Naureen Ahmed’s mother, Seema, was a beautiful artist who would twirl around their Arkansas home to the tunes of Bollywood classics. Years later, when Ahmed had her own daughter, her mother mailed her a box filled with baby clothes she crocheted herself.
But most of the time, Ahmed saw another side to her mother, who struggled with schizophrenia and was often detached. Ahmed and her two sisters did their own laundry as young children and packed their school lunches, picking up the slack.
“We didn’t tell anybody,” Ahmed said about her mother’s mental illness. Her Pakistani-American family feared the stigma and community reaction. They rarely invited people over, and Ahmed said the habit carried over into adulthood when even inviting her in-laws over for visits would evoke anxiety.
“When someone is mentally ill, you make changes to your behavior to accommodate, and those things can carry on to you, and then to your children,” she said. “And we don’t know that until we talk about it.”