Firstly, I have something to blog about! Go me! I feel like this might be the greatest accomplishment of my career! Okay, now my excitement is out of the way, let’s get to the point.
It’s been three days since Broken released and I am already blown away by people’s reactions to it. Thank you for all your kind words, your amazing words in fact. Thank you for reading, for sharing. Thank you for staying with James and Theo on their journey, and thank you to the people who have shared parts of your own journeys with me. To know that my writing has affected people, maybe even helped them in some way, means the absolute world to me. So thank you. A thousand times over, THANK YOU.
Now, the prompt for this post, a post I never expected, or particularly wanted, to write. Among the messages and emails I have received regarding Broken were a small handful from people condemning the way I chose to handle the topic of mental health, or more accurately, the mental health system here in the UK. A couple in particular were angry and disbelieving. These same people told me they were right and I was wrong because they know someone who works in our mental health system.
This disgruntled me somewhat, but in order to remain professional I have to keep my opinions to myself, or at least not get into a direct argument. Hell, it’s not even professionalism standing in my way. The fact I’m a total wimp when it comes to confrontation probably plays the strongest role. So, I’m replying here. Publicly. And to nobody in particular.
This isn’t an objection to a poor review, or me being pissed off that somebody didn’t like the book. I’ve been in this game for a while. Everybody has the right to love or hate a book and it isn’t my place to be offended. This is about the fact I have been told I shouldn’t write about such a serious topic when I know nothing about it, that I shouldn’t mislead the public with information that isn’t accurate. This is about me standing by my story, defending my characters, and supporting those people who have faced similar struggles.
I do know about it.
It is accurate.
I have lived it.
The fact is nobody is right or wrong here. Every person has different experiences. The way James’ illness was handled by the mental health professionals in Broken can happen. It has happened. The only way I felt able to create an authentic story for James and Theo was to draw on my own personal experiences. So to the people who have told me James would never have been discharged from hospital after so little time given his situation, to the ones who quoted the laws regarding sectioning levels in the UK, the person who told me ‘according to their friend in the profession’ what I wrote about how and when James was misdiagnosed would never be allowed to happen…
It has happened. I’m not saying it should. I’m not saying this is the protocol which all mental health professionals should, and do, follow. I’m not saying this is the mental health rulebook and James’ story is the only story. I’m not saying whichever person you might know who works in the field is wrong. Honestly? I don’t know all the rules and regulations from the perspective of a medical professional. I do, however, know what it’s like to be on the other side. On James’ side. So I guess what I am saying is to those people who refute the idea that this story could be real…it is real. It might not have happened to you. It might not have happened to the people you ‘know’ who work in mental health. It might not be supposed to happen to anyone.
All I know is that it can. I know it can because it has. The only difference between my opinion and that of those who have contacted me, is that I’m not saying my account is the only account. Every single person with any type of mental health problem should receive the same care. They should be listened to. They should be taken seriously. They should never be dismissed or sent away with nothing more than a bottle of pills and a sympathetic smile.
But sometimes, that is what happens. Our mental health system is under huge pressure. Sometimes doctors aren’t as professional or knowledgeable as they should be. Sometimes hospitals and mental health services are overworked and understaffed. Sometimes rules are ignored or forgotten. Sometimes, whatever the reason…people aren’t given the help they deserve.
So, I stand by my story. I stand by the truth behind it. I stand by all the people who have, or love somebody who, struggles with their mental health. We may not all share the same experiences. We may not all take the same route or get the same help and support. But we can all make it to the other side. We can be happy, successful, and loved, even if we’re a little bit broken.
Because as the story says…broken crayons can still colour.