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 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 had formed a close friendship with Susan and shared stories from her life; through her, we experience what living with schizophrenia over time is really like. She has been through it all, including the way the justice system treats the severely mentally ill: at one point, she believed that she could save her roommate from the devil by pouring boiling water into her ear...
Susan interleaves Caroline's story with vignettes about her other friends, human stories that reveal their hopes, their circumstances, their personalities, their humanity. She's found that if she can hang in through the first ten to fifteen minutes of every coffee date with someone in the grip of psychosis, then true communication results. Their "madness" is not otherworldly: instead it tells us something about how they're surviving their lives and what they've been through. The Ghost Garden is not only touching, but carries a cargo of compassion and empathy.
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.
Shortlisted for the 2019 Quebec Writers' Federation Literary Awards Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction
“This is a book I wish I could have written. Susan Doherty’s eyes, ears and heart show us professionals who our patients really are and what their lives are really like. We should all see the person before the diagnosis.” —Dr. David Bloom, medical chief, Psychiatric Disorders Programme, Douglas Institute
“As a neuroscientist who understands the brain and its disorders, I know I still share the unconscious negative bias towards patients with schizophrenia. Yet in the startling detail of these stories about lives lost, Susan Doherty reveals the enduring humanity that resides within the souls of all persons suffering from this dreadful disease. She has given a voice to those unfortunate human beings who have long been unheard.” —Dr. G. Rees Cosgrove, neurosurgeon, Harvard Medical School
“I’m thirty years old and have been in and out of the system for twelve years. It’s about time a book came out that showed the mentally ill the way we actually are—as sentient and as competent as everyone else, though we might appear to be different. I loved reading these stories of unfairly marginalized people, some of whom I know personally. This book is the start of greater acceptance.” —Katharine Cunningham, a resident of Nazareth Community
“Being able to reach out to people with a severe mental disorder without the self-protective measures that come with being a mental health ‘professional’ is an uncommon gift. Susan Doherty has it, obviously. Her account of her relationships with people with severe mental illness will bring you very close to them, and safely so. Reading her book might even make you a better person.” —Dr. Pierre Etienne, associate professor of clinical psychiatry, McGill University
“This compassionate, perceptive and absorbing book chronicles the lives of people who have not let themselves be entirely crushed by the random cruelty of what used to be called insanity. Since more than one in four people is touched by mental illness personally or in their families, I recommend this readable, valuable book to everyone.” —Dr. James Farquhar, psychiatrist, Douglas Institute
“With her brave and generous reporting from the front lines of intense human suffering, Susan Doherty delivers a fundamental challenge to everyone inside and outside the mental health system: what do we owe people who have lost their minds? Her poignant and harrowing profiles of men and women diagnosed with schizophrenia make a compelling case for the transformative power of personal compassion and tenacity.” —James FitzGerald, author of What Disturbs OurBlood: A Son’s Quest to Redeem the Past
“A luminous, fierce and loving portrait of our brothers and sisters who suffer in ways that can appear bewildering and frightening; that can deplete the compassion even of those who love them most—ways in which the abiding human need for connection is obscured by personal chaos. The Ghost Garden in itself is a signal and compelling act of connection, leavened with humour, clear-eyed yet packed with hope.” —Ann-Marie MacDonald, novelist and playwright