The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia's Feared and Forgotten

The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia's Feared and Forgotten

A rare work of narrative non-fiction that illuminates a world most of us try not to see: the daily lives of the severely mentally ill, who are medicated, marginalized, locked away and shunned. 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...

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Title:The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia's Feared and Forgotten
Author:Susan Doherty
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Edition Language:English

The Ghost Garden: Inside the Lives of Schizophrenia's Feared and Forgotten Reviews

  • Jamie Moesser

    (Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review) I read this book primarily as a way to do research for my own book, a science fiction novel with a main character sent to a state mental hospital where he meets and spends a lot of time with a character who has schizophrenia. Ghost Garden provided what my in-person, on-foot research had not, details about what it's actually like to live with the illness and what the inside of a mental hospital might look like.

    (Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review) I read this book primarily as a way to do research for my own book, a science fiction novel with a main character sent to a state mental hospital where he meets and spends a lot of time with a character who has schizophrenia. Ghost Garden provided what my in-person, on-foot research had not, details about what it's actually like to live with the illness and what the inside of a mental hospital might look like. More than that, though, it provided an amazingly deep view into the lives of people who suffer from schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. It did so with compassion for the sufferers and lack of judgement of the family members.

    Having had a brother-in-law who succumbed to severe mental illness, loving several people with moderate mental illness, and having depression myself, I know that no matter the type of illness and the severity, it can be an incredibly complicated journey just to get to diagnosis. And that journey often becomes even more so after. It's miserable for the sufferer, but it's also unspeakably difficult for the family members tasked with trying to help their loved one. It's heartbreaking to think that Ghost Garden, depicting not only Caroline and her family's journey but also several others', is but a fraction of the whole bramble of lives distorted, trapped, and siderailed by mental illness; governmental and societal mental health treatment infrastructures rendered inadequate by insufficient funding and understanding; pharmaceutical approaches that have made a huge difference but still have a long way to go; and family support systems that can be difficult to discover.

    Hopefully, though, Doherty's fluid and compassionate writing will become a springboard upon which to build awareness and encourage discussion about an issue that affects so many so deeply.

  • Bjørn

    Life-changing, heart-breaking, important.

    The mentally ill are so often seen by the society as walking diagnoses. Doherty's book, the stories of real people behind the diagnosis of schizophrenia, is extremely unusual in its approach: she talks about those diagnoses

    . It doesn't sound like a lot...but it is.

    Doherty tells a story of Caroline, a schizophrenic woman, Caroline's family, children, life. The dirty, the raw, the beautiful, the heart-breaking parts are all there, as D

    Life-changing, heart-breaking, important.

    The mentally ill are so often seen by the society as walking diagnoses. Doherty's book, the stories of real people behind the diagnosis of schizophrenia, is extremely unusual in its approach: she talks about those diagnoses

    . It doesn't sound like a lot...but it is.

    Doherty tells a story of Caroline, a schizophrenic woman, Caroline's family, children, life. The dirty, the raw, the beautiful, the heart-breaking parts are all there, as Doherty does her utmost best to avoid judging those who were, let's say, less kind towards Caroline than others. But that's not all. The author has been volunteering working with the mentally ill since 2009. She met a lot of people, each of whom had – has – a story. All of those lives share one characteristic: loneliness.

    Andrea: "Being heard was usually all it took to bring her back to safety." Aleks: "Somerset Maugham once wrote that tolerance is nothing but indifference. Aleks has been tolerated for far too long." Thomas: "I realised every person in that room just wanted to be seen as a human being, that their hearts were no different than any human heart." Sounds so simple. Why isn't it, then?

    It's so difficult for me to avoid the phrase "those people", which so neatly divides Us from Them, Normals from Schizos. But most mentally ill people know that they are ill. They, too, have dreams, urges, needs, the biggest of which is the same one that we all share: to love and be loved. "It's a bitter pill to swallow," writes Doherty, "especially for those who had lofty dreams: the pre-med students and engineers, the writers and musicians and athletes who left adolescence with aspirations." Some of us want to look really good, to become a pop star or Instagram influencer, some dream of being able to eat a warm meal every day. The illness robs people of all of those dreams. A lot of people with schizophrenia have nobody to take care of them and nothing left, ending up homeless. Alcohol and drugs are their only escape from their own mind, the gulag in which they are permanently locked, where the "guards" – their own thoughts – are sometimes polite and distant, only to attack violently for no reason the next day.

    The topic of medication is approached very carefully as Doherty struggles not to let her personal views affect her writing, which is both warm and impartial, filled with sympathy for the people on both sides of the hospital door. She cites an anecdote about a psychiatrist who used to prescribe antipsychotics until she, too, found herself in the middle of a psychotic episode, and her colleagues prescribed the very same drugs to her. For the first time, the doctor found out how the patients actually feel, both when medicated and not. Mental illness is not a simple cold or a broken leg. You can't see it, touch it, x-ray it. Psychiatrists do not know how or why the meds work (or even whether they do or not). That particular doctor's approach to drugs had changed radically once she had tried her own medicine (sorry). Experiencing a drug is a very different thing from reading about it.

    It's not the doctor's fault. It's not even Big Pharma's fault, although the author does remark that Eli Lilly produces both a medication the side effect of which is diabetes AND the insulin that diabetics need, cashing in twice. Psychiatry is in its Bronze Age, and I am being extremely polite here. We don't understand why the right level of antidepressants in the brain is reached within hours, yet they take weeks to work (or not). Antipsychotics, to a large degree, are simply sedatives that allow both the sufferer and their family to wait out the episode in relative safety. But hugs, phone calls, text messages, visits are not only invented, tested, available, even popular among "normal people". The need to be

    and loved unconditionally applies to those with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses as well. Them. Me. You. Us.

    The author emphasises many times how difficult it is to be on both sides of this equation. Both those who need care and who provide it often suffer terribly, if in different ways. Caroline's sisters are in terrible pain when they see how their sister's life has unfolded and how much she is forced to rely on kindness of strangers. (Her brothers decide Caroline is not their problem.) Sometimes her mind tells her that she has been sexually abused by more or less everyone she had ever met. Sometimes it just reminds her about her horrible weight gain – side effect of medication; the fact that she is almost always alone; that the voices she hears will go away, but they will always return. Her sisters can clean up the apartment, wash her clothes, but at the end of the day they go home. Caroline remains locked inside her brain. Whether she's physically located in a hospital or in a hotel, her feelings, dreams, needs have no "home" to go to, to escape the broken mind that torments her.

    I firmly believe that people with mental illness are the toughest of warriors, because their battle never ends. You can escape an abusive partner, mobbing, etc., no matter how difficult it sometimes is. People whose own mind is their own enemy have nowhere to go. Even if physically they are being taken care of, at the end of the day they will always have to deal with the thoughts, voices, inabilities that so many of us take for granted. It's easy to despise or laugh at someone who believes FBI are watching them through the TV, treat those beliefs as a funny anecdote. It's harder to imagine ourselves in the shoes of Caroline, Aleks, Andrea, and so many others Doherty writes about.

    One of the acts of kindness that Doherty provides to people she is writing about is simply her presence and a listening ear. It's not easy, especially when there are twenty or thirty people relying on her, calling at the strangest times of day or night. If there were more people like her, the world would be a better place. But the world is what it is, and people are who they are, both those whose biggest problem is what to wear tomorrow and those who are being watched by FBI through their television sets. We are all human. We share similar struggles and needs. Unfortunately, unconditional love, hugs, kindness, even basic politeness are not available from pharmacies.

  • Colette Connors

    Having just finished this amazing book I am so overcome with sadness that I cannot put my thoughts together to write a review at this moment. I will highly recommend to all.

  • Lori Spence

    I loved this book. I normally prefer reading fiction as I normally find non-fiction dry - The Ghost Garden was anything but. The story was gripping and very well written, filled with metaphors and perfectly chosen words. I learned much about the terrible disease of schizophrenia but never felt I was being lectured to. I became engrossed in the story of everyday people that were placed in terrible circumstances and couldn't put the book down because I cared so much about them. The vingettes that

    I loved this book. I normally prefer reading fiction as I normally find non-fiction dry - The Ghost Garden was anything but. The story was gripping and very well written, filled with metaphors and perfectly chosen words. I learned much about the terrible disease of schizophrenia but never felt I was being lectured to. I became engrossed in the story of everyday people that were placed in terrible circumstances and couldn't put the book down because I cared so much about them. The vingettes that interspersed the main story provided welcome relief to a very intense narrative, and helped demonstrate the fact that this disease is not an obscure phenomenon that affects individuals with poor genetic background or upbringing, but can and does strike people from many different circumstances. And that like every human, individuals with schizophrenia crave relationships and life with meaning. As I turned the last page I wanted to read this book again because I knew that the people that Susan Doherty wrote about had lots to teach me and I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed out on any important lessons.

  • Christine

    I read this book in one sitting, which I rarely do. Aside from the fact that it's compelling, gripping and absolutely 'unputdownable', it also stirred emotions that have stayed with me long after I finished it. In both my work and my personal life, I spend a lot of time with people with severe mental health challenges; Susan's perspective has made me look beyond their illnesses to their "selves". I also applaud the Evans family for their courage in telling their story. This is a Tour de Force, d

    I read this book in one sitting, which I rarely do. Aside from the fact that it's compelling, gripping and absolutely 'unputdownable', it also stirred emotions that have stayed with me long after I finished it. In both my work and my personal life, I spend a lot of time with people with severe mental health challenges; Susan's perspective has made me look beyond their illnesses to their "selves". I also applaud the Evans family for their courage in telling their story. This is a Tour de Force, do not miss it.

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