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 10 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. The spine of the book is the life of Caroline Evans (not her real name), a woman in her early 60s 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 10 to 15 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.
“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)
What the critics say
“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)
“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)
“I’m 30 years old and have been in and out of the system for 12 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)