Title: The Ghost Garden
Author: Susan Doherty
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Susan Doherty’s groundbreaking book brings us a population of lost souls, ill-served by society, feared, shunted from locked wards to rooming houses to the streets to jail and back again. For the past ten years, some of the people who cycle in and out of the severely ill wards of the Douglas Institute in Montreal, have found a friend in Susan, who volunteers on the ward, and then follows her friends out into the world as they struggle to get through their days. With their full cooperation, she brings us their stories, which challenge the ways we think about people with mental illness on every page. The spine of the book is the life of Caroline Evans (not her real name), a woman in her early sixties whom Susan has known since she was a bright and sunny school girl. Caroline has given Susan complete access to her medical files and her court records; through her, we experience what living with schizophrenia over time is really like.
Doherty’s biographical account of Caroline’s life and struggle with psychosis and schizophrenia is eye-opening, challenging, painful, and moving as it seeks to expose the truth behind mental illness and to share with the world the incredible difficulty that the people who struggle with mental illness face on a day-to-day basis and over the course of their lives. Caroline’s poignant story is dotted with vignettes of other residents of the mental illness institute, the Douglas Institute, highlighting the commonality that each faces as they are stigmatized and shunned by society, and seek to find belonging and hope somewhere in the world.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of Doherty’s writing style, her writing is second to the intense, tragic, and difficult story that she seeks to share. Caroline’s battle with her illness spans decades–a lifetime. Her struggle impacts her relationship with her parents, her siblings, her paramours, her children, and any friends that she makes along the way. One this to remember is that Caroline is not her illness. When she is good, she is kind, understanding, loving, accepting. But when triggered by high stress and negativity, her psychosis leads her to hear voices, to suffer paranoia, to create imagine realities, and to put herself at risk of harm. Her illness means she is unable to work, live independently, or travel. Doherty works to help the reader understand Caroline and her reality to the fullest. Caroline lives and incredibly difficult life. It is a struggle for her and her family who simply hold out hope that she might find peace and happiness in her life. Their lives together are a rollercoaster, but they continue to work to find stability for Caroline and to help her build a life where she can grow and thrive.
This was a very moving story and I think anyone who seeks to find a greater understanding of mental illness, psychosis and schizophrenia specifically, will find this book to be incredibly insightful.