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Melissa Spitz
“I am what I am”, 2015Photography Melissa Spitz

This woman documents her mother’s battle with mental illness

These photos are an unflinching look into the everyday life of someone battling bipolar disorder

For any child to have to look after their parent must be a heartbreaking realisation that falls somewhere on the frightening pendulum of ‘growing up’. As daughters and sons, it’s easy to take for granted the fact that we might always have that someone looking out for us. For photographer Melissa Spitz, that fear became a reality when her mother was diagnosed with bipolar.

Her ongoing series “You Have Nothing to Worry About” illustrate intimate portraits taken at Spitz’s mother's home and her subsequent hospital visits. Exploring the pair’s tumultuous relationship, the images mark an ongoing journey that is simultaneously loving, strained and erratic.

“There was never really a conscious decision of going to photograph my mentally ill mother,” says Spitz, yet, in the shadow of the stress, her lens became a mechanism through which she communicated with her family. “It was the easiest way to give me a reason to go home but still be separated from the situation, via the physical act of putting a camera up in front of my face,” she explains.

As well as bipolar disorder, Spitz’s mother also suffers from alcoholism, a condition that both women were forced to confront due to the project. “I knew there were times where she was inebriated and that she definitely did not remember our portrait sessions,” Spitz explains. “As time went on she admitted that the images scared her. That she didn’t recognise herself or some of the things in her home, such as burns, holes and bruises.”

Despite the difficulties, the photos have helped Spitz in her healing process, and created empathy that she struggled with before. Now, she wants to help others with that process. “I want there to be more support for families living with mentally ill individuals, specifically for children,” she says. “I hope that the images and my story stimulate a conversation around what is mental illness. For me, mental illness has a face and a name – and that’s mum.”

Melissa intends to turn her “You Have Nothing To Worry About” project into a book, and has her work featured on her website and Instagram