(1-5-23) A skilled author can use fiction to tell powerful truths about the reality of serious mental illnesses and those whose lives are touched by it in ways that nonfiction often can’t convey. So I was delighted when I learned that Jordan P. Barnes, already an accomplished author, had written Late Blight in the Koʻolaus: A Novel.
Because of his own experiences with addiction, he is especially well-suited to pen a novel about the challenges that individuals face after leaving a hospital and returning to a community. I asked him to tell me about his novel since I’ve not had a chance to read it yet.
A little over eleven years ago, I pulled the needle out of my arm for the last time and embarked on an arduous journey of recovery that would change and challenge me in ways I could never foresee. Now, with over a decade of clean time behind me, I am fortunate in many ways and owe much of my success in overcoming heroin addiction and homelessness to the endless support of my parents.
My parents never gave up hope on me, despite the fact I’d long given up hope on myself. I was also facing multiple felonies at the time, but with my parent’s support, I entered a two-year inpatient treatment program in 2011 and have been working on bettering myself ever since.
Today I am a husband, homeowner, father of two, and an independent author.
Back in 2018, I began writing my first book: One Hit Away: A Memoir of Recovery, which I independently released two years later in 2020. It won 2020’s “Best Book of the Year” award from Indies Today, and a few months later I released: Rules to Die By: From Heroin Addiction to Life in Long-Term Recovery and Beyond.
Having fallen in love with writing, I started on my first foray into fiction by writing Bridgetown: A Harm Reduction Novel, which follows a tight-knit team at a Syringe Access Program during a fentanyl outbreak in Portland, Oregon. As a former beneficiary of harm reduction programs (and following the worst year on record for fatal overdoses, exceeding over 100,000 deaths) I felt motivated to showcase these critical services including outreach, drug checking, overdose prevention, providing referrals, and more.
Driven to tell a story about the hardships of transitioning back into society following a journey of recovery, I began writing my fourth book Late Blight in the Koʻolaus: A Novel, which is currently on preorder and set to release on Feb. 13th, 2023.
Here is a synopsis:
Seven years after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, Avery West agonizes over the reality that his time at the Hawaiʻi State Hospital is ending. He can’t imagine a life beyond the confines of his psychiatric facility, even if his schizophrenic symptoms are finally in remission. But having spent most of his adult life surviving with mental illness, he has found stability and is terrified of losing everything he’s fought for. Yet despite his reservations, Avery’s treatment team insists he’s ready to move on with his life.
After becoming the newest addition to a local sober home, Avery struggles to adapt to a world that fears and views him as damaged goods. Any slip-up will see him hospitalized again, tearing him away from a daughter who deserves to have her father back. But when he becomes involved with a coworker who believes Western Medicine has failed him to no end, Avery toys with the idea of what life in a perfect world would look like. Faced with controlling his destiny, can he hold it together or will he spiral into rapid decline?
Late Blight in the Koʻolaus: A Novel.
By Jordan P. Barnes. Excerpt used with author’s permission. Island Time Press. February 13. Kindle edition. $4.99
Avery moistened a plug tray and used a narrow trowel and choice words to coax a seedling from its container. He rolled the cube of soil in his palm, then turned to Emi. “I know we just met,” he said, “but you seem unusually quiet this morning. Something bothering you?”
Emi focused on teasing two tangled seedlings apart, mindful not to tear their wisp-like roots. “‘Bothered’ might not be the right word, but I have some questions.”
He placed the plug in front of her. “Questions about me?”
“I’m not sure since I only know what I’ve found online and what you’ve told me, which wasn’t much.” She looked at Avery, who averted eye contact. “Can I ask, when someone takes the insanity defense, what exactly does that mean?”
“It means a lot of people think you took the easy way out despite there being nothing easy about it.” Avery bit his tongue as a customer approached and asked where to find worm juice. He pointed her in the right direction and waited until she was out of sight before turning back to Emi. “About eight years ago, I was officially diagnosed as schizoaffective, though I had suspected it for some time.”
She squared her shoulders to face him. “Schizoaffective? What exactly does that mean?”
“You’ve heard of schizophrenia before, right?”
“So you probably know that schizophrenia is what’s known as a thought disorder, but in my case, it’s only half the battle. I also suffer from debilitating depression, which is classified as a mood disorder. The combination makes me schizoaffective, though the mood component could be mania, bipolar type one or so on. It’s also partially why I’ve struggled with alcoholism and the all-too-common trap of self-medicating.” He opened his mouth to say more but thought better of it.
Emi finished untangling the roots and reached for another plug flat. “You seem nervous. Is this something you’re comfortable talking about?”
He shook his head. “Not really, but I understand people have questions and sometimes not having answers can be more unsettling than the truth.”
She pried another plug from the tray. “You know, I can relate in my own way. I fought off bouts of depression when I was younger but can’t imagine what it must be like to suffer from schizophrenia. Does that mean you hear voices?”
“I’ve heard voices in the past, along with other aural hallucinations, but not a word or peep in years, and not since I’ve been officially diagnosed.” He reached for the watering can and soaked a freshly homed seedling.
“And when you heard voices, what did they say?”
Avery flashed a wavering smile. “Mostly that I was worthless and didn’t deserve to be happy.”
“Did they tell you to harm yourself or others?”
“Are you asking if I’m a violent person?” He shook his head. “Besides my one assault charge and my drinking, I’ve never been a danger to myself or others.”
She teased out another plug with her butter knife and caught it squarely in her palm. “But you assaulted a police officer?”
“Yes, in a fit of mania, but that was one incident and me at my worst. And not to change the subject, but it’s important to mention that statistically speaking, people with mental health disorders are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the aggressor. I only say this because it’s something most people—as in, people like my roommate—overlook when crafting their narrow and one-sided opinions.”
Emi wrinkled her nose. “I take it we’re talking about your roommate at the sober house?”
He nodded. “His name is Gil. To my face, he acted like he wanted the best for me—even promised to have my back—but it was all a façade and he never wanted me around.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Did he say why?”
“Not to me he didn’t. Someone else tipped me off, but this isn’t anything new to me. Maybe he fears me which may explain why he came off so nice. He probably figures if he puts up a front and gets on my good side, I wouldn’t come after him if I snapped.”
She shrugged and turned back to her work. “I like to think I’m good at reading people, and you don’t give off the vibe of being dangerous.” She placed her butter knife down between them. “You mentioned being medicated. Do you mind me asking if you find these drugs helpful?”
“They’re more than helpful; they gave me my life back. I’m on Zyprexa—an antipsychotic medication, and Lamotrigine—a mood stabilizer that doesn’t murder my kidneys like Lithium.” Avery tamped dirt into a pot around a seedling, then picked up a watering can and gave it a healthy soaking. “Ever since my doses have been dialed in, my symptoms have been nearly nonexistent.”
“That’s good, but do you have to take these medications forever?”
“No, not forever. Just until I die.”
She cracked a smile. “Funny, but doesn’t that mean you’re only being treated and not cured?”
“Perhaps, but how does one cure something without knowing what causes it?”
“All I’m saying is if they don’t know what causes it, how can they treat it?”
“They have ideas,” he said stiffly. “But you have a point and ideas can change. Back in the day, premature dementia, atonement for sin, supernatural or demonic possessions, even bad parenting have all been thought to turn people schizophrenic. Mostly, it’s been a long, troubled history of scientific wandering, but the current consensus seems to have settled on what’s known as the dopamine hypothesis. I suppose this explanation works for me, though it’ll probably change since the mind is largely unknown and unmapped.” He pushed a seedling aside and took a break. “Look, whatever the cause and whatever the treatment, all I know is that I haven’t had a severe episode in ages, so something’s working.”
Emi transferred another seedling to a pot. “But isn’t it hard on your body to take these medications forever?”
“There are downsides, sure, but the downsides are nothing compared to sitting through electric shock therapy or a lobotomy.”
“. . . They didn’t.”
“No, not on me or anyone I know, but want to hear something creepy? They still have the old lobotomy room down in the basement, or so I’ve heard.”
She shuddered and went quiet for a moment. “There have to be holistic remedies or naturopathic alternatives that can help if not cure you. Have you ever tried essential oils, vitamins or supplements?”
“No, because the way I see it, if there were truly a cure for schizophrenia, someone would have capitalized on it ages ago.”
“I’m not so certain because what incentive is there for them to release a cure? If anything, Big Pharma would rather profit off your ‘treatment’ for the rest of your life.”
Avery grimaced at the thought. “You know, despite my condition, I’ve never been one for conspiracies.”
“I’m not saying that’s what this is, just asking questions.” She rubbed her brow as if to force out a thought. “What about side effects?”
“What about them?”
“Do you have any?”
“I experienced headaches at first, but the med team adjusted my dosages accordingly. Otherwise, the occasional stomach upset and weight gain were off-putting, but I’ll take those minor inconveniences over my symptoms any day of the week.”
Emi stacked a handful of empty plastic trays together and pushed them aside, then looked up at Avery. “When you experienced those side effects, did you stop to wonder if you were stuck in a prescription cascade cycle?”
He cocked his head. “A what?”
“You take medications and don’t know what a prescription cascade is?” She lifted a single eyebrow. “It’s when the side effects of one prescription are diagnosed as symptoms of another condition, leading to more and more prescriptions. I’m not a doctor, but if there’s even the possibility of a natural alternative, I’d look into it. Take Ocean Therapy, for example. It’s done wonders for my life ever since I started trying to get into the ocean at least once a day.”
“But you’re not schizophrenic.”
She turned to face him. “No, but the point is salt water heals, and so does fresh air and the sun.” She peeled off her gloves and stacked them on the table. “Any chance you’re an early bird?”
“I can be if there’s a reason.”
“In that case, why don’t you meet me for dawn patrol tomorrow? I body surf every morning before work, either at Makapuʻu or Sandys. It’s a great way to start the day and helps clear my head, not to mention my sinuses.”
“I think I can make that happen.”
“Perfect. Do you have a pair of fins?”
“No, but I’m sure one of the guys I live with has a pair lying around.”
Emi glanced down. “What size are you? Eleven?”
“Okay, I’ll bring a pair. See you tomorrow?”
“Sure. What time?”
She cracked a smile. “The whole point of dawn patrol is to be in the water by sunrise, so I’ll see you then.”
Preorder Late Blight in the Koʻolaus: A Novel by Jordan P. Barnes here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jordan P. Barnes is a grateful person in recovery and Sand Island Treatment Center is his home group. When he’s not sharing his experience, strength and hope through writing, he enjoys bodysurfing and gardening.
Residing in beautiful Kailua, Hawaiʻi with his lovely wife and two sons, Jordan has been sober from all mind and mood-altering substances since August 29th, 2011. He is a member of the Hawaiʻi Writers’ Guild and his debut book, One Hit Away: A Memoir of Recovery, won 2020’s “Best Book of the Year” award from www.IndiesToday.com, was a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree as well as a finalist in both the 15th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards and the 2021 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards.
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