I will repeat this like a mantra until everyone sings it with me. Mental health day is every day. For this reason, and because I was invited to share my thoughts, I am making this Tuesday a special one.
Thank you very much to Kelly Lacey for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Thank you to Fledgling Press for publishing this non-fiction. Thank you to Graham Morgan for writing it.
This review is unbiased.
Author: Graham Morgan
Publisher: Fledgling Press
Date of publication: 2018
Format: digital ARC
Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health, and helped to write the Scottish Mental Health (2003) Care and Treatment Act. This is the Act under which he is now detained.
Graham’s story addresses key issues around mental illness, a topic which is very much in the public sphere at the moment. However, it addresses mental illness from a perspective that is not heard frequently: that of those whose illness is so severe that they are subject to the Mental Health Act.
Graham’s is a positive story rooted in the natural world that Graham values greatly, which shows that, even with considerable barriers, people can work and lead responsible and independent lives; albeit with support from friends and mental health professionals. Graham does not gloss over or glamorise mental illness, instead he tries to show, despite the devastating impact mental illness can have both on those with the illness and those that are close to them, that people can live full and positive lives. A final chapter, bringing the reader up to date some years after Graham has been detained again, shows him living a fulfilling and productive life with his new family, coping with the symptoms that he still struggles to accept are an illness, and preparing to address the United Nations later in the year in his new role working with the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.
‘I wonder who you are? Who you are and what we could talk about? I want to sit down on a bench and learn how to talk to you.’
When I hear about a book dealing with mental health, my first reaction is to be wary. Wary of the usual ‘love heals everything’ nonsense, wary of being buried under statistics and reasoning by people who think they can easily fit all mental illnesses into boxes and set those who suffer apart. Wary to find ‘tips and advice that will change your life forever’.
Why? Because everyone is different. Because no one deserves to be treated like a number and looked at differently for something they have no control over. Because sometimes, right-minded people can get it wrong with their common-sense ideas to fix what is wrong with the ‘mentally-ill’.
Then why keep looking for books talking about mental health? Because I bear the hope to find the right fiction and non-fiction to help. I want to be able to recommend stories that will give hope and put words on what some of us are dealing with on a daily basis. Mental illness has millions of faces, including Graham Morgan’s. In Start, he bravely gives us the account of his life.
So, keep it or dump it?
Start is divided in months. Each of those months take you from one chapter to another. There is a brutal contrast between some of those chapters and the first thing I thought was ‘this looks like how my brain works at times!’ One minute I will be pondering over life and its hardships, the other will leave a flow of thoughts trying to make sense of the feelings inside of me. Graham Morgan invited the messy and the regular in a dance that give you a sense of what happens when you are wired a bit differently, when the label of ‘normal’ vanishes and all that remains is who we are.
With a beautiful and emotionally-raw style, the author takes us on a journey through hospital stays, bad days, better days, good days, memories; everything that makes us who you are. There are holes in the story. Don’t we all have them? In a very relatable way, Graham Morgan invites the reader in his bubble, never shying away from what he is, what he thinks, what he makes of things. I could totally relate to so many things. I could quote the entire book right now and I am sure you would find something that resonates with you.
Schizophrenia is a word that still terrifies us. This fact fills me with dread. We are afraid of what we don’t understand. Well, for me, Start is one of the best doors to try and reach out, to get a glimpse of what living with it, among other things, does. As a sufferer, but also as a witness. Graham Morgan offers a comprehensive take on his world, from his wife to the caretakers, the doctors, the paperwork and the freedom he is allowed to. There is no magic spell, we can’t put ourselves in his shoes, but we can open our eyes, our hearts, and make the necessary step to bridge the gap between us.
There should be no more room for boxes, for boundaries and taboos. Normal. Anxious. Schizophrenics. Bipolars… We don’t have the same lenses to see the world, but we share the same earth and Start is a reminder that instead of separating us, it should make us more compassionate, more ready to face what’s to come, better-prepared to help.
Are we aware of how much pressure we put on patients? How our behavior affects them? How our century is far from allowing everyone to live? Start has raised so many questions, so many subjects, I won’t list them, but their impact on me will stay. Being in the world is scary, amazing, awful, and brave. This is part of the message in this book. Don’t worry. You won’t be given a lesson. You don’t get bored. You will get ups and downs, you’ll meet people, and with luck, you’ll get out of this experience with a better sense of what life is.
I have heard over and over that mental health is something that can be erased with will, strength and positivity. As if thinking ‘I want to be better’ will actually make someone feel better. ‘Make an effort’ Oh, you have no idea how this one makes me want to jump at your throat until your eyes pop out of your sockets! Graham Morgan tackles this subject, and I share his views. But he is clearly wiser than I am and opens his mind, admitting that the flaws in our society, the awful and mean words, the lack of understanding, echo in mentally-ill people’s mind too. I can vouch for this, as I am one of those faulty human-beings, having been diagnosed with depression and a general anxiety disorder.
‘We take on the judgement of our society and judge ourselves far harsher and for far longer and with much more effect than we knew we were capable of.’
I can’t imagine the strength it took for Graham Morgan to write those words, one after the other. I can only thank him for the insight into a wonderfully poetic mind, the terribly lonely place that’s his. I want to thank him for reminding us that the smallest joys of life are to cherish. I want to thank him for putting it all in the open. Start is not a murmur, it is a loud voice on the road to open minds.
‘It’s a pretty ordinary life. Unremarkable in a way, although being me, I want to remark on it every day.’
Whether you struggle yourself, know someone who does, or simply want to read about the beauty of being alive in a moving and gentle memoir, Start is for you.
Grab your copy! Amazon
Graham was born in 1963 in York. He went to university as an angst-ridden student and was quickly admitted to one of the old mental asylums, prompting the work he has done for most of his life: helping people with mental illness speak up about their lives and their rights. He has mainly worked in Scotland, where he has lived for the last thirty years, twenty of them in the Highlands. In the course of this work he has been awarded an MBE, made Joint Service User Contributor of the Year by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and, lately, has spoken at the UN about his and other peoples’ experiences of detention. He has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and has been compulsorily treated under a CTO for the last ten years. He currently lives in Argyll with his partner and her young twins. Start is his first book.