Addressing mental illness in our fiction should be positive.
Yet, if it’s done poorly, it can definitely do more harm than good. It can reinforce stereotypes, and cause offence.
And it’s complex. With certain controversial issues, we’ve actually come full circle.
For example, rape.
Everyone says that everyone says syndrome is, in my opinion, at work here. People regularly claim that stranger rape is what we hear about, not date rape.
As a survivor of the former, I would disagree. Stranger rape is more common than people realise, and I hear it discussed less frequently than date rape, nowadays.
And to constantly hear that it’s “just a stereotype” that people are often raped down alleyways – not sure that’s going to help much, if you’re one of the many people who is raped in an alleyway. Which, yes – does regularly occur, hence the fact that it became a “stereotype”, to begin with.
Ideally, we should address mental health issues in fiction, as much as possible, but we need to take care, when doing so.
We will cause offence. The subject is a controversial one. But we should aim to be as sensitive as possible, and hopefully, that way, we will do more good than harm.
My novel, Distorted Perceptions, does address mental health issues, in many ways. Real and raw – not the “pretty” version. I also hope to explore the subject further, in future fiction projects.
I’m in the middle of creating a series of posts, relating to mental health, from a fiction writer’s perspective. See my previous post, in which I shared some thoughts regarding research. Now, I’m going to cover an area that’s particularly close to my heart.
As someone with both mental and physical health issues, I face many specific difficulties: one of which is feeling that I’m never quite represented, by organisations, awareness campaigns, and so on, which tend to focus upon one or the other.
And the fact is that, at this point, there is actually more of a tendency, within mental health communities, to be tactless and insensitive about physical disability, than occurs the other way around. Yes, I said that.
I’m not a wheelchair user myself, but do have multiple physical health issues, and am fed-up, to put it mildly, with seeing images of crossed out wheelchairs on social media images, relating to mental health awareness.
Yes, it’s true that many people out there do assume that terms such as “disability” refer exclusively to physical disabilities, and of course that is wrong. But, as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case, that is certainly applicable.
Making people with physical health issues feel unwelcome within mental health communities is simply not acceptable.
It is also an unhelpful generalisation that all physical illness is visible, and that the opposite is true for mental health.
Can you see a migraine? Would you necessarily know, simply to look at me, that I have dyspraxia?
And are self-harm scars invisible? Or the extreme weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa? In fact, eating disorders, and many addictions, such as drug addiction and alcoholism, are, by definition, both physical and mental health conditions.
Cancer doesn’t avoid us because we have a mental illness. People who use wheelchairs may also be struggling with mental health issues. Assumptions are harmful.
And how does this relate to us specifically, as fiction writers?
Well, we should ensure that we take this into consideration. I myself feel that I probably neglect physical illness in my stories, certainly compared to mental illness, and hopefully, simply becoming aware of this, will plant a seed in my mind.
I would like to be able to say that I cover both, and that I represent the challenges faced by many of us, who struggle daily with mental and physical health issues. That matters to me.
In an area where there is already much stigma and misunderstanding, it’s of particular importance not to make matters worse, by spreading inaccurate information.
Research should not be limited to official sources.
It should definitely include them, but not exclusively.
Personal accounts, from a variety of sources, sufferers and also carers, are essential.
One of the many resources that can help with this is You Tube, where many people openly discuss their own mental health journeys.
Books, blogs, and talking to people you already know, who have “been there” – all of these are readily available, and can provide so much insight and inspiration.
Of course, you shouldn’t actually use any particular person’s actual story, in any way that is identifiable, but listening to various people, who are willing to open up about their struggles with mental illness, will help you to deepen your understanding of mental health issues in general.
The reality certainly cannot be reflected in dry academic accounts alone.
I’m now hoping to expand upon this, and create a series of connected blog posts, and this, therefore, is the second post.
I’ve covered aspects of the subject before, but felt that it deserved more specific attention.
Of course, when it comes to why we might want to address the subject of mental illness in our fiction, often personal experience will be a factor.
Certainly, in my own case, my personal experiences of both mental and physical health issues do motivate me, and make me especially determined to not only cover, but do justice to, the subjects of mental and physical illness.
I definitely don’t want to limit my writing to what I’ve been through.
My characters aren’t me. In fact, they experience many mental health issues that are similar to mine, and many that are not.
I feel that, having been through mental illness of any kind, does make us more compassionate, and able to relate more readily, to many of the extreme emotions, much of the deep distress, associated with other conditions.
In combination with research, this natural sense of empathy and understanding will be invaluable to us, as writers.
Never more so than when it comes to exploring less familiar mental health symptoms, in our own work.
Many mental illnesses are very similar, in certain respects. If you’ve had problems with alcohol, or even eating disorders, this can help you to relate to aspects of heroin addiction, even though you would obviously need to thoroughly research the subject, in order to do it justice.
Also, OCD has a great deal in common with, for example, BPD and Bipolar Disorder – so don’t assume that you necessarily understand very little about a particular mental health problem, merely because you have never had a particular diagnosis.
I would actually advocate thorough research, even if you do have the same mental illness as one or more of your characters, because every case is different. Additionally, not every diagnosis given is even accurate, or as clear-cut and definite as may have been implied by health professionals.
Let’s begin at the logical starting point, and ask why.
Why should we address mental health themes at all, in our fiction?
The subject tends, after all, to be controversial, and often dark. And in truth, not every work of fiction does need to address mental health themes.
Yet, mental illness is a part of life.
It happens. It has a huge impact upon, not only sufferers but carers, and many others. It has an impact upon both individuals, and society in a wider sense. It needs to be addressed, and to ignore it is damaging, and potentially dangerous.
Fiction, whether it takes the form of a novel, novella, short story, screenplay, or any other type of story, is a powerful art form.
The need for characters, within our fiction, to reflect the true diversity of people that make up society – in terms of, for instance, race, religious beliefs, sexuality, and class background – is, increasingly, being recognised.
We all deserve to find characters, within the fiction we consume and enjoy, with whom we can identify, for a variety of reasons.
The fact is that, within real communities, people do struggle with mental health issues. If far fewer characters apparently deal with similar challenges, we need to examine why this is – and begin to rectify the situation, through our own stories.
I aim to address the subject of mental health in fiction in future posts, on this blog.
This is intentional, because these words of positivity and hope are central to everything I do, as a writer, and as someone with an online presence. Not a huge following, by any means, but a definite online presence, which I use to reach, help, and inspire others, in any way I can.
It’s especially important to me to help those who struggle in life, including with mental and physical health issues, and in particular, those who lack support from those around them, such as family and friends, and medical services.
These people are often made to feel marginalised, excluded and invalidated, and sometimes this is actually done in a deliberate and strategic way. Society, as a whole, shuns them – or, I should say, shuns us.
I felt inspired to create a How To Believe companion post, which is what you’re reading right now.
So, let’s get into the tips. Beyond the words – how do you actually believe in yourself and your dreams, for real?
Positive affirmations would be my first suggestion.
Statements that you repeat to yourself daily, either out loud or in your mind.
You can also write them down, which is powerful, in and of itself.
Affirmations are most effective when you use the present tense, stating them as what already is.
Even if you don’t entirely believe your affirmations, your subconscious mind will absorb them, without judgement. You don’t need to convince your conscious mind that the words are true, in order for them to have a subconscious impact. For those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression, and struggle with extreme self-doubt, this is good to know.
This isn’t easy, but it’s essential. People who are dismissive of your dreams, and put you down, won’t help you to believe in yourself. To believe in your ability to achieve your goals, and make your dreams a reality.
Find sources of inspiration, such as books and specific You Tube channels, and the people you can surround yourself with who do help you to stay focused, and to keep believing.
And double down on the affirmations, because those will also help to drown out the voices of those who tell you that you can’t be successful.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Be inspired by people you admire and respect, and learn from those individuals.
But never forget that you have something unique and valuable to offer: something that only you have to give. Do you, and don’t negatively compare yourself with anyone else.
In the end, it’s a case of knowing in your heart that you do matter, and your dreams do matter.
Keep moving forward, no matter how slow progress might be at times. Pause when you need to, but don’t stop.
Believe in you. Keep believing. Do anything you can to remain inspired and motivated. Believe in yourself and your wildest dreams.
Write that novel, that series of novels, your poetry, or short stories. Take photos, or create awesome paintings. Whatever it is for you. Believe and act, and live life to the best of your ability, in your own incredible way.
If you’re searching for inspirational writing quotes, I’ve created a blog post, which includes a selection of my personal favourites, complete with graphics. Definitely take a look, and I would encourage you to save any quotes that particularly resonate to your Pinterest boards – if, like myself, you’re a fan of Pinterest.
The fact is, I continue to go through extreme challenges, health problems, and so much that I find terrifying and overwhelming. My positive outlook is 100% authentic – and yet, sometimes I don’t feel this way at all, or even close. The future appears dark and uninviting. At times, it’s hard to even see a future. And yet, I do – of course I do.
In terms of consciously appearing more positive online than I really feel – yes, I continue to do this. In many respects, it helps me. And I haven’t particularly reduced the time that I spend on social media, as I indicated I might. Social media can be draining at times, but on balance, it benefits me, and I deeply value the connections I’m able to make, in this way. It’s also a distraction. So, I don’t know which way I will go with it all, but for now, I will remain active online, as and when.
My novel? Not forgotten, but it’s not easy right now. I definitely don’t plan to abandon the project, long-term.
And the blog – well, here I am, right? I hope to start producing more writing craft related posts, in the future. Whatever happens, it would be good to continue with the blog, in some form. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who gives positive feedback, about the blog’s content. It means the world to me, and encourages me to keep going.
I would just like to mention how amazing I’m finding Pinterest. In recent days, my traffic has reached an all-time high, and almost all of it is coming from Pinterest. If you’re a blogger, and you aren’t on there yet, then you should start up an account right now. That simple.
More from me soon. Sending love and best wishes to you all. I appreciate you so much.
I’m going through too many issues right now, that are terrifying and overwhelming. It’s been one thing after another, to the point where I’m reeling.
And it does become increasingly challenging, to authentically share positive messages, via my blog, and various social media networks.
I can only do authentic – and equally, can only do hopeful and inspirational. At least, on balance – as I have never denied the darker aspects of life. To do so, would not, in fact, be true positivity.
I deeply appreciate the encouragement that I do receive, but sometimes the lack of support and acknowledgement from people, claiming to be “family” and “friends”, is hurtful. Maybe, according to their “tick box system”, I’m not seen as contributing much to society or “working hard”. I think that says more about any of them than it does about me.
I hope to resume blogging at some point, and am aware that I haven’t written much about writing craft lately. Right now, my WIP is not progressing much at all, and I don’t work consistently on the project. I’m scared, for many reasons, to officially put my novel on hold, but I’m making so little progress that, in some respects, it already is. As for my blog, I feel that an “Out of Office” sign is appropriate right now – and that’s, effectively, what this post is, or feels like.
I’m also going to be less active on social media. I don’t know to what extent, as yet. I’m sure that my follower counts will feel the impact, but that’s life. Those who truly care, and enjoy my posts, will stay.
I write to survive. At times, that is literally true. If it wasn’t for my writing, I truly believe that I might not be alive today.
I struggle with various mental and physical health issues.
These multiply, over the years. That’s the nature of chronic illness, unfortunately.
I have always struggled with dyspraxia, depression and anxiety, and these conditions have had a huge impact upon my life.
And writing has helped me.
It has saved me.
It has been the splash of colour on the dark canvas of my existence. And yes, life has often felt like mere existence.
It’s not a question of being unable to appreciate the beauty the surrounds me daily. In fact, I would say that the ability to value life’s seemingly most simple gifts has been greatly enhanced.
But yet, there are moments when the darkness takes over, and I wish for nothing but release from the unendurable pain.
And, even though writing has helped me, it has also been a source of stress.
I struggle with stamina, and with concentration, and find it painfully hard to complete long-term projects, such as the novel, on which I am currently – very sporadically – working.
I dislike not being able to write blog posts in one session, and run the risk of abandoning them altogether, because of this. I’m learning to return to posts, but still find it difficult psychologically.
Self-criticism is also challenging.
It’s hard not to give up, when the voices in your mind are telling you constantly how useless you are, and to delete your writing and blog, and close down all the social media accounts you’ve put so much effort into building.
And, of course, there is the external discouragement, on top of this. There are those who are supportive, but not everyone is, and many are the reverse. For me, that includes most family members, and many “friends”.
So how do I keep going?
Because I ultimately want and need to.
Because sometimes, I do receive positive feedback, that clearly comes from the heart.
Knowing and feeling that I am actually making a positive difference – that maybe someone feels less alone, after reading one of my poems, or even just being told that a writing technique, mentioned in one of my blog posts, has been useful to someone.
Encouragement like this truly can, and does, make all the difference.
And because of my characters – because they cannot exist without me and, in that way, are my children.
They are a part of me, and need me, as I do them. And that may not make sense to everyone, but to many other fiction writers, it will.
I’m going to close now, but might return to this subject, in the future. Keep believing.