Wednesday, 12 September 2012

You drive me crazy . . . by telling me I'm not

12071 / 50000 words. 24% done!

Look at that! One percentage point away from 25%! I AM THE CHAMPION, MY FRIENDS.

I'm at a point in the novel which is simultaneously easier and more difficult to write. Easier because the characters (who, up to this point, have been deeply wary about opening up to each other) have started to become close, and harder because the opening-up of the relationship means more information is being passed between the two, which makes the plot move faster. Which doesn't sound like a bad thing, but then you realize that more conversation equals the plot moving forward, and the plot moving forward means my wordcount shrinking. I am finding that the writing itself feels more smooth and natural now that the characters are communicating, but I'm worrying that now the plot will move too quickly. There are some things they're still keeping from each other, but they're definitely being more open.

One of the things that's kept them- and consequently, me- from being communicative so far is the fact that one of them has depression and OCD. This was one of the foundational building blocks of her character- not "she's mentally ill and that's all there is to her," but "she's mentally ill, and her illness + the experiences resulting from this have influenced her personality and opinions." 

That's how this book got started, actually. I'd been reading a bunch of books (by different authors) that all operated on the premise "X character is diagnosed as mentally ill. But really, they have MAGIC POWERS! The diagnosis is just society keeping them down!" And, you know, that's great! But it doesn't do much for mentally ill teens who are reading these books looking for some characters they can relate to. So I started to ponder- what if a character had powers and was mentally ill? I'd never read a book like that. And as we all know "If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." I struggled with depression in high school, and OCD since I was fairly young, so it seemed natural to give my heroine the same two problems. (They tend to go hand in hand, especially if Illness #1 isn't being properly treated and leads to Illness #2.) This led to a few problems. I don't know if you've ever had depression, but contrary to popular opinion, it doesn't just mean "being sad." Often it means being tired and quiet. If you're depressed, you sleep a lot, and not in the "I'm sad and going to curl up in bed-" it's because it's a massive feat of energy to get out of bed at all. Plot-advancing actions are frequently beyond you. 

And then there's the attendant issue, that people tend to confront someone with a diagnosis by saying "well you don't SEEM X." When I was originally diagnosed with anxiety (misdiagnosis, long story) and told a friend about it, his first response was "well you don't seem anxious." (Note to readers: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, DO THIS. It takes a lot of courage to be open about a diagnosis of such a muddied, misunderstood illness, and dismissing them when they say it is a massive slap in the face.) Mental illnesses are frequently misunderstood and mischaracterized by the general public, spurred on by inaccurate depictions in mass media.


Absolutely not.

You think "OCD" you think "compulsive cleaning," right? Maybe "fixated on small details?" Actually, wrong. Some people with the disorder do clean compulsively, but it's not a solitary symptom. OCD is characterized by the presence of intrusive thoughts, a sort of mental CD skipping that repeats the same unwanted thought over and over and over. Sometimes the thoughts are religious ("I'm going to hell") sometimes violent ("One day I'm going to snap and shoot someone.") and sometimes sexual ("I'm attracted to my family members/animals/children.") There's no accompanying compulsion to act on these thoughts- people with violent I.T.s aren't actually a threat, and people with sexual ones aren't really attracted to animals or children. They might even understand this on an intellectual level, if they're familiar with the fact that they have an illness, but the sheer amount of misinformation keeps a lot of people from seeking help in the first place. They don't know they have an illness, because they don't know what that illness entails. I didn't. My character got lucky in that she has medically trained people in her family who recognized her symptoms, but even though she gets a proper diagnosis (prior to the story's beginning- the plot proper involves running away from evil scientists and their brainwashed minions) that doesn't necessarily mean the readers will recognize her symptoms when they manifest. And not least of the problems is the fact that "crazy" is so often used as a shorthard for "violent/dangerous," so when she repeats the internalized idea that being crazy (and telekinetic, but that's a different problem entirely) means being a threat to the people she cares about, the readers might not.

Possibly my worries are overblown; definitely they're premature. I'm not even halfway through the first draft. But just looking at my own experiences and the way the majority of pop culture views mental illness (either "it doesn't exist" or "it exists as portrayed by these guys") I suspect they aren't. I also suspect that I'd be worrying whether I was writing a book or not. 


  1. Mental illnesses are mostly invisible. People just don't get it in my experience. Although i am curious as to how you are going to have a depressed character carry so much plot.

    1. Her depression (fortunately for both her and the plot) is relatively mild and situational- there's a subplot about her finding love and coming to understand that being mentally ill doesn't have to isolate her. Her "main" illness, such as it were, is the OCD.