ROUND LAKE BEACH – Writing a fact-based fiction story inspired by his younger brother’s ongoing struggle with a life-altering mental illness was a deeply personal yet cathartic experience for Mitch Davis, 54, of Round Lake Beach.
“I really didn’t start out writing with the intention of publishing a book, but then it occurred to me I should because my goal was to help others see what mental illness is like,” Davis said.
"Finding Richard," self-published in the fall of 2014 on Amazon.com, took Davis five long, emotional years to complete.
“Certain parts of the book were very hard for me to write,” Davis said. “I’ll be honest, I shed a few tears.”
The title character is based on Davis’s brother, Richard, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was in his mid-teens. He is now 53.
The book presents the delusions associated with the illness in graphic detail, allowing the reader to feel Richard’s inner conflict as he struggles to separate reality from the voices in his head which cause unrelenting paranoia.
It’s also a story about the love of family, transformation and forgiveness, Davis said.
“I wanted to get across what Richard experienced but also my hopes and dreams for my brother, things I hope he’ll get to experience but realistically may never get to," Davis said.
As painful as it has been to watch his brother battle debilitating mental illness, Davis said he cannot imagine being the one going through it.
“He’s been this way for so long, he doesn’t really have anything to compare it to," Davis said. "I look at my life and think, my God, I have it so good. I’m so blessed.”
Writing this book, Davis not only based the title character and storyline on his personal experience but he also did a lot of research into the psychological and physical effects of mental illness.
Though his brother does not have visual hallucinations, “he does have people who live in his head,” Davis said.
“The paranoia is always there. He has delusions about people wanting to operate on his brain and give him a lobotomy," Davis said. "He thinks people are out to hurt him. The fear is always present. It doesn’t seem to me that he ever gets a break from that.”
Richard also experiences anhedonia, which means he can’t experience joy or pleasure in activities that normally elicit such feelings.
Although the symptoms of Richard’s schizophrenia have remained unchanged over the years, Davis said his brother’s response to his illness has worsened.
“He’s been committed a few times and arrested quite a few times," Davis said. "He loses a lot of jobs. People aren’t comfortable being around him.”
Davis said it's tough for people who are "really mentally ill" to integrate into society.
"It’s normal for people to have some off-putting reactions to some of the things they do, but I think sometimes they assign that to the person’s character and not to the illness," Davis said. “He [Richard] is surrounded by a lot of good people who love him and understand that he has this illness, so I don’t think he gets that people attack him or talk badly about him, at least not to his face."
It took Davis a while to tell his brother about the book because he was concerned how he would react.
“I don’t know that he’s read it yet,” Davis said, noting his mother and other siblings have reacted positively to the book, even though some of it has been difficult to read because it hits so close to home.
"Finding Richard" is available in three formats – paperback, Kindle and Audible via Amazon.com.
“Even as a work of fiction, 'Finding Richard' gave some fascinating insight into the isolating world of schizophrenia," a reviewer wrote online. "It helped me understand the reality of this mental illness on an intensely personal level the author must know all too well."
Davis will appear at an author showcase and book signing event from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Round Lake Area Library. He’s also working on a second book, a fact-based fiction novel about Wisconsin’s migrant farm worker population in the mid-1960's.
An avid reader, Davis has a “guys only” book club called “Books and Beer,” in which he and his buddies discuss a new book each month while enjoying a libation inspired by the story.
Davis also enjoys spending time at his log cabin retreat in southwestern Wisconsin, where he does much of his writing. Visit www.mitchdavis.us to learn more about the local author.