I’ve not been posting much at all on this blog, but it hasn’t been forgotten.
I did have to focus upon completing my novel, Distorted Perceptions, and other key projects. However, the main reason why I’m not posting much this year is the extent to which I’m struggling with health issues, and extreme life circumstances.
The direction of the blog may well shift over time, but the intention is that it will continue for as long as I myself am able to.
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.
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.
Distorted Perceptions, in its original form, was a novel which I began at the age of eighteen. I wrote it, on and off, in extremely difficult circumstances, until finally forced to give up, when I became severely depressed, at twenty-six. I’d almost completed my first draft, at the time.
For many subsequent years, I worked on other writing projects, and was prolific as a poet, but Distorted Perceptions has never left my heart.
I started to write it again in recent years, but from scratch, since I could only find parts of the original outline, which had pages missing, and none of my previous manuscripts or notes. Anything that is worded as it was before, would literally have to be some part of the novel that I remembered, having read it over so many times. The opening paragraph is, I believe, close to the original.
I retained most of the original plot, although for many parts, had to go by memory alone for the details. I changed a few aspects, which in itself, presented issues. Still more alterations occurred, as I wrote – some of which were major. I did try to stay as true as I could to what I felt, in my heart, my eighteen- to twenty-six-year-old self would have intended, since I do see it as her story, first and foremost. However, the ending changed drastically.
There are strong autobiographical elements, but it is by no means an autobiography or memoir, and should not be read as such. However, I have used the novel as therapy, and it has helped me to work through many of the painful events in my own life.
The novel doesn’t fit neatly into any genre or category. This is perhaps appropriate, as I have never fitted in, either. Coming soon – my novel, Distorted Perceptions.
The story is dedicated to all who have believed in and supported me. You know who you are.
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.
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.
There are many resources that can help with our research online, but definitely, a lack of material dealing specifically with how to write about these issues, in our fiction. I hope that this will change and, even though I can by no means claim to be an expert on substance abuse, I’m going to share what I am able to, at this point in time.
Just one more quick note first, though – to mention that addiction covers much more than substance abuse. I recognise that addictions to gambling, shopping, and so on, are very real. I simply can’t deal adequately with those, in the context of this one post.
Drug addiction, alcoholism, and binge drinking are also subjects that feature heavily in my WIP, making it natural that I would make it a priority to discuss these matters, here on my blog. 2020 update: The WIP, referred to here, is my novel Distorted Perceptions, which was published this year.
It’s vital to know about the physical effects of any substances your characters are abusing.
That’s the absolute minimum, so start your research there.
Know how the drug alters the personality and behaviour of your character.
If a character is introduced to readers prior to the addiction, contrast and changes will be easier to demonstrate. Early warning signs should be evident.
Know in yourself, at least, how the character was before. It may mean delving into back story. Was there any trauma, in the character’s past, that contributed to development of the addiction?
There will be some perceived benefits.
What does the drug do for the character? Does it numb physical or/and emotional pain? Ease symptoms of anxiety? Alcohol, for instance, is often used in an attempt to self-medicate, by sufferers of social anxiety.
There will be specific ways, in which the addiction clearly controls the character. Make sure that you show some of these.
How does the person fund their habit?
Any committing of crimes, such as burglaries? Has the addict become a dealer? And, of course, to say that it is not easy to escape those networks, is an understatement. Attempting to do so could place the person, along with loved ones, in very real danger. This would be an obstacle to recovery, even if the character was able to “get clean”.
How have relationships with family members and friends, who are not themselves addicts, been affected?
People, however close, will draw the line somewhere, and most will, ultimately, walk away. So much damage will have been done, possibly over years or decades. There can come a point, at which the strain is more than the relationship can take.
Usually, an addict will reach a crisis point – rock bottom, basically – and then decide to change.
Is your character able to give up drugs, drink, or both – as applicable? Does the individual subsequently relapse?
Do your research regarding the long-term health implications.
There could be serious, and even fatal, physical health consequences. Equally so with mental health. The addict is at an increased risk of suicide.
Access your own inner darkness.
Even if you haven’t had the precise experience that you’re describing, you can probably relate, on some level, to aspects. If you were drawn to write dark fiction, in the first place, there’s a reason.
Survivors understand survivors. Research the specifics, but beyond that, write from the heart.
Writing about drug addiction and alcoholism is no easy task, but I hope that these tips will guide and inspire you, as you attempt to realistically portray substance abuse, in your fiction.