As I sit here right now I can’t help but feeling a little proud of myself. Last night I finished a novel that I’ve been working on for a while. Initially I began work on it last spring, but after about six weeks I stopped because the material was becoming difficult to deal with. It’s not often that a character comes into your brain fully formed, but Charlie Gower did just that. Here’s what happened.
I can’t remember how long ago it was now, maybe a year or two, there was a story about how our local children’s hospital was making severe cuts to mental health services. A number of beds were to be closed as they ‘no longer had the need’ for them. The waiting list at the hospital had been cut from over a thousand kids to just under one hundred. A spokesperson for the hospital was interviewed by the local news and said that services were not going to be affected, even though the cuts were going to be pretty large scale.
As she was talking, my husband and I looked at each other and at the same moment said, ‘She doesn’t believe what she’s saying.’ It was one of those times when you see a spokesperson simply towing the line, reciting what they’ve been told to recite. It was mechanical and totally without feeling. She knew she was standing up there lying and moreover, she knew that everyone watching was going to know it too.
The story disappeared from the headlines for a week or so, but reappeared later when someone did some digging and found out that the reason the wait list had gone from over one thousand to under one hundred is because someone had simply gone in and deleted names. Letters were sent to parents asking if their child still needed mental health assistance. If they didn’t answer they were bumped off the list without as much as a notification. Some would argue that it was the parent’s job to respond, but lo and behold, the very next week there were parents in the media saying, “What letter? We didn’t get a letter.” If it was one or two who said that you could say they were slack or the letter got lost in the mail, but almost a thousand letters?
Now, far be it from me to criticize the IWK. They’ve done great things and are largely a great children’s hospital. They’ve always been there at our time of need when my kids were sick and I know people who have spent lots of time there with very sick children and would gladly sing their praises. But let’s face it, it doesn’t take a genius to see what was going on here. It’s the same thing that goes on with the adult patients who suffer from mental illness.
The powers that be were suffering from what I call, ‘Shut up and go away syndrome.’ Sadly I’ve seen it time and again. I’ve had to access mental health services for myself and people close to me. I also volunteered on a crisis line about eight years back and have heard this story from multiple people. Basically what happens is sometimes people go to the hospital in need of help and are refused. Suicidal people are turned away routinely. If you’ve never taken a suicidal person to the hospital right now you’re saying, ‘what do you mean? Don’t they HAVE to take them?’ Nope. I took someone close to me to the hospital because they were threatening suicide. They had attempted before and had a history of severe mental illness. A doctor looked me straight in the face and said, ‘If he wants to kill himself, we can’t stop him.’ We were sent home. ‘Shut up and go away syndrome’ is very common and it really thrives when you cut services to mental health.
Of course you’re never outright told to shut up and go away, but that got me thinking, what would it look like if you did? What if we lived in a society that not only encouraged troubled people, or people who are not fully productive for whatever reason, to commit suicide? What if it were not just encouraged? What if it were subsidised by the government as a means of saving money?
That’s when Charlie Gower walked in, sat down on my couch and basically said, ‘Here’s what it would look like. Here is my story.’ It was all there in a flash and I started writing.
As you know if you follow this blog at all I have been pretty open about my struggle with mental illness and suicidal thoughts have been a part of that struggle. I’ve had days where I’ve laid in bed and had to force myself to count my reasons to live. I suspect a lot of people do. For that reason this book was difficult to write. It forced me to take a look at some of the thoughts and beliefs that I’ve held and that others have had toward me.
I put it away for a few months, but came back to it. Largely because I keep seeing news stories of young people who have taken their own lives recently. It takes me back to a time in junior high when a boy in my class committed suicide. I remember the devastation it caused all of us. My school was very small, one of those places where everybody knows everybody. I remember that funeral and how awful it was, and If I’m being honest, the times over the years when I’ve contemplated taking my own life, I have gone back to that time in my mind and remembered how horrific it was for everyone involved.
It seems to be the thing to say now when you’re mad at someone or have a disagreement that someone spouts the phrase, ‘you should just go kill yourself’. Don’t believe me? Go look at the comments section of YouTube. This has become like a plague. For that reason I had to pick it up again. I had to finish. Who is anyone else to say you should remove yourself from the world? Every life matters, and that’s the basic theme of this work.
I’m very proud of this book. It’s set in Halifax (in an alternate reality of course) and will be out hopefully next summer.