News Archive September 2020
Book Review – Barking, By Lucy Sullivan
Content warning: mental illness, suicidal thoughts, hospitalisation.
Lucy Sullivan’s debut graphic novel, Barking, follows Alix Otto, a young woman haunted by the death (and possibly the ghost?) of her friend, and by a black dog that only she can see. It opens with Alix standing on a bridge over the Thames and the dog goading her to jump, when she’s picked up by the police and quickly taken to a psychiatric ward, where most of the book is set.
The black dog as a metaphor for depression dates back at least as far as Samuel Johnson but Sullivan’s version is portrayed with unusual force and malevolence, a snarling, scribbly presence, sometimes lurking in the shadows of a scene and other times bursting out from the panel borders. The dog is also the voice of Alix’s intrusive thoughts, in speech bubbles scattered across the page, disrupting and confusing the narrative as they disrupt Alix’s thought processes.
Having a second character voice the protagonist’s interior monologue reminded me strongly of Sarah Kane’s work, particularly her play 4:48 Psychosis, and as in Kane’s work the impression is of someone under intolerable pressure, caught between the relentless haranguing of her inner voice on one side and the alienating, jargon-ridden speeches of the medical professionals on the other.
The art style is loose and scribbly, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz at his scratchiest, or Dave McKean having a particularly bad day, and with a confidence and fluidity to the figure drawing that demonstrates Sullivan’s background as an animator and life-drawing tutor. The art is perfect for the book and inextricable from the story it’s telling, but is hard to decipher at times, and might prove a barrier to people who are new to reading comics.
Barking is presented as a graphic novel rather than a memoir, and while Sullivan has been very open about her own experiences with mental ill-health in interviews, she’s also been clear that this isn’t autobiography. Having said that, she clearly knows what she’s talking about. Some of the details – the evangelical nurse pushing Jesus as a miracle cure, for example, or the weird, elliptic conversations during group therapy sessions – chimed uncomfortably closely with my own experiences as a psychiatric in-patient.
The psychiatric ward as depicted here is a brutal and frightening place; definitely part of the problem rather than the solution. While this isn’t a universal experience of psychiatric hospitals, it’s common enough that it definitely should be part of the wider conversation about mental ill-health and its treatment. And the depiction isn’t entirely one-sided – Sullivan offers us a ray of hope by having one nurse, at least, show compassion towards Alix
This is a brilliant and challenging book about depression, but perhaps not one to read when you’re actually depressed. But if you’re feeling brave and you’re interested in the current state of the art of comics as an artform, I’d say it was necessary reading.
Barking, by Lucy Sullivan
Published by Unbound, 2020
128pp Hardback, £16.99
Available to buy from Lucy Sullivan’s website: https://lucysullivanuk.com/
If you’re currently affected by depression, contact your GP for an appointment, or call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you need to talk to someone immediately. HFEH Mind also has a list of other sources of support in the West London area: https://www.hfmind.org.uk/get-support/advice-and-information/
By Daniel Bristow-Bailey
Posted on: 21st September 2020
As schools begin to return, I have had some time to reflect on the last few weeks (20 to be precise!) of how our home lives entirely changed overnight. Becoming a full-time homeschooler, continuing to work full-time whilst maintaining parental boundaries has been quite the challenge to say the least. Whilst it’s been quite an insightful experience, personally for me it’s time for my child to go back to school.
It all started so well with organised timetables, scheduled breaks, exciting experiments and Spider-man lunges with Joe Wicks to start the day. We were full of enthusiasm and thought it will only be for a few weeks at the very most. After all, I would be only be homeschooling one child, how hard was this going to be? The first few weeks went well, we even made it into the school newsletter, I thought ‘we’ve got this’ apart from the odd eye roll, we were thriving.
The novelty of ‘school’s out for summer’ for a 9-year-old was about to wear off and the reality of lock-down soon began to sink in. There have been slammed doors, tantrums, refusals to do pretty much anything other than play on the Nintendo switch and far too many days in pajamas. With everything used from bribery and the dreaded phrase every child hates ‘I’m going to have to call your dad if you don’t get on with your work’ – yep that’s right I had to go there.
I’ve worried relentlessly about the screen time; the school have been very organised but with all activities on Google classroom there hasn’t been much time away from the laptop. I have worried the online activities are not sinking in as much as the classroom activities would but what is the alternative? Our pre-Covid screen time rules have gone out the window, and left us negotiating time allowed for ‘free-time screen time’ versus allocated screen time for schoolwork.
During the pandemic I have learnt to pick my battles; core subjects have remained non-negotiable with others fading away. I can safely say my neighbors are pleased the French-horn was short lived. But the constant football and basketball (accidentally) being kicked over the wall into their garden I’m sure is wearing thin.
Parenting can be challenging at the best of times and the current pandemic is inevitably making parenting more stressful. Being a parent, teacher, and friend, has been incredibly difficult to maintain. I’m constantly questioning am I doing the right thing? Is my child happy? Somedays it feels like all I do is tell them to stop doing this or that or re-do their work again, whilst questioning is this what you produce at school or a special treat for me?
Balancing work and homeschooling are a challenge on their own, personally it is not something I would choose to do again. When my other half leaves for work each morning all jolly, all I can think is ‘take me with you!’ I personally do not feel qualified for this teacher role and welcome the time when I do not spend my evenings planning and researching tasks for the next day to keep my son immersed. As the weeks past trying to maintain professional at work was a thing of the past. Once your son pops into Zoom meeting to show the team his painting of a rainbow Heli-fish (Helicopter fish of course) it’s safe to say, our once bliss work-home balance has completely merged into one.
Reflecting on the last few months also gave me time to appreciate the fun memories we have made and cherish the time we have spent together. I have more appreciation for my son’s teacher’s than ever before, and I am fully prepared to apply for a place on ‘are you smarter than a 10-year-old.’
By Rachel O’Shea – Mental Health Advice Caseworker
Posted on: 8th September 2020