by Paul Chappell
Paul struggled for many years with depression. Despite his condition he retained his sense of satirical humour and wrote one brilliantly witty story after another. His sharp observational skills and comprehension of human nature left one with new insight and understanding about the human condition. Be it conversations with a fictitious Economist, or with his alter-ego God, his work always left you convinced that he had a deep knowledge of what it is that makes people tick.
He gave life a lot of thought, but his ultimate conclusion was that it was only for happy people. No-one had much to offer him in his troubled world. His life was subject to close scrutiny from Charity Care Services and Government Welfare schemes which were badly flawed. This was the subject of many of his stories and his wish was that others would see the humiliation and neglect that people with mental health issues are often subject to. Sadly, Paul chose to make his exit, but has left this legacy in writing. His hope was that his work would be used to help raise awareness of those conditions which only too often ostracise and isolate people from society. Hence this book.
So, as Paul would have wanted, this book is dedicated to all people everywhere, who suffer from mental health issues, in the hope that it will be read widely and that it will go some small way towards improving understanding and care and giving those people the help they need and deserve.
Pia Lenau and Andrea Lowne
Review – Author and music producer Graham Sclater. The Sighs of a Mouse (MP3)
Review – David Gardiner, Gold Dust Magazine
This is a very unusual book in that it was written by a man who took his own life in July 2013, and the essays and stories it contains chronicle his descent into depression, or if you are loath to attach a medical label to his state of mind, despair. They take us through two unsuccessful attempts to end it all, the second of which leaves him hospitalised for a few days and, in his own estimation, robs him of the remaining shreds of his dignity.
All of the various short pieces that make up the book originally appeared on the writers’ websites ABC Tales and UKAuthors.com, and they take us almost to the very moment of his final high-speed car-drive into a brick wall and hence eternity.
I should perhaps say at the outset that his declining fortunes and mental state are not the only topics Chappell writes about in this collection, because it spans a long writing career, and many of the essays and stories deal with different subject matter entirely, and are merely first class examples of a fine writer’s work, many of them very funny, all of them intelligent and well-crafted. Their presence makes the rest of the collection all the more poignant, his untimely death all the more tragic.
The author had good reasons for his decision to give up on life, and he explains them at length, and often with a stunning irony that propels the narrative into comedy. His house and possessions seized by the bailiffs, deep in debt, alone, hungry and denied state benefits, shamefully neglected by the people and institutions that he has turned to for support, he decides that suicide is simply his best option. There is nothing that comes across as inevitable about this decision, you or I or indeed he might have decided differently. It seems to be a free and rational choice.
In saying this I don’t mean to deny the reality of the ‘black dog’ (depression) that Chappell could not escape – it is simply that the illness comes across as one factor, but not the only one, influencing his decision. Had he been given just a little more support, both in practical ways and in terms of understanding and treating his illness, his story might have had a very different ending. This book is a devastating indictment of the mental health care professionals and the other public servants entrusted with the management of this man’s illness. Coming so close on the heels of the Stafford Hospital scandal, let us hope that the book gives those in the relevant professions pause for thought and causes them to re-examine their working practices and their attitudes to people suffering mental distress. Chappell makes it clear repeatedly that this is a large part of his reason for recording his thoughts. If it happens then he will not have died in vain.
‘When well-meaning people say, “Why don’t you…?” and then name something that they believe should make me happy, I want to kill them very hard. It isn’t their fault, they don’t know any better, so I usually let them live. But let it be known, now and for all time, that such suggestions are not helpful.’
With nothing in all the world capable of making him happy, Chappell decided that the rational course was to leave it, to experience nothing was preferable to experiencing only misery. In this his logic seems impeccable. The world owes him a debt of gratitude for the insight he has provided into the thought processes that lead a person to that final dark act. I hope this book will be widely read and thought about by everyone whose lives touch upon those experiencing mental distress.
—David Gardiner, Prose Editor, Gold Dust Magazine.
The Sighs of a Mouse. (a review) This book of essays by Paul Chappell is a revelation. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, depicting the innermost thoughts of someone who was suffering not only from a debilitating condition for 30 years, but who had also suffered at the hands of those who should have tried to help him. He writes in a style which is both humorous and satirical, and one which holds the readers interest throughout. It made me look at some very ordinary daily occurrences in an entirely different way, a way in which it would not have occurred to me before reading Paul’s book. As a retired psychiatric nurse I wonder, had I known Paul, if I would have been able to help him, or would the constraints of the current mental health services have prevented me from being of any assistance to him?
I feel that his works are an indictment on society as a whole, but in particular on those of us who are supposed to be able to help, and who seemed to have been of little, if any, assistance to him at all. Throughout his writing one can recognise the severity of his depression, his gradual decline, and the way in which he had been forced to live with it. He expressed many of his thoughts in such a way that one could not help feeling his loneliness and desperation, and his courage and determination to end it all. His book should be read by those who profess to be experts in the field of psychiatry, and by those who are fellow sufferers. We can all of us learn a great deal from Paul’s essays.
I often wonder if things have really changed over the centuries. Paul’s writing illustrates anew our lack of understanding about illnesses that affect the mind, and our apparent unwillingness to discard stigmatisation. Instead of trying to improve services for the mentally ill, some of the best hospitals have been closed and converted into luxury homes in order to swell the coffers of the treasury. The result is that many sufferers are forced to live in unsuitable establishments and in solitude, with little or no support. How many more people like Paul, who eventually reach the end of their tether, see their only hope in ending it all?
One can only admire Paul for writing about his life with such courage, whilst still displaying such a sense of humour, despite all his tragic difficulties. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who are in a state of mental distress. And even more so to those who profess to be experts in the field of psychiatry.
As a final thought: Thank you Paul, RIP.
Ernst- Wilhelm Peters, 06-02-2014.