Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Road to God Knows....

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Open Book reader Von Allan's graphic novel, The Road to God Knows..., is the story of Marie, a teenage girl coming to grips with her mom's schizophrenia.

By Von Allan

I'm the son of a mom who wrestled with schizophrenia much of her adult life. My mom was diagnosed when I was quite young, maybe 9 or 10 years old. The biggest things I really remember about growing up were how isolated my mom became and how little I understood what was happening to her and what she was going through. In hindsight (and I say this as an adult), I'm really amazed that no one from the health care system ever pulled me aside and talked with me about it. That didn't happen and to this day I wonder why.  A lot of the confusion I went through was partially one of ignorance -- I knew my mom wasn't "right" but I didn't understand why. I knew that she'd be really up and down and sometimes that led to her being institutionalized for a few weeks with what were called "nervous breakdowns," but I didn't understand what that meant -- or why it even happened at all. And I certainly didn't understand what being hospitalized meant and what good it did her long-term.

This was made harder by the fact that my mom really couldn't talk with me about it, most likely because she was in the midst of it and not really understanding what was happening herself. I can only imagine some of the fear she was going through. If no one was talking with me I doubt that anyone was really talking with her, either.  She would come home extremely fragile from these hospitalizations, manage to cope for some months or perhaps a year, and then we'd go through it all over again.  I know my mom suffered some anxiety problems, as well, and that led to her being very isolated from the world at large. I say all this in a past tense because she actually died when I was 20; she was 48 when she died way too young, never getting a true grip on her life.

On a larger, societal level I think we have a lot of work to do. The isolation that people with schizophrenia (and mental illness in general go through) can be devastating to both self-esteem and a sense of self. And it can be just as rough, albeit it in a different way, for loved ones around them. We need far more compassion, understanding and love when it comes to mental illness. While I'll never know if things would have been different for my mom, I do wonder what her life and circumstances might have been like if she hadn't felt so alone and if there was more support around her. I think the big takeaway for me in thinking about my mom's life (and her death) is just how important outreach and communication is. Schizophrenics and anyone struggling with mental illness should never be treated as pariahs. And they should never be isolated. With love and understanding, maybe that will change.

All of this explains why I wrote and drew this book. I wanted to shed some light on a very hush-hush topic and hopefully help others, especially kids but really people of all ages, realize that they aren't alone and that they haven't done anything wrong. Mental illness is often lonely.  It doesn't have to be, but it often is. And until our society gets far more empathic about those who suffer from it, I don't think that loneliness will go away. the road to god knows..., my graphic novel, is my attempt to change that, at least a little.

And maybe get people talking.

Von Allan was born red-headed and freckled in Arnprior, Ontario, just in time for Star Wars: A New Hope.  The single child of two loving but troubled parents, Von split most of his childhood between their two homes and, consequently, spent a lot of time in the worlds of comics and wrestling.  And, to be perfectly honest, what comics and piledrivers didn't teach him, science fiction did.  He managed a small independent bookstore in Ottawa, Ontario for many years, all the while working on story ideas in his spare time-- eventually, he decided to make the leap to a creative life, and the road to god knows..., an original graphic novel, was the result.

Read more about The Road to God Knows... at http://trtgk.vonallan.com.

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