View Full Version : Writing about mental illnesses

04-29-2005, 06:47 AM
Just found this. Haven't read it all, but looks interesting, about reducing the stigma about mental illnesses. (For the record, I had no problem telling people I was mentally ill... but I don't think that's typical. Was in a support group for people with anxiety disorders briefly, and a couple of the people in the group were discussing how they weren't mentally ill, while I sat there saying, "Well, I am, and you people have the same thing I do." So it's important to be aware of the fact that it can be a touchy phrase.)


04-29-2005, 06:53 AM
Thanks, Jenna. I have an anxiety disorder and my son was bipolar. This site looks, at a glance, like it may offer me some relief. I saved it to favorites.


04-29-2005, 05:25 PM
That's an awesome site, Jenna. Many of the issues it addresses aren't unique to BP. I particularly related to the never-ending daydream; a long time ago, I nicknamed myself Walter Mitty. And the extreme sensitivity, overidentifying with the bug the little girl's brother is torturing, for example.

Anxiety and depression run in my family the way diabetes runs in some families. I've been living with both for so long that most of the time, I don't feel a stigma any more. I know that without medication, I'd be dead. I look at my meds as similar to a diabetic needing insulin. Even with the maximum medication, though, I have some really bad days, disabling days. Sometimes the depression and/or anxiety is powerful enough that it breaks through the meds (not surprisingly, that's called breakthrough anxiety/depression). Those times, I either need someone to talk me through it or I have to go to bed. These aren't weaknesses or wants; these are survival mechanisms.

The first year or so after my diagnosis (which was 13 years after I began having symptoms), I felt a strong stigma about being "mentally ill," but I was so relieved to be able to get out of bed and to not have to fear a full-blown, headed-to-the-ER panic attack every time I walked out the door - so I was more focused on that than on labels. The stigma, in fact, came more from people around me.

Now I have some days when I'm beating myself up, and among the many things I can throw at myself is the label "mentally ill." I still don't think it's a semantically incorrect label, but when I use it against myself, it's with a stigma that still exists in much of the general public. A large part of the public still flinches at the phrase "mental illness," though most of those same people probably wouldn't flinch at speficic diagnoses like "major depressive disorder" or "panic disorder."

Some people have said, "You're not mentally ill," but what they mean is that I'm not severely mentally ill. I'm not schizophrenic; I don't think light posts are talking to me. There are degrees, and I'm comfortable being open about my experiences, particularly if it can help someone else.

As for writing about it, just be as specific as possible, in name and symptoms, and otherwise treat your characters like any others. The more writers can normalize psychiatric illnesses, the less stigma will (I hope) become attached to them.

I'd be glad to discuss my personal experience with various meds and situations, if anyone has specific questions.

BTW, Jenna, your openness about your own anxiety disorder is part of what made me feel safe in this forum - I don't think I would've opened up if you hadn't led by example. Thank you :Hug2:

04-29-2005, 07:59 PM
I haven't met a person yet who didn't have a mental illness, including myself. I know a whole lot of people in denial though. The only thing that separates mental illness from an individual's concept of "normalcy" is lack of identification in the DSM-IV.

There was a time that I used to wear a DNR sticker on my forehead. Except of course when Joint Commission came around.

04-29-2005, 09:15 PM
Thanks, Jenna, for telling us about that web site. Not only is it good for anyone needing some more info on mental illness, but for us who are living with it, whether it's a family member or ourselves.

Over the last few years, I've informed some writers about small discrepencies in their work about mental illness. I have a close family member who's been in a mental health facility (psychiatric hospital) four times in only six years. I've sat in crisis ER for up to eight hours until there was placement, sometimes at a hospital almost two hours away. I've seen OCD, depression, anxiety, paranoia, heightened sensitivity, bipolar.... I've seen the variety of meds that are out there, and new ones being introduced. I've written letters and been an advocate as best I can.

Anyway, what I'd really like to say, is that since I've started being involved with mental illness ten years ago, things have changed for the better. Slowly, but there is progress. It used to be that we'd sit there in the waiting area with other patients and their families, and no one would talk, except in whispers to their own family members. I'd try, but everyone would look at me as if to say, "We don't exist. We're not really here." Now people are much more open. Now we actually have conversations about treatments, therapy, etc.

As others have said, mental illness is like any other (organic) illness. You take meds for it, you go to the doctor for check-ups, sometimes you're hospitalized, sometimes a med stops working or needs to be changed. Somedays you feel worse than others.

Okay, now I'll step down from my soapbox!

04-29-2005, 09:28 PM
I think you should stay on that soapbox stormie. I mount my high horse every day.

04-30-2005, 06:40 AM
I suffer from chronic major depression, and consider my meds so important that I always carry a few days worth with me just in case ... just in case I fall into a well, get abducted by aliens, am taken on a cross-country joy-ride by an overly infatuated cab driver ...

What has amazed me is the incredible number of people in the US who have taken anti-depressants, or are taking anti-depressants.

When I first went on medication, I was very unhappy with the idea that I would be taking pills for life. At first, I attributed this resentment to the fact that I don't like to take any sort of medication unless it's absolutely unavoidable (e.g. aspirin). Then, I realized it was the "I am so CRAZY that I have to be medicated" thought that was at the root of my resentment. The stigma, in other words. Gradually, I came to see that being on meds is a whole lot better than being off them -- plus, the "insulin for diabetics" analogy helped me accept the situation.

So, then I started letting people know that I had been hospitalized and was now taking anti-depressants -- if it came up naturally in conversation, such as the dental assistant who had asked me what had happened to cause me to cancel my last appointment at the last minute. And so many individuals responded by telling me they had been/were taking anti-depressants, too!

Usually, they had been put on anti-depressants for a short period -- e.g. the dental assistant for post-partum depression. Nonetheless, it felt so liberating to discuss depression just like discussing measles, mumps, rubella.

So, I keep on doing it ...

05-01-2005, 09:14 AM
It is liberating, isn't it?

Some people have said, "You're not mentally ill," but what they mean is that I'm not severely mentally ill.

Yeah. My college roomie used to tell me I was the most sane mentally ill person he knew. ;)

BTW, Jenna, your openness about your own anxiety disorder is part of what made me feel safe in this forum - I don't think I would've opened up if you hadn't led by example. Thank you :Hug2:

Aww, thanks! That felt good!

I wish nobody felt ashamed. I know I spent way too long beating myself up for the things that were happening in my brain that I couldn't control. I felt weak. I felt hopelessly flawed and worthless. Slowly I came to realize (with Anthony's help) that the anxiety disorders were just one part of me, and not the most important part, either.

Mac H.
05-01-2005, 10:00 AM
Years ago I used to see it as something else. Now, I see no difference between my BiPolar Disorder and my son's asthma.

Years ago there was a great TV ad here in Australia on this exact topic. It showed a family getting ready to go on a boat trip, when the son asks "Can my friend Rob come too?" The father replies "Isn't he the one with the mental illness?". The son: "Yeah, but he's on medication for it. He can look after himself".

It freezes on the father's expression, the entire scene rewinds back to beginning. It plays again, but this time it's :
Son: "Can my friend Rob come too?"
Father: "Isn't he the one with asthma?"
Son: "Yeah, but he's on medication for it. He can look after himself."

It really woke me up and made me think about the way one has a stigma and the other one doesn't. It was only when I started dating a girl with a mental illness that I realised that the origins of the stigma might have been because a mental illness is often a HUGE strain on relationships.

Bizarrely I felt much better when I realised that her illness had a specific biological cause - it was basically due to MS, which means that her immune system had decided to attack every nerve in her body. Not surprisingly (since the useful bits of the brain are effectively 100% nerves) a common side affect is mental illness of one type or the other. Thankfully, with medication the mental side effects seem to be entirely contained.

It is weird we feel 'shame' over some bits of the body not working, but not others. Why is it not embarrassing to be lame (your leg not working) but it is still embarrassing to accidentally pee your pants in public? (Your bladder not working)


05-01-2005, 10:19 AM
I think it's because the mind is such a mystery to us. And what we don't understand, we fear. I, for one, am both fascinated and frightened of the old movies about mentally ill people, like Frances, Straight Jacket, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, besides having a step aunt who I romanticized because I thought her life was so interesting, when I see now that it wasn't that way at all. She killed herself. But you see what I'm saying, there is a myth attached to mental illness, and some people don't want to let go of that. What car wreck could they gander at as they pass by? Where's the blood if the boogie is taken out of the equation?

I liked what Jenna said her husband told her, that her disorder is a part of her, but not the most important part. So many times, people with a problem pinpoint it as the reason for everything bad that happens or use it for an excuse not to have to participate fully in life. I am guilty of that, I am going to start working on this hermit lifestyle I've created for myself once I've given myself a little more time to get over the death of my son.

05-01-2005, 10:55 AM
Well, I can tell people I'm ceritifiably crazy and I"m not lying. I was diagnosed as a multiple personality, depression and PTSD geeez (has it been that long) back in the very early 80's when the diagnosis was just barely less stigmatized the leprosy or even aids. I've had it all my life of course but I didn't seek treatment until my early 20's. I wrote a session by session account of what happened in the sessions and my subsequent diagnosis of MPD....now referred to as DID. I was a register nurse but the pain in my head and face was so bad by 1990 I had to stop working as a registered nurse. I was severly abused and thanks to my s-dad's game of how far can I hit the kid I was knocked unconcious fairly routinely and have very small healed skull fractures, along with all the brain damage I'm sure happened since I was so young. I now have trigeminal neuralgia on both sides (normally it only affects one side not both), occipital neuralgia, TMJ, severe chronic migraines, a chronic pain disorder. Don't you wish you could change places with me? (only kidding). Any whooo, I've been around the mental health route 3 stays for about 2 weeks each and then just overnight stays once in rare while. I'm quite functional now except for when the pain is really bad. At one time I wanted to be a metal health advecate because after having been isolated for over 11 years I had a really large load of doo doo dropped on my head from whatever the God's might be, they were apparently REALLY UNHAPPY with me. Thinking I needed to be resocialized I put myself in assisted living situations for 6 months (switched to 4 different one when I realized that just was not working). I still haven't totally given up on wanting to bring the issues and abuse that these mentally ill people have to cope with on top of their own diagnosis but I'm just not sure where to start. I've written a couple of poems and some articles about recovery and speaking out but its still really mild to what I would like to do. For more information about my site you can go to www.mdmkay.blogspot.com (http://www.mdmkay.blogspot.com) In the sept. archives you will find the self-portraits the alters painted of themselves they are really interesting. If you would like a downloadable copy of CINDY WHEN HELL FROZE OVER, Kay L. Schlagel contact [email protected] and to see my art portfolio www.artwanted.com/mdmkay (http://www.artwanted.com/mdmkay)

05-02-2005, 11:42 PM
Amazing!!! Peftectly amazing!!! There must be something in the air and it is contagious. I just posted in the "writing non-fiction books" forum on depression. Just looking for feedback on writing a book about depression written from a personal perspective. What would you want to read about? I know that there is alot already in the market on this subject, but if I wanted to add something new, what would you find interesting?

Sara Rachael Hope
05-26-2005, 10:39 PM
Perhaps you may be interested in the 1st book I've ever released, just this past December. Please don't buy it online though. Feel free to PM or e-mail me if you'd like to read it!
It is a long letter I had rewritten to myself (over a decade ago) when I had just returned home from the 2nd mental hospital I had been in.:crazy:
Requiem of Insanity...a non-fictional fairy tale describes the paths I, as a mother traveled, in order to 'attempt' to eradicate an Attention Deficit Disorder and Manic/Depressive Illness.
I spent many years 'weaning' myself and my son off the synthetics (he alone was on Catapres, Dexedrine and Lithium at the ripe old age of 7!), and I eventually began exploring alternatives and ultimately became Personal Education Administrator for one of the largest organic supermarkets in the country!

If you'd like to get more information, please don't hesitate to contact me.


05-26-2005, 11:16 PM
Some people have said, "You're not mentally ill," but what they mean is that I'm not severely mentally ill. I'm not schizophrenic; I don't think light posts are talking to me.

Oh DAMN IT Are you saying that Milly the Mailbox really DOESN'T have that cute little postman's phone number????? (Laughing)

If you want to hear something worse we've lived in this apartment for almost a year and a half and I have yet to run into the mailman....or is it mail person?...who knows........

05-30-2005, 01:25 AM
[QUOTE=Gehanna]I haven't met a person yet who didn't have a mental illness, including myself. I know a whole lot of people in denial though. The only thing that separates mental illness from an individual's concept of "normalcy" is lack of identification in the DSM-IV.

This is so true. I went to a counselor for five years and she said "Do you think there are people who aren't mentally ill?"

My family is plagued with depression and anxiety. I seem to be the only one who isn't afraid to say that I have depression and that I take meds. I am the one that my family thinks is the happiest, most confident and most stable. I think a lot of creative people have "mental illness", at least it appears that way from the writers that I know.

I would not want to be normal. Part of having depression means that I have emotions, I think about things, I feel things and I am very alert to my surroundings and it also makes me really appreciate the times when I am feeling fine.

Incidentally, I also have asthma. I'll take depression over asthma any day!