Woman, 38, whose mother with Munchausen’s faked Parkinson’s and ME recalls her mum being ‘completely better’ on US holiday when she was 16, only to return to being ‘wheelchair-bound’ the moment she got home
- Helen Naylor, 38, from Nottingham, grew up believing her mother Elinor had ME
- Was ‘expected to care for herself’ and childhood revolved around Elinor’s ‘illness’
- Elinor died in a nursing home aged 69 in 2016, and her diaries were uncovered
- Elinor displayed signs of Munchausen’s syndrome, where people fake illnesses
A woman whose mother deliberately faked serious illnesses for 30 years thought her mum was miraculously ‘cured’ after she enjoyed an ‘amazing holiday’ to the US where here conditions seemed to disappear.
Helen Naylor, 38, from Nottingham, was seven-years-old when her mother Elinor told her she had Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a debilitating condition which causes extreme exhaustion.
Throughout her childhood, Helen was ‘expected to care for herself’ while life revolved around Elinor’s illness – while she was also told that her father had a heart condition that could kill him at any moment.
It wasn’t until Elinor died in a nursing home aged 69 in 2016, Helen found 55 years worth of diaries, detailing how she would go on shopping trips and out for lunch while claiming she slept for 18 hours a day.
Helen, who has opened up about her story in a new memoir, now believes her mother had Munchausen’s syndrome, a psychological condition where someone fakes illness or deliberately causes physical symptoms.
She recalled a trip to America at the age of 16 where her mother appeared to be ‘completely better’, walking for ‘blocks and blocks’ before pretending to be wheelchair bound the instant she returned to the UK.
Helen Naylor, 38, from Nottingham, was seven-years-old when her mother Elinor told her she had Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a debilitating condition which causes extreme exhaustion. She later discovered that her mother had been faking serious illnesses for over 30 years
Appearing on This Morning today, she said: ‘There were loads of red flags throughout my years growing up. I think probably this biggest one was when I was 16 and we went to America on this amazing holiday and she was completely better.
‘She wouldn’t walk me to the end of the street when we were at home, but she could walk for block after block in America.
‘We had this amazing fortnight of amazing experiences and I really believed that America had cured her. I couldn’t understand why we didn’t move to America, because I really believed.’
But Elinor’s symptoms returned the moment she got home, with Helen saying her mum used a wheelchair to travel from the plane to the airport on the way back to the country.
Appearing on This Morning today, she said that she thought her mum was miraculously ‘cured’ after she enjoyed an ‘amazing holiday’ to the US where here conditions seemed to disappear
At the age of seven, Helen was told her father Alan was suffering with ‘quite serious heart and lung problems’.
Shortly afterwards her mum claimed to be developing symptoms of ME, and Helen says her life changed instantly, with ‘everything revolving around my mum’s illness’.
‘Even though I knew that my dad’s illness was more serious it was mum’s ME that everything revolved around’, she said. ‘We couldn’t go out for day trips anymore, she didn’t take me out on weekends.
‘On weekends and holidays I was basically left on my own in the afternoons, my mum was in bed, my dad was at the pub and I was left to entertain and look after myself.’
As well as faking her illnesses, Helen says her mother had ‘abused’ her as a child, discovering that her arm was somehow broken at the age of two.
Helen explained that she has a memory of falling off a chair at the age of four and visiting hospital, where she had been told her arm was not broken, but had been three months earlier.
Helen, who has opened up about her story in a new memoir, now believes her mother had Munchausen’s syndrome, a psychological condition where someone fakes illness or deliberately causes physical symptoms
Her mum claimed that her arm had been injured after she accidentally shut the door on her arm while Helen was reaching back to close the door.
However upon reading her mother’s diaries, she realised that she was only two, not four, at the time of the accident.
She says it would have been impossible for her arm to become injured in that way because she as too young to reach behind her and close the car door.
‘She broke my arm but I don’t know how, said Helen. ‘She didn’t take me to hospital, it wasn’t until I fell off this chair three months later they found out it had been broken in the past.’
At ten she says her mother left her to deal with a fire in their home alone, telling her to switch off a washing machine which had caught ablaze.
‘My friend and I were playing downstairs one day when I was about ten and we heard this noise in the kitchen, she said.
In her new memoir, Helen reveals how she learnt the truth about her mother’s deception by reading her diaries after her death
‘It was full of smoke it was sparking, I shouted for my mum. She didn’t come, I ran upstairs to say “What do I do?” and she told me to go back in the room and switch off the washing machine. You think now with a primary school child, you would never consider that.’
Helen says her mother was unkind to her as a teenager, revealing that at the age of 13 her self-esteem was so low she started self-harming.
‘She used to tell me I was ugly, stupid, and fat and I just really hated myself’, she said. ‘Because she’s my mum, I totally believed she was telling me the truth.’
Elinor had been a prolific diary writer for 55 years, and her daughter admitted she was stunned after discovering the journals.
‘It was such a shock’, she said. ‘I really didn’t expect to find any of it. I found out this faking of illnesses had been going on her whole life.
‘She had been going to the doctors for all sorts of things as a healthy 20-year-old woman but the most shocking thing was to find out she had abused me as a small child.’
Helen thinks her mum’s ‘downfall’ was when she began faking Parkinson’s later in her life, revealing she was once confronted by a nurse who suspected she was faking and hesitated to give her medication for the illness.
‘I think that was her real downfall, said Helen. ‘I think if she had carried on with the ME nobody would have realised what was going on, because ME is so difficult to diagnose and there is such a range of symptoms.
‘But for Parkinson’s there are specific tests and symptoms and you can’t really fake it.’
She added: ‘I think I’d like to think I can forgive her I don’t really feel anger towards her, it’s a really unnatural emotional for me to feel. I’m a Christian and I hope I can, will forgive her but it’s an ongoing process.’
FAKING IT: WHAT IS MUNCHAUSEN’S SYNDROME, THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DISEASE NAMED AFTER A LYING GERMAN ARISTOCRAT?
Munchausen’s syndrome is a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves.
Their main intention is to assume the ‘sick role’ so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention.
Any practical benefit in pretending to be sick – for example, claiming incapacity benefit – is not the reason for their behaviour.
Munchausen’s syndrome is named after a German aristocrat, Baron Munchausen, who became famous for telling wild, unbelievable tales about his exploits.
Munchausen’s syndrome is complex and poorly understood. Many people refuse psychiatric treatment or psychological profiling, and it’s unclear why people with the syndrome behave the way they do.
People with Munchausen’s syndrome can behave in a number of different ways, including:
- pretending to have psychological symptoms – for example, claiming to hear voices or claiming to see things that are not really there
- pretending to have physical symptoms – for example, claiming to have chest pain or a stomach ache
- actively trying to get ill – such as deliberately infecting a wound by rubbing dirt into it
Some people with Munchausen’s syndrome may spend years travelling from hospital to hospital faking a wide range of illnesses. When it’s discovered they’re lying, they may suddenly leave hospital and move to another area.
People with Munchausen’s syndrome can be very manipulative and, in the most serious cases, may undergo painful and sometimes life-threatening surgery, even though they know it’s unnecessary.
Diagnosing Munchausen’s syndrome can be challenging for medical professionals.
People with the syndrome are often very convincing and skilled at manipulating and exploiting doctors.
Treating Munchausen’s syndrome can be difficult because most people with it refuse to admit they have a problem and refuse to co-operate with treatment plans.
Some experts recommend that healthcare professionals should adopt a gentle non-confrontational approach, suggesting the person may benefit from a referral to a psychiatrist.
Others argue that a person with Munchausen’s syndrome should be confronted directly and asked why they’ve lied and whether they have stress and anxiety.
People who have Munchausen’s are genuinely mentally ill, but will often only admit to having a physical illness.
If a person admits to their behaviour, they can be referred to a psychiatrist for further treatment. If they do not admit to lying, most experts agree the doctor in charge of their care should minimise medical contact with them.
This is because the doctor-patient relationship is based on trust and if there’s evidence the patient can no longer be trusted, the doctor is unable to continue treating them.
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