Charlie’s life gets turned upside down when she discovers her husband, Oliver, on a dating app on a girl’s night out. Unwilling to believe her husband could be unfaithful, Charlie digs deeper, becoming suspicious of his friends, his work and his overseas trips.
But the deeper Charlie digs, the more danger she puts herself in. In a search for the truth, she finds far more than she was bargaining for.
Pip Drysdale’s novel, ‘The Strangers We Know’ is narrated in the first person, as Charlie. I find that writing in the first person can be slightly risky, as the story can become jumbled.
Drysdale does do an alright job writing in the first person, although I found the plot line jumps a little bit, as sometimes you’re in the moment, and then ‘Charlie’ will say things like:
‘And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.’
For me, it created an air of disorientation, and broke the suspense I was feeling beforehand.
Regardless, the plot itself was quite dramatic and had many twists and turns, which would keep any reader on their toes, no matter the perspective or tense. Everyone is a suspect, and no one is immune to Charlie’s scrutiny.
I can’t say much more without giving away all of the juicy details, so I’ll leave it at that.
The small town of Pagford appears, at least on the surface, to be an idyllic and almost predictable part of the world.
But things are not so idyllic, at second glance. After Councillor Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly and without warning, the town erupts into an all out drama-series. Pagford becomes a place of gossip, lies and selfishness as people jostle into position for Barry Fairbrother’s seat.
And while all of this is happening, Pagford’s citizens shine through in the undercurrent, with the author, J.K. Rowling, showing the reader a side to every-day life that often gets swept under the rug and forgotten about.
‘The Casual Vacancy’ was J.K. Rowling’s first publication after the ‘Harry Potter’ series. In it, Rowling breaks away from the magic by plonking the reader head-first into a completely commonplace town, with seemingly dull issues, such as the upcoming Pagford election.
However, it soon becomes apparent that while the election is on the forefront, it is the undercurrent of activity from every-day citizens that is of most interest.
The story of Pagford is innocuous at first glance, and yet, it somehow gives the reader a grim taste of reality. ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a story of the every-day cruelty and selfishness of human-kind, wrapped up neatly as the town of Pagford, with a bow and on show, like a goldfish in a bowl.
Alicia Berenson won’t say a word – not since she shot dead her husband, Gabriel.
Once a famous painter, now turned notorious, Alicia now resides at ‘The Grove’ – a psychiatric ward. Refusing to speak for over 6 years, when she shot her husband point blank 5 times in the face, Alicia suddenly becomes aware of a new Doctor in the ward.
Psychotherapist Theo, has recently switched jobs – intrigued by Alicia’s case, and desperate to unravel the mystery behind the silent patient at ‘The Grove’.
‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides is gripping, from start to finish. Alicia Berenson is an extremely interesting character, providing thought-provoking moments, even in the absence of her voice.
This novel has many twists and turns, partly written from Theo’s point of view, and partly from Alicia’s, in the form of her personal diary entries. There are so many questions, all culminating into a final up-ending.
Without giving away too much, all that can be said is that as the reader, it was easy to become drawn in, invested and intensely mystified – and subsequently de-mystified – all in the space of a few hundred pages.
My only criticism is that ‘The Silent Patient’ ends as quickly as it started, and although that is partly intentional, it left me wanting more – more information, more backstory and more pages.
But when you haven’t got ordinary parents, it’s only to be expected.
Charlie’s parents (Andy and Vicky) took part in a Government-run college experiment in the 60’s, when scientists were trying to find a link between psychedelic drugs and psychic abilities. Their experience was something they tried to brush off, but strange things begin to happen to them.
Andy and Vicky try to live a normal life, in a normal neighbourhood, eventually having a child – Charlie. But Charlie is not normal. At an early age, Charlie shows signs of extraordinary talent – drawing power from seemingly thin air.
But the Government isn’t done experimenting yet. ‘The Shop’ – a firm of secret Government agents – is determined to detain Charlie and her father, and continue studying Charlie and her father’s abilities.
Andy and Charlie go on the run, trying to evade and expose The Shop, in order to live out their lives in peace. But keeping one step ahead of The Shop is harder than they first thought…
This was the first Stephen King novel I have read – so I went into it with an open mind. Usually I steer clear of Sci-Fi and stick to historical fiction and story-lines based on facts, so this was a little out of my comfort zone.
That aside, the story was great to follow – filled with suspense and anticipation for what was going to happen next. The role of Andy being a father who simply wanted to make sure his daughter had a normal life is very relatable and also quite heartfelt at times.
Although the ending left me with some unanswered questions, I felt like that was all part of the intrigue of this sort of genre, and still thoroughly enjoyed the book.
It’s been about 5 months since I started my journey as a Support Worker, but I really wanted to write about some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and how it has helped me become better at my job.
Mid-way through this year, I decided to change the trajectory of my life by switching into a career supporting young people who are under the Guardianship of the Minister (in State care). This is something I have always wanted to do, and I had the qualifications to do it – but never took the leap into the field – preferring stable, (boring) but reliable full-time employment instead.
Working with young people has always appealed to me, given my own background and experiences, which involved drugs, neglect, homelessness, transience and custody disputes between parents. But even though I have had those experiences in the past, each day is entirely different, and nothing can fully prepare you for the wide range of things you hear, experience and see while on shift.*
It’s been about 5 months since I started my journey as a Support Worker, but I really wanted to write about some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and how it has helped me become better at my job.
* Obviously, client confidentiality is of utmost importance when it comes to working with young people, so there will be no mention of names or specific locations etc. in this post.
Keep An Open Mind.
Sometimes people forget that young people in care are just like everyone else their age.
They have dreams, fears, failures and successes, just like you and me – all of which should be nurtured and celebrated.
One of the most valuable things I learned in my training was this:
Change the word attention to connection.
If a young person is exhibiting ‘attention seeking’ behaviours, try seeing those behaviours as ‘connection seeking’ instead.
Young people don’t always know how to express their feelings and fears, or ask for help and encouragement when they desperately need it – and sometimes this can seem like they’re being ‘attention seeking’ or being ‘naughty’ or ‘disruptive’.
Next time you notice a young person exhibiting some interesting behaviours, ask yourself: ‘is this young person seeking connection?’ rather than writing them off as being annoying or naughty, and chances are, you’ll get a better response.
Educate Your Friends & Family.
One of the saddest and most frustrating things I’ve encountered since becoming a Support Worker is the negative reaction of my peers when I tell them I work with young people in care.
There is an automatic stigma associated with these children, which sticks to them like glue, no matter how hard they try to get it off, and society’s attitude doesn’t help.
It is something worth highlighting, because these children are just that – children. People automatically stick their noses up, have an opinion or see these children as criminals before they consider giving them a chance to prove them wrong.
Young people end up in care for a variety of reasons, and it is never their fault. Some of them have parents who are unfit to care for them due to addiction, neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
Some are orphaned and have no other family. Some end up in foster care, but are given back when their behaviour deteriorates due to their trauma. Some have intellectual disabilities that their parents don’t want to deal with. Some are refugees. There are hundreds of reasons children end up in care.
Oftentimes, people look at children in care as lesser than other children. But for me, I look to these children for inspiration. Their resilience is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. These young people have suffered adversity and still try their very best, each day – whatever that may look like. And it’s worth remembering and acknowledging.
Expect The Unexpected.
If you think you’ve seen everything, you haven’t.
Each shift I work is entirely different. One day I’ll be looking after a toddler, the next day I might be looking after a teenager, or a house full of siblings. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s to never go into a shift with any expectation about how it’s going to go.
I’ve had to clean walls covered in drawings. I’ve wiped poop from walls and hands. I’ve had to follow a kid around in a mini-van trying to convince them to get back in the car after they ran off. I’ve had to call the police, clean wet bed-sheets and listen to music that has so many swear words my brain ends up hurting.
But even more importantly, there are bright, shining, heart-warming moments that I never expected.
I got to be the person to take a child to their first day of school. I’ve had open and honest conversations with young people that have helped me grow as a person. I got taught how to make cold rolls (I always wanted to learn!), I’ve danced around the room with children and teenagers and high-fived toddlers when they realise they haven’t wet the bed.
I’ve seen milestones, birthdays, sad days and happy days, and I’ve seen firsthand just how wonderful, bright and resilient these young people can be.
Never assume you know it all. We truly know nothing. All we can do is expect the unexpected.
Don’t Underestimate Young People.
Many people underestimate young people – even those not in care. But young people aren’t stupid. They’ll know if you’re talking about them – because it happens every day of their life.
They know when you’re being genuine – because they’ve had so many different carers before you.
Young people are in care for a variety of different reasons, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they can tell who has their best interests at heart and who doesn’t.
The young people that I work with also know all of the things they’re allowed and not allowed to do – and sometimes they use this to their advantage – especially if you’re new.
This isn’t something to worry about, generally – most of the things the young people try to get away with, we’ve all tried as a kid. They’ll try and push their bed-times, get extra dessert or negotiate their curfews – all normal kid-type things to do.
The bottom line is that children and young people, no matter who they are or where they live, will test limits and push boundaries. It’s completely normal and to be expected. This is all part of growing up and seeing who sticks around – even when we make mistake or play up.
Put Yourself In Their Shoes.
Putting yourself in the shoes of a vulnerable young person can sometimes be hard, especially if you were lucky enough to have had a relatively ‘normal’ or ‘safe’ upbringing.
I find that the best way for me to truly empathise with the young people I work with is to ask myself:
‘Given the circumstances, what would I have done at their age?’
Now this might be difficult if you don’t know the full story. In which case, ask yourself:
‘Do I know enough about this young person to be judging their behaviour?’
Either way, it is helpful to remember these questions when dealing with behaviour that might seem risky, aggressive or otherwise upsetting behaviour.
If you had been forced to live off of scraps for most of your life and didn’t know when your next meal would be, wouldn’t you, as a young person, hoard food or steal it where you could, so you felt safe and knew you wouldn’t starve?
If you had grown up in a house where drugs and alcohol were normalized, wouldn’t you, as a young person in a new living environment, have trouble understanding what is safe and what isn’t?
If you, as a young person, had been physically beaten or emotionally abused when you had arguments with your family, want to run away every time you have an argument with someone, so you don’t get hurt?
These may be confronting scenarios, but they are incredibly real.
There is almost always a reason behind why someone does something – even as we mature into adults. We need to be able to see some situations from the perspective of the young people in order to connect with them and find ways to help them.
‘The Woman In The Window’, by A. J. Finn tells the story of Anna Fox, a reclusive ex-psychologist who is afraid to leave her up-town, New York home. Diagnosed with Agoraphobia, Anna spends her days drinking wine and spying on her neighbours.
Anna’s only glimpse of the outside world is through her windows, where she keeps track of her neighbours movements. When the Russells family move in across the street, Anna becomes excited – but as she spirals into her depression and medicated delusions, she begins to question the strange things she sees from her upstairs-window.
With no-one to turn to, let alone believe her, Anna begins to investigate further.
‘The Woman In The Window’ is fast-paced and dripping with mystery from the get-go. The novel gives the reader a glimpse into the sufferings of someone so afraid of the outside world, they cannot leave their own home.
Anna is grasping at reality most of the time, struggling with loneliness, medicated sleep and a drinking habit she relies on to pass the time. The reader must decide if Anna is reliable and her account of the happenings in her street truly happened. Was she hallucinating? Dreaming? Drunk? Panic-stricken?
There are moments where the story takes dramatic turns, and the reader falls easily into the whirlwind of Anna’s confusion, fear and frustration, making the novel a true page-turner.
It is definitely worth the read, if you’re into fast-paced and page-turning, with a small dose of cliche to go along with it.
The waiting periods to see a psychologist are far too long.
I’m not saying my mental health is more fucked than anyone else’s, or deserves to be seen to before anyone else.
But what I am saying, is that the waiting periods to see a psychologist are far too long. I’ve battled with my mental illness for many years, and I’m starting to come to the realization that half my problem is that I had stopped bothering trying to seek therapy of any description.
I know that might sound a little self-destructive, but hear me out.
I first saw a psychiatrist when I was under the age of 5.
He was trying to get inside my little, child brain, to understand what was happening around me, and whether I should be placed in the care of my drug-addicted Mum, in a dangerous house that had pedophiles, drug addicts and criminals coming in at all hours of the day and night, or my Dad, who hadn’t so much as raised his voice at me, ever.
When he visited me at my Mum’s house, I would be told by my Mum and Step-Dad that I should ‘tell the man you want to live with me, or all your toys will be sold and I won’t see you’.
When he visited my Dad’s house, my Dad told me to ‘tell the man the truth’ to the questions he asked.
Do you know who the psychiatrist thought was the better option? My Mum.
And so, my poor relationship with psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors began.
I didn’t see anyone else about my mental health again until I was 15.
I had been living with my Dad since I was seven (after the Family Court finally realized who the right parent to live with was), because I was a missing person for 8 months because my Mum and Step-Dad took off when they couldn’t pay a drug-debt.
Growing up, I had always been a quiet person, and found myself feeling a lot more mature than my peers most of the time. I didn’t know what depression, or anxiety, or mental illness was back then. I just thought that I was different.
And then when I was 15, a close friend of mine died, and I was encouraged to see a counselor, who I went to see at the local hospital. Even in a town of less than 2,000, it took me 4 weeks to get an appointment.
Then, the first thing the counselor did was point at the scars on my wrists and tell me I was obviously not depressed and just wanted attention.
I immediately disliked her.
I had a second appointment a couple of weeks later, which I decided to go to, just in case I had misjudged the counselor, or hadn’t given her enough time. But all she did was ask me why I was so sad, and then told me if I couldn’t tell her, that meant nothing was wrong.
I didn’t bother seeing her again.
I didn’t see another psychologist or mental health professional until I was 19.
By the time I was 19, I had finished High School, I had ran away from home, lived in poverty to the point of living in the street, moved to a big city to start University, moved in with a boyfriend, broken up with him, moved to an Aunt’s house, moved out with another boyfriend who was abusive to me, and began to realize that there was something seriously wrong with my mental health.
One day, I broke down and cried and cried and cried, walking around the neighbourhood after dark for hours. I was having terrible thoughts, panic attacks, mood swings and felt like I was all alone. It was then that I decided I needed help.
I went to a doctor, who ‘diagnosed’ me with depression, gave me some anti-depressant medication and sent me on my way. It wasn’t until I went back to the same doctor’s surgery and saw a different GP that they set up a Mental-Health care plan, which included a referral to see a psychologist.
I said I couldn’t afford to see someone. They put me in a queue to see someone in the public system.
That someone was a 45 minute drive away, and was only available to see me every 2 weeks. But I was desperate for help, so I drove the distance and waited for my appointments.
This psychologist was the first one who ever actually seemed like she cared about helping me get better. She asked me about my family history, asked me about my relationships and my studies and my home life. We began to dig a bit deeper, and I remember her telling me that she thought I should get a proper diagnosis from a psychiatrist, but that we’d organize it in the next session.
She moved states the following week, and I never heard from her again.
At 23, I decided to give it another shot.
After the last psychologist, I gave up on seeking mental health for a few years. I had broken up with my abusive boyfriend by this point, but the relationship was incredibly damaging to me. He had told me I was a psycho, that there was something wrong with my brain, that I deserved the things that happened to me as a child, that I should just hurry up and kill myself – among the physical abuse and the rest of it. I had carried the weight of his words ever since.
That burden eventually became one of the reasons I didn’t have much success with relationships after that. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, I was lonely and I had to force myself out of bed just to go to work. I had started taking hard drugs and wasn’t in a good place.
But I finally built up the courage to speak to my (new) doctor, and asked her to help me, because I felt like I wasn’t getting better, I was only getting worse.
I asked her whether she thought I should be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but she said no.
She upped the dosage of my medication and made a new Mental Health plan, referring me to a counselor close by.
I went to my first session, and was bitterly disappointed. This time, I walked into the room to find a man who spent half our session on the phone, and the other half telling me that the depression was all in my head and what I needed to do was change my attitude.
I told him I didn’t understand what that meant, because I was obviously trying to get better, otherwise I wouldn’t be in his office.
He then said “I don’t know why you’re here anyway, you seem like an intelligent person’.
I went to the doctor again when I was 25.
I told her straight out ‘I think I might kill myself one day’.
She upped my dose of anti-depressant medication, referred me to Yarrow Place (a service for women who have been raped) and recommended I join a gym.
I remember her saying ‘…Swimming is good for the mind.’
To keep things in perspective here, I never mentioned to this doctor I had been raped, that is something she simply assumed. The only other thing she did was give me a list of the crisis phone numbers I could call if I wanted to.
I contacted Yarrow Place and asked when their next available appointment was and they told me that unless it was an emergency (in their eyes?), the next appointment wouldn’t be for the following month.
I wanted to cry. Why was it so hard to get the help I needed?
Here, in the present day, I’m 26 years old.
I went to my (new) doctor in March this year, and said I really think I need to see someone about my mental health. I told him that I had been feeling down for quite some time, and believed that medication wasn’t going to help me.
He asked me straight out ‘…What could possibly make you so sad?’
This doctor is a nice enough guy, but he’s not a psychologist. I didn’t feel comfortable telling him much, and to be perfectly honest, I was kind of hoping to untangle all these years of feelings with someone who was qualified to do so. So I said ‘lots of things’ and he asked me to fill out the Mental Health Questionnaire that I’d filled in a dozen times before.
This time though, when he said he was going to make a Mental Health Care Plan for me, I asked him if I could be the person to choose who I was referred to. He said that I could, but that if they’re private practices, there might be a cost involved. I said I didn’t care, so he sent me away to research who I wanted to see, and to come back in a week and he’d write up a referral.
My doctor wrote the referral, and the very next day, I contacted the practice via email to organize my first appointment. The receptionist told me the first available appointment with the psychologist I wanted wouldn’t be until June.
My heart sank.
I asked her if there was anyone else I could see from the practice sooner. She gave me a date in late May and said it was probably best just to wait for my preferred psychologist, and that she would put me on a cancellation list, just in case a space became available.
I decided to grit my teeth a bare it, regardless of the wait or the cost, so that I can try and get better.
It’s now May 30th, and my first appointment is June 13th. I’ve been waiting for 3 months, with the only other alternative option being to present myself to the emergency department and be evaluated, and probably released the same day with no real therapy.
I’m just trying to get better.
There are days where I drive home from work and honestly consider veering off into a pole, a tree or a ditch.
There are nights when I unpack the dishwasher and hold the knives a little too long, considering the ways I could use them. There are times when I wake up at night in a cold sweat and want to vomit my guts up or scream my lungs out.
There are days when I’m jealous of the people who get to go to therapy.
And then those moments pass, and I try again. I wake up to another day, and try to be optimistic. There are times when I have arguments with myself in my head about whether I should be here, and I have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving towards something that I can’t quite see yet.
I don’t need pills. I need therapy. But because I haven’t tried to kill myself yet, by professional measures, I’m fine. That’s just the way it is.
But the problem is, it shouldn’t be this way.
How many people has the system failed? I think about this every day. How loud do we have to scream to be heard? How much damage and trauma is deemed acceptable for help?
And what about the people who don’t want to talk about it to just anyone? Is it not okay to want to talk to a professional about something, rather than having to admit it to a GP first?
What about the suicidal people who struggle in silence? What about the ones who don’t think their struggles are worth someone else’s time? What about the people who are sent home by the doctor with a prescription and a referral to someone who doesn’t care?
I wonder all of these things and more.
But most of all, I wonder when the system is going to change.
Resources for those seeking help:
Remember, your safety should always be a priority. If you are in crisis or your mental health becomes an emergency, call 000.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you, or someone you know needs help, don’t hesitate to use the following resources:
Kim Leamy lives a quiet life – teaching photography in Melbourne, Australia, and keeping to herself. That is, until an accountant from America approaches Kim one day before class, convinced she is not who she thinks she is at all. The accountant believes Kim is actually Sammy Went, a child who went missing from Kentucky 26 years earlier.
Kim brushes the accountant off, unable to see how her (now deceased) mother – a caring, loving social worker – could ever have had a role in an international kidnapping. But Kim can’t seem to shake the encounter from her mind, and decides to meet with the American again, if only to prove him wrong.
As Kim delves deeper into the mystery that is Sammy Went, based on information from the accountant, she decides to travel to America to unravel what could, after all, be hers (or Sammy’s) mysterious past.
This story was a unique twist on a ‘cliche’ story line, telling the tale of little Sammy Went and her family of secrets. For a debut novel, this was quite a good read! The author, Christian White, manages to find a way to keep you guessing about Sammy’s past, filled with kidnapping, secrets and religious conspiracies.
I really enjoyed reading this novel. Funny story – I bought it at the airport when I had a few hours to spare, and read about three quarters of it during that time. But I LOST IT! But I enjoyed what I had read so much, that as soon as I had a chance, I went out and bought the book for a second time, just so I could finish it.