The Ghost Garden
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 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. 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.

The Ghost Garden Details

TitleThe Ghost Garden
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 14th, 2019
PublisherRandom House Canada
ISBN-139780735276505
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Psychology

The Ghost Garden Review

  • Bjørn
    January 1, 1970
    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 as if they were human. 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 as if they were human. 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 seen 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.
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  • Jamie Moesser
    January 1, 1970
    (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.
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  • Lori Spence
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Christine
    January 1, 1970
    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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  • Colette Connors
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Ian Shaw
    January 1, 1970
    Susan Doherty's The Ghost Garden offers wonderful insights into the lives of people suffering from mental illness and does so in a way that does not demean them or devalue their humanity. If anything, Doherty elevates the people, whose journeys she follows, to a level where the average person can begin to understand them. For a group that it is far too often shunned even by their families, this is a blessing. Thank you, Susan Doherty, for having the courage and the compassion to place yourself i Susan Doherty's The Ghost Garden offers wonderful insights into the lives of people suffering from mental illness and does so in a way that does not demean them or devalue their humanity. If anything, Doherty elevates the people, whose journeys she follows, to a level where the average person can begin to understand them. For a group that it is far too often shunned even by their families, this is a blessing. Thank you, Susan Doherty, for having the courage and the compassion to place yourself in the midst of those so marginalized by society and to tell their stories with such eloquence and resounding honesty.
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  • Athena Paradissis
    January 1, 1970
    I sat down to read The Ghost Garden with anticipation - here I was, about to invite a new set of characters into my life and they, in turn, about to invite me into theirs. What I did not anticipate is how much these characters would reflect different parts of me - I have been Isabel, Arthur, Rosalind, Ian, and, when I was much younger, there's a part of me that was Caroline. Who hasn’t experienced Isabel’s fear when confronted by mental illness? Who hasn’t experienced Arthur’s anger, resentment, I sat down to read The Ghost Garden with anticipation - here I was, about to invite a new set of characters into my life and they, in turn, about to invite me into theirs. What I did not anticipate is how much these characters would reflect different parts of me - I have been Isabel, Arthur, Rosalind, Ian, and, when I was much younger, there's a part of me that was Caroline. Who hasn’t experienced Isabel’s fear when confronted by mental illness? Who hasn’t experienced Arthur’s anger, resentment, and bewilderment when mental illness creeps into the home and threatens the sanctity of whatever normalcy we can hold onto? Who hasn't, like Rosalind and Caroline's other siblings, offered support and kindness and not experienced an underlying resentment or a nagging suspicion that perhaps we are being manipulated? Who hasn’t recognized a part of themselves in Caroline? We are each of us incredibly fragile and sometimes we escape going down one path by nothing more than a lucky twist in our path. The truth is, we all inhabit the ghost garden. When we walk by someone in distress, not only do we perceive this someone as less than “fully formed” but we, ourselves, behave as less than fully formed. What is more fully formed than an untainted empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings? What is more fully formed than the words, I am here and I am willing to listen and to learn? What is more fully formed than recognizing that someone else's fragility mirrors our own?Susan Doherty’s book has made me realize that the next time I think of someone as "crazy", I need to call myself out. The next time I hear someone else call someone crazy, instead of politely laughing or even agreeing, I need to call both of us out. It is by pointing out our misperceptions that we can begin to help each other become more fully formed so that we may, together, enter a reality not occupied by ghosts.Only a great book can change your perception and make you realize something about yourself.Athena Paradissis
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  • Rachel Schwartz
    January 1, 1970
    I rationed the last few stories and saved Sixty Thoughts to read when the world was quiet except for the birds this morning. Thank you Susan. Thank you for doing the hard work so many of us avoid. Thank you for having the courage of vulnerability to share, so eloquently, both what you learned about others but what has so clearly become part of your fabric. I am so moved by your book and view the complicated world of mental health with a new level of sensitivity.
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  • Glenn
    January 1, 1970
    I should tell you first that I didn't want to read this book. The topic scared me, I usually ignore homeless people and loud, aggressive people in Cabot Square and other places.This book changed my mind, it educated me, made me see schizophrenics as people and made me feel for their families. The stories told here are told lovingly in an easy to read and clear fashion. I am in awe of the author (Susan Doherty). The book is compelling to read, you desperately want Caroline to succeed and you want I should tell you first that I didn't want to read this book. The topic scared me, I usually ignore homeless people and loud, aggressive people in Cabot Square and other places.This book changed my mind, it educated me, made me see schizophrenics as people and made me feel for their families. The stories told here are told lovingly in an easy to read and clear fashion. I am in awe of the author (Susan Doherty). The book is compelling to read, you desperately want Caroline to succeed and you want to find out what will happen to her next. Writing such a book takes effort, talent and I sense that there must be a personal cost in the research, interviewing and writing process. I eagerly await Susan's next book.
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  • McKenzie Allyshia
    January 1, 1970
    Disclaimer: while I did not completely finish this book, I did read a majority of the book and I do plan on finishing reading it.The Ghost Garden is written in a way that brings light to those who struggle with Schizophrenia. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all laid out bare. However, it is not done in a way that looks down on those individuals or makes it seem like a "dirty" mental disease. Susan Doherty does an incredible job writing in a way to help you understand Schizophrenia in regards Disclaimer: while I did not completely finish this book, I did read a majority of the book and I do plan on finishing reading it.The Ghost Garden is written in a way that brings light to those who struggle with Schizophrenia. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all laid out bare. However, it is not done in a way that looks down on those individuals or makes it seem like a "dirty" mental disease. Susan Doherty does an incredible job writing in a way to help you understand Schizophrenia in regards to those suffering with it and those closest to them. My heart truly goes out to those who deal with Schizophrenia as well as their families. The only downside for me is that this book is slow for me to get through. I will read a couple chapters here and there. I never completely lost interest though.
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  • Leslie
    January 1, 1970
    6 Stars! As a volunteer with the Douglas Institute in Montreal, Susan Doherty, went WELL BEYOND HER CALL OF DUTY, volunteering as a companion/friendly visitor, but most importantly, A FRIEND WITH COMPASSION AND EMPATHY to individuals suffering from severe mental health issues and schizophrenia. A volunteer, who believes everyone deserves to be treated the way "you" want to be treated, with respect. "The Ghost Garden", although hard to read at times, is a poignant, heartfelt, and an extremely wel 6 Stars! As a volunteer with the Douglas Institute in Montreal, Susan Doherty, went WELL BEYOND HER CALL OF DUTY, volunteering as a companion/friendly visitor, but most importantly, A FRIEND WITH COMPASSION AND EMPATHY to individuals suffering from severe mental health issues and schizophrenia. A volunteer, who believes everyone deserves to be treated the way "you" want to be treated, with respect. "The Ghost Garden", although hard to read at times, is a poignant, heartfelt, and an extremely well-written account of her experiences, I was hooked from the first chapter, and Doherty, has a POWERFUL message to share with all of us. First and foremost is this: ".....I realize that what I most want to underline is the idea that even a person with a devastating condition like schizophrenia needs 'TO LIVE WITH PURPOSE'".....and "THERE IS SIMPLY NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HUMAN CONNECTION." Don't judge, look beyond the delusion, listen and be a friend. Remarkable too, while Susan Doherty was writing this book, she too, suffered her own personal health crisis. Diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, (HLH) and needed a stem cell transplant, the first in Quebec to receive this stem cell transplant, all the while, looking past the delusions, and answering calls from the walking wounded up to 20 times a day, at all hours of the night. Thank you. Again, a volunteer who went beyond her call of duty! A testament to Susan Doherty's courage, integrity and hope for "the human connection". As a social worker in the field, I would like to thank you, Susan Doherty, and all the other nameless volunteers who volunteer hours of their time, day and night to help those with a terrible and terrifying disorder who are isolated, lonely and alone. We couldn't do it without you! Thank you!
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  • Chantel King
    January 1, 1970
    This year I have decided to return to school to study more on addictions and mental health.This book did a lot for me in terms of building my knowledge around the main concerns we have as a community in Toronto with mental health.I have worked in multiple clinical settings and found that her recommendations were excellent.A real tear-jerker, opened my eyes to a lot of things we all choose to ignore about those in a community who are struggling. I learned more about the biological aspects to diag This year I have decided to return to school to study more on addictions and mental health.This book did a lot for me in terms of building my knowledge around the main concerns we have as a community in Toronto with mental health.I have worked in multiple clinical settings and found that her recommendations were excellent.A real tear-jerker, opened my eyes to a lot of things we all choose to ignore about those in a community who are struggling. I learned more about the biological aspects to diagnoses and wonder if these ideas will be implemented.Great Canadian context! Overall, great memoir.
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  • Nance
    January 1, 1970
    First of all I would like to thank Penguin Random House Canada for an ARC of this book. The Ghost Garden gives us an in depth look into how mental illness affects people. It has stories about real people who have mental illness and how it not only affects them but their families, friends and others that interact with them. It is very eye opening about how people live with mental illness and how hard it is to manage at times. Thank you Susan Doherty for sharing these stories with us.
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  • Savannah
    January 1, 1970
    A very interesting book all about mental health overall, but more importantly schizophrenia. This book made me realize how many things I did not know about the disease and how it works. It also made me confront my own stigmas I hold. Very interesting and a good read. I enjoyed it and it helped open my eyes and think about how we handle mental health issues.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    An engaging, engrossing and enlightening book on a challenging subject...it puts a human perspective on the individuals and families touched by this disease and helps with our understanding and empathy with this situation. A must read for book clubs. Thank you Susan!
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  • Alexandrah
    January 1, 1970
    An engrossing, in depth look into how mental illness, especially schizophrenia affects people. I especially liked hearing from the person experiencing the illness her self.
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