her all the time and trying to control. I moved away after my dad died and I was then worrying about her at home on her own and seeing her at weekends, I was trying to control everything all of the time. I was worrying what was happening with her and trying to stop her talking to herself. I was trying to rationalise and trying to make her better all the time. That had been there since I was very, very small because the first time I had any symptoms of anxiety that I remember, I was three years old. It’s just really interesting to me to hear you say that it was just what your life was. That was just what happened and so you can’t actually pinpoint it because you grew up with parents that had these illnesses and that was your life and you don’t know. There’s nobody else to talk to and if they’re not talking to you about it, you just think, ‘This is what it is. This is life.’ You then had your own struggles that have come from that and it’s just very interesting. These are not things that only impact the person that has the condition or the illness. It impacts the whole family and the children.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, my project, as a child and as a young teenager before she died, was very much about making this family happy and whole again. All my focus was around these parents and trying to help them out, in a way, or trying to make the family situation into something that it wasn’t.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Trying to mold it, yeah.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, exactly. To mold it, exactly, and based on what it was but never judging them. I mean I started to judge my father and his drinking much later. I was always trying to help him out.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Just because you’re in that situation doesn’t mean that you’re not also sometimes the person who is judging [laughter].

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Oh yeah.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: That’s certainly something that stays with me and always trying to change my mum. Now I wish I could have a conversation with myself back then and say, ‘Stop trying to change her. This is part of who she is and you need to embrace it and be proud rather than being embarrassed all the time.’ I’m sad for that because I should have been very proud of her and I should have let her know that a lot more often than I did. That stays with me.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: But that’s all superhuman though if you had had that capability of being proud of a mum who is certainly behaving in a very difficult way for you. That would have made you superhuman.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: You were saying about trying to make your family life into something that it wasn’t, as you were doing too and as a child, as you grow up, and you get older, and you become a teenager, it’s sort of confounded by the fact that you are witnessing other family lives that, at least on the surface of it to you, seem to be much better and much more how a family should be. It’s about trying to make it… more like my friends. ‘Look at their family [laughter]. I want to be more like them. Why can’t you be more like them, Mum or Dad?’ Certainly, for you, having a sibling… I mean I only had to worry about myself and I have huge respect for you having a younger brother.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes, but I was not alone. I think the fact that you have a sibling who you can actually take care of gives you purpose. I think that was also really helping me. That relationship has never been easy since and it’s something we have to work on but we are very close and we were certainly very close then. We were in it together. Of course, it takes its toll taking care of a sibling at that young age but it also gives you a sense of purpose. I think that without it, I don’t know… it might be what saved me actually, or gave me some sanity, or built my character. Even though loneliness or feeling that I’m abandoned or not belonging anywhere is a theme in my life, I’ve never been feeling so alone that it has threatened my life or existence and I think that is because of my brother because I know that we have that kind of… there is a bond there that is unbreakable.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: That’s so wonderful and I am envious. I think it’s wonderful to have a sibling.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yeah, which I understand.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: I have two cousins who I grew up with and I call them my sisters and, in my heart, they are my sisters. They loved my mum but my life with mum was very separate from my relationship with them really and so that bond that you have with your brother and that shared experience is very… something to treasure, I guess, isn’t it?

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yes. It’s something that children who are in a similar situation face and it’s good to be aware of too; that there is that feeling of that shared experience. Even though it can feel troublesome to be with siblings for different reasons, that shared experience is really important.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Camilla, thank you so, so very much for being here and speaking with me today and for sharing your story. It was wonderful and I really genuinely could talk to you all day about it. If we do another series, it would be lovely to speak to you again, if you would be willing to come back and share with us.

Camilla Strøm Henriksen: Yeah, I’d be happy to. It’s been great to talk to you, Pamela. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Every time you talk about these things, you discover or realise some details yourself and so it’s always very valuable to do that. I’m really happy if I can share something that is useful to others.

Dr Pamela Jenkins: Well, it certainly is and it’s been a privilege to talk to you, so thank you very, very much.

[Outro music]

A huge thanks to Camilla Strøm Henriksen for speaking so candidly about her experiences growing up. I absolutely love these conversations and I really hope you’re getting as much out of listening to them as I am of recording them.

ct your GP, the Samaritans on:

Thank you so much for being with us today. Subscribe to our feed so you get future episodes automatically downloaded and if you know someone who’d benefit from hearing these stories we’re sharing, please let them know we’re here. That’s really important. We really want people to know that they’re not alone. This is a Bespoken Media production with music and sound design by Joel Cox. See you next time.

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