A patient is standing in the middle of the river. He gazes across the water to the city and the mountain above where the sun is setting. His back is turned to the hospital. The nurses are waiting for him patiently on the river bank. He seems uncertain whether to cross the river or to return. There is no danger. He is on the edge, in an in-between space, as is the hospital where I have worked as a specialist psychiatrist for over twenty-five years.
For many of us, mental illness is shrouded in mystery, and our understanding of it is largely influenced by misrepresentations in the media and is often founded upon misconceptions and fear. In Madness: Stories of uncertainty and hope, Dr Sean Baumann, who has spent 25 years as a psychiatrist at Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, lifts the veil on madness, arguing for a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of mental illness.
In this book, Baumann tells the stories of his patients and draws on his experiences working in the South African public health sector. Based on the author's personal encounters and interviews with persons dealing with various forms of psychoses, this book uncovers what it really means to suffer from, amongst others, schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. We meet a man whose shoes can transport him to the moon, an elderly, aristocratic couple, and a young man who, one day, goes into labour without warning. But there are also the first-hand accounts of people plagued by unknown enemies, frightful external forces which control their every move and thought. Madness encourages a more inclusive way of making sense of mental health.
Writing with sensitivity and empathy, Bauman draws on topics such as art, psychology, consciousness, free will and theories of the self to show that mental illness raises questions that affect us all - especially the meanings we attach to being who we are.