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Submitted Literature

Charon's Ferry

By Mark Edgar


I reviewed Mark's first book 'A Pillar of Impotence' in 2011, writing “This is a fascinating autobiography that explores one man’s journey though a range of mental health inpatient and outpatient services. Along the way, he attracts various diagnoses [...] The lack of stable diagnosis in this text emphasises some of the issues around the medicalisation of distress and subsequent lack of human empathy and warmth towards anything that may fit within a diagnostic or symptomological box.”

‘Charon’s Ferry’ charts Mark’s journey through writing and publishing his first book and building a successful career in various different mental health support roles. It was wonderful to see Mark’s subsequent journey – autobiographies are always necessarily left at a suspension point, with an unwritten future poised to begin.

What I particularly found interesting with this second book was the frank and, at times challenging, depiction of the ‘Us and Them’ nature of mental health services, and how tenuous the issue of professional boundaries can be when one is both a service user and a professional. Of course, such labels are often arbitrary, and it is not uncommon for people to cross lines between carer and cared for – the way Mark maintains his personal and professional integrity and ethics here was refreshing and in this sense alone the book provides a noteworthy lesson for all those in mental health. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ – all are a personal crisis, bereavement, redundancy or illness away from crossing the line into becoming ‘them’. Yet the exsistence of the 'Them / Us' binary points towards a profound stigma in itself.

A worthwhile and humanising reminder amidst a story of recovery, strength and survival. Mark's success is certainly not without its struggle, but his survival is a testimony to his tenacity and resourcefulness.

For full review of ‘A Pillar of Impotence’ see

Key Themes:

  • Personal / Professional

Significant Quotes / Pages

pg. 135-6 - "Is there really any better way to understand a field than through lived experience? It was at times a lonely place for me in the mental health world of east Kent. I was the one who had got out whereas many of my friends were just as stuck as they had every been. Us and them still existed. There were some why lauded my abilities in the field as I was supported to really know. Others derided me as almost selling my soul to the devil. I didn’t really see it as that. I was merely using it as a stepping stone to go somewhere I knew not. I had been working full time for four years by the winter of 2006/07. I had found mental health by accident as they had given me a job when no one else would. Many had suggested I train to be a social worker. But that idea was flawed on two counts. Firstly having gone virtually bankrupt training to be a teacher only to be rejected over and over again, I simply couldn’t afford to retrain again. Secondly that would draw me further into the realm of the enemy and would in my eyes only be switching sides. There were pressures to do so even in my current role. During my madness I had sworn I would never work for them. Many had wanted to train but few did. That was precisely what I didn’t want to do but circumstances had taken me into uncharted and unexpected territory.

[...] That made it hard at times working out what to share and what to keep. This in itself added to the pressure on me. I was after all one of the few openly mad workers in the region. It was so far from anywhere that the thought that others had made it out like I had seemed a remote possibility.

[...] It was still frowned on when I did disclose in my area but not by the service users. That old dirty word boundaries surfaced still on occasion but often when the shit was hitting the fan they would call me in despite my connections. Suicide was the one we all feared the most and by God did I know about that. It was still so fresh in my mind the mechanics of how I had got there. More importantly I knew how to come back across what I called the line in the sand. Some revered me for having that talent.”  

Reference: Mark, Edgar. 2013. Charon's Ferry. Chipmunka, 2013


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 20th May 2014