Writing of the mental illness called schizophrenia can allow a novelist to open many themes and characterizations. For one thing, the cause for disorder itself is a mystery, so there is an evasive culprit who could attack at any time. The victims are frequently young, their promising lives distorted and confused. The world becomes bizarre and unmanageable; those who could help are often fearful and frustrated. Uncertainty spreads, complications abound and neat conclusions are rarely apparent. The hallucinations that are common in schizophrenia also can make for powerful descriptive prose, as the author draws the reader into the mind of someone losing a grip on reality.
What Kevin noticed was the red flannel shirt on a man sitting at the end of the bar. Other reds in the room began to glimmer — the cigarette packs on the tables, the labels on bottles behind the bar, the red lines in the eyes of the man standing next to him. It was as if all red had a light behind it, causing the color to glow. Then the colors exploded in the way a white light does in a photo flash, turning the back of his eyelids red when he closed them. — from “When Truth Lies”
If the unreality experienced by Kevin rings true it could be because author Terry Garahan — now an instructor of mental health counseling at Ithaca College — spent many years thinking about and working on “When Truth Lies”, years also spent running outpatient mental health services in Ithaca, NY. He is a licensed clinical social worker and developed in Tompkins County “a proactive approach to working with emotionally disturbed persons and those with mental illness”, which received national attention. Garahan is also an FBI-trained hostage negotiator.
“When Truth Lies” is subtitled “A Journey with Schizophrenia” and opens in 1967, at the emergence of a counter-culture that could feed anyone’s disorientation. We follow Kevin from his home in the community of Laketon, NY — a fictional college town clearly inspired by Ithaca — through mental health institutions and wandering around the country in a Dantesque descent through settings of Hell, Purgatory and at least an implication of Paradise.
Terry Garahan joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to discuss the life challenges of persons dealing with mental illness.