Northwords Now Issue 37

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Start by Graham Morgan

Fledgling Press Ltd

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

Start is about life while being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.  This is not something we have all experienced, but which perhaps we should all understand. Start is an excellent place to start.   In his straightforward and fearlessly personal way, Graham Morgan reports from the cliff face of depression and schizophrenia.  At times, the reading is hard going – but it should be.  Mental illness is not a some kind of life option.  The text itself is never obscure or long-winded.  In fact, it is a joy to read.  Morgan captures complex emotions with a light touch. Highly readable, Start is also a literary work with original imagery, profound insights, and above all compassion.

The structure follows a timescale. After a preface, there is a chapter called Life at the Links Café, a gentle piece which touches on the dramatic events in his recent life. This is followed by twelve sections titled by months (Jan to Jan), with each of these sections full of short chapters.  It is, in essence, a collection of short sequential pieces. Some are like diary entries about the breakdown of his marriage and alienation from his son. Some are informative, and describe what happens when you feel you should not be alive anymore, and you become sectioned. Interwoven through all this, are (for instance) whimsical musings while taking a walk on the beach.

It bodes well to remember that Morgan not only has an MBE for services to mental health organisations, he has also has been consulted by the United Nations in Geneva.  He is a well-respected advocate for mental health service users on an international scale.  Unlike most books on this subject, Start is written by someone with the inside scoop from personal experience.  It is not a case of us and them, but of we.  

What, in reality, does he hope this book achieves? Not much. He is aware there is no magic wand, no easy answers to mental ill health.  However, he hopes to raise awareness and shrink the stigma. Unlike mental illness, feeling isolated is a problem which can be addressed.

Morgan has been described by the medical profession as a high-functioning individual with schizophrenia. He hates this description. It does not come close to conveying the actual experience of the disorder, and it seems to look down on others.  What must it be like to be labelled low-functioning? And yet, there is no denying that Morgan speaks eloquently for the millions who probably find speaking about their illness difficult, if not impossible.

Finally, this book succeeds in two other functions - just as important as describing being sectioned.  It is a love letter to his partner Wendy, and an apology to his first wife and son, and to his parents and siblings.  It is not easy being a schizophrenic.  It is also, admits Morgan, not easy loving a schizophrenic.