"My Mother's Garden" is the story of 61-year-old Eugenia Lester, whose hoarding disorder pushed her children to leave home when they were quite young. Cynthia Lester was 13 when she left — unable to find a place to sleep in the house amidst all of the garbage. Filmmaking became a way for her to cope with her mother's condition. Read a Q&A with producers below.
Question: Why did you make this film?
Answer: I originally went into this project to seek help for my mom's illness and get a better understanding of who she is. The camera allowed me to separate from the burden of having to overcome being a child of a parent with a mental illness and see my mother through a more open lens.
Question: How did Hoarding Disorder affect your family?
Answer: I think my Mom's mental illness made it difficult for her to handle the many struggles of everyday life. Her depression and emotional problems led to lack of work and impoverished living conditions. We also had very little structure and/or proper guidelines for how to cope with every day stressors. We basically had to take care of ourselves and were easily drawn into unhealthy lifestyles.
Question: What is your relationship like with your mother and brothers?
Answer: We are surprisingly really close now, but not in your typical family "Brady Bunch" way. I think it signifies the strength and bonds families who go through hardships can have. Just because you come from a broken home does not mean that you can't be an example of a strong family.
Question: Did making the film bring you closer to your family or cause extra tension?
Answer: At times both. My family is used to me running around with a camera because it has been my passion since my teacher in junior high introduced me to film production. I feel it kept me closer to them because I made it my job to bring this family together and follow the progress for the past three years. Sometimes the camera did get in the way and I would turn it off. I went into this project telling myself, my family is the most important, documenting the crisis comes second. Also, I think my family was worried how people would react when exposing this to the world, but overall we are all in unison that this will hopefully raise awareness about the issue of mental illness and create healthy dialogue for people to come forward and seek help in their communities.
Question: Having been through it, what would you say to a family who was facing this crisis? What is the best way to get help?
Answer: Seek professional help. It's a long process, but don't give up and take baby steps. Always start where the person is at, not where you think they should be. An intervention can be a powerful thing, but it could also be overwhelming. Make sure to take care of yourself in the process, you can't help anyone unless you are emotionally and mentally
Question: How is your mother doing now?
Answer: She is living at a facility which monitors her health and living situation. We are still looking for more resources which promote rehabilitating people with mental illness into society. It's very sad that the mental healthcare system doesn't have enough resources for this. She is going to computer classes at the Pasadena senior center and feels connected to her community. She is receiving medication management at the UCLA compulsive hoarding out-patient center.
Question: What are your professional plans after this project?
Answer:I think it's important for me to fully understand the socio-economic reasons why people are outcast in society. Therefore, I would like to continue to pursue my interests in social work and get my MSW. I would also like to continue making documentaries and possibly a fictional story based on my life.