I love to read, and have the good fortune to have a job where I get paid to sit in airports, airplanes and restaurants where reading helps to pass the time. I used to buy books because I like holding a book in my hands, and it is similar to “comfort food” because the library was my “safe place” when I was a child. Today I have an iPad with a Kindle app, and I get to download books for free from the library, so reading is even more fun now!
A few months ago, my daughter told me about a book she read called “The Shock of the Fall” by Nathan Filer. It’s a book, a novel, about schizophrenia, and is one of the saddest, funniest, and most honest books I’ve read. Nathan Filer is a psychiatric nurse in the United Kingdom, and has crafted a novel that describes the process of falling into madness in a way that was so real to me, and talking with friends I know who are affected by schizophrenia, they said this book “got it.”
I did my field placement for my Social Work degree at the Mental Health Institute in Independence, Iowa. When I was there to teach The Mandt System® 8 or 10 years ago, it was fun for me to go back to the place where I started my professional career in human services. I wish I had been able to share some of the knowledge from this book then, because it so accurately captures the feelings many people have when they are affected by schizophrenia.
Here are a few quotes:
“When the medication isn’t’ working properly – or I decide not to take it – I spend more time awake. But then my dreams have a way of following me. It’s like we each have a wall that separates our dreams from reality, but mine has cracks in it. The dreams can wriggle and squeeze their way through, until it’s hard to know the difference.”
The people I have known that were affected by schizophrenia, both friends and clients, have said similar things about their perception and my perception of this thing we call reality. Filer’s ability to capture the fear and anxiety of schizophrenia over the course of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood is amazing. One word of caution – there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of swearing in this book. People who are psychiatric nurses said that was how they could tell the book was written by a psychiatric nurse!
“I have an illness, a disease, with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too. If you have HIV or Cancer, or Athlete’s Foot, you can’t teach them anything. When Ashley Stone was dying of Meningitis, he might have known that he was dying, but his Meningitis didn’t know. Meningitis doesn’t know anything. But my illness knows everything that I know. This was a difficult thing to get my head around, but the moment I understood it, my illness understood it too.”
The character that Filer creates, and the supporting nurses, psychiatrists, case managers and family members, create a tapestry as rich as any I have read in the best of novels. It is like life, not really ending but full of beginnings. The novel ends with this:
“I could keep on going, but you know what I’m like. The ink running dry from typewriter ribbon. This place shutting down. That’s enough small print to get anyone thinking. So I’ll stack these pages with the rest of them and leave it all behind. Writing about the past is a way of reliving it, a way of seeing it unfold all over again. We place memories on pieces of paper to know they will always exist. But this story never has been a keepsake – it’s finding a way to let go.”
When I am able to work with people from the mental health service sector while teaching The Mandt System®, this is one of the books I always recommend. I’ve gotten feedback from several people, all of whom appreciated the ways in which The Shock of the Fall helped them do their work with more compassion, understanding, and hope than before. And that compassion, understanding and hope is what we are all about.
Bob Bowen – SVP Program Development