“Everything we do is an absurd ritual unless you understand the meaning behind it.” — Spencer Hyde
From wedding ceremonies to hand washing, if society understands the reasons behind an action, it is considered "normal." In his new book, Waiting for Fitz, Spencer Hyde tells the story of Addie, a teenage girl struggling with OCD. She is admitted to a psychiatric ward where she finds friendship with a schizophrenic boy named Fitz. Together the two learn about love, forgiveness, courage and who they are in the space between "normal" and their own atypical reasoning.
As the title suggests, Waiting for Fitz was inspired by Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. In the Beckett play, the cast sits around, telling jokes and waiting for someone named Godot to arrive and give their life meaning. Hyde was “fascinated with the question of ‘what are they waiting for?’”
In his novel, Addie is waiting to figure out what life means living with her OCD. Other patients are also waiting — waiting for hope, waiting for forgiveness, waiting for a horse. In the Beckett play, Godot never comes, the characters just wait. In this novel, Fitz and Addie make a plan to break out and find their answers.
Few writers would be as equipped as Hyde to approach this topic with such empathy and understanding. His personal journey with OCD started when he was very young. By second grade, it became apparent to his parents his ritual patterns of behavior (counting, tapping, blinking, hand washing) were not normal. When puberty hit, the ticks and rituals escalated exponentially. In the opening chapter of Waiting for Fitz, Addie describes spending an hour trying to walk down the stairs, or three hours to take a shower, because she has to get all the steps exactly right in the ritual or she has to start over. Those descriptions are based on Hyde’s personal experiences. “There were times writing this when thinking about my experiences started to suck me back into a dark place,” said Hyde. The decision to write a female protagonist was, in large part, to give him the distance he needed to continue writing this story.
Once his OCD took hold, Hyde spent more and more time trapped inside his own mind, rarely leaving the house. He also lost all of his friends, who found it difficult to see him as an individual apart from his mental illness. Too often, mentally ill characters in novels reinforce this one-dimensionality, but Hyde portrays each of the characters as fully formed, their mental illness only one part of the whole. Hyde hopes readers will walk away with increased empathy for those they know with mental health issues. Struggling with mental illness can feel like being a slave to one’s mind, but having understanding friends and family can help them stay connected to life outside their head.
During his teens, Hyde was briefly admitted as an inpatient in the psychiatric ward at Johns Hopkins. There, Hyde met a 12-year-old boy who was sitting on a bed staring at the floor, so far inside his own head, he barely recognized anything or anyone else. Hyde had an overwhelming urge to connect with the boy and help him feel less alone. The character of Leah in the book is, in part, a tribute to that boy and others so deeply involved in their struggles they find it hard to hope for a life beyond their disorder. Like the ward at Johns Hopkins, the psychiatric ward in the novel is a safe and supportive place where all the characters can heal and find that hope.
Hope is exactly what Hyde has to offer in his writing and in his personal story. As a young adult, Hyde was told by his doctor that he would be unlikely to ever go to college, get married or have kids. Over a number of years, with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, he built a life that includes all those things. Vital to that has been a supportive network of friends, employers and his wife.
Waiting for Fitz opens with a quote from Tom Stoppard about the power of words to change the world. With this novel, Hyde hopes his words will encourage understanding, open a dialogue, and help lift the stigma of mental illness. For Hyde, “one of the most exciting things about the book is people reaching out with their own struggles. There are so many people out there who need to talk, need to connect, need hope or just need to know they aren’t alone. To be able to be a part of that is a powerful thing.”
Elizabeth is a writer, designer, professor and dedicated bookworm.