Susan Doherty's recently released book, The Ghost Garden, is hands down one of the best non-fiction books I've read. And it is one of my favourite reads of 2019.
I work in the public sector, often waiting on those who have some form of mental illness, some more visible than others. The Ghost Garden has given me a different perspective - more understanding of those living with mental illness as well as those who love and care for them. And a renewed sense of empathy and awareness for carers, families and sufferers.
Susan Doherty has volunteered at the Douglas Institute in Montreal, Canada for over ten years. The Douglas houses those with severe mental illness - psychosis and schizophrenia. She has come to know many of the patients well and has continued those relationships outside the hospital. A childhood friend asked Doherty if she could write the life story of her sister, a woman who has struggled for decades with severe mental illness.
The family gave Doherty full access to their family history, dynamics and struggle to help their sister. And the result is a fascinating, gut-wrenching book that is hard to read, but hard to put down. Interspersed between chapters of Caroline's life are short vignettes of other patients Doherty has come to know. Their stories were all told with their or their family's permission.
"My hope is that this book will help family members and others pinpoint warning signs and thereby, perhaps, be in a position to identify incipient mental illness - thus preventing the harrowing lives experienced by the people I have written about.....And if that lofty goal proves hard to reach, at least I can tear down some of the fences that prevent us from seeing those with schizophrenia as intelligent, productive, engaged, hilarious, beautiful, poetic, insightful, maternal, responsible human beings - and above all, worth of love."
The Ghost Garden is so well written and the subject matter is handled with honesty and compassion. A must read book for everyone in my opinion - have a look- here's an excerpt.
"Susan Doherty is a Montreal writer whose award-winning debut novel, A Secret Music, was published in 2015. She worked on staff for Maclean's, and freelanced for The International Herald Tribune, La Tribune de Genève, and The Independent in London, and for eighteen years ran her own advertising production company. She has served on the boards of the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Quebec Writers' Federation and Nazareth House, a home for those afflicted by addiction and homelessness. Since 2009, she has volunteered at the Douglas Institute, a psychiatric hospital, working with people living with severe mental illness. She is married to the educator Hal Hannaford, and has two children." You can connect with Susan Doherty on her website, and follow her on Twitter.