Monday, May 12, 2014
Mental Illness and Fantasy Fiction
In the course of the Big Picture edits for my YA UF novel, Crow's Rest, one of the aspects my editor Owen Dean and I talked about is the handling of mental illness. I would never want anyone to feel like I was minimizing their experiences, or treating a mental illness like a funny character quirk, so I offered up some lengthy comments in the notes I returned to him.
I shared how I've struggled with depression my entire life, along with its close companion, anxiety. Like other members of my family, I also have a learning disability and sensory issues. And then to cap it all off, I was on the verge of being diagnosed as bipolar, before we figured out it was a thyroid issue.
Now I know it’s a matter of getting my thyroid meds correct (not an easy task in itself) and it’s mostly leveled out, but it was a very scary and helpless-feeling way to find that out. I'm actually kind of glad that I didn't get all the other diagnoses when I was a teen--the depression was quite enough to deal with as they tried various medications on me and we failed to find a good match.
As it was, much of my love of reading and writing fantasy fiction stemmed from a heartfelt wish that my depression could be easily explained some other way--and therefore easily cured. What if it was actually a magical curse, and all I needed to do was find an antidote? What if some unseen creature was responsible for how I felt (Dementors, anyone?), no matter how I worked to stay upbeat?
I’m aware that I can’t play the “what if” game without the expectation of sensitive issues (and my handling of them) being brought up, but I’m okay with that. I don't expect this book to be labeled a realistic view of the experience of mental illness (there are certainly books out there that accomplish that), nor is it meant to be. It's absolute wish fulfillment for my teenage self, and I like to think there's room for that too.
Any dialogue that helps get people talking about the ramifications of mental illness is for the better, in my view. And if reading my book helps a teen feel not quite so alone with a struggle, or helps them escape their worries for a time, then I've paid it forward from all the authors who accomplished that for me.