Hello my friends, I do apologize there was no post this weekend as promised. I was kept busy with my night job dissolving a business partnership that had reached its limit due to mental illness. My former partner has Borderline Personality Disorder, Manic Depression, and of course underlying anxiety with Histrionic tenancies and solid Narcissism. I am a licensed therapist so this means plenty to me; in layman's terms she's batshit insane.
 

Imagine if craziness were this simple...we'd be calling lumberjacks and carpenters "Doctor."
 

Now it doesn't mean it's her fault. No one asks for mental illness, and we can all fall victim to it. I myself have had 2 bouts of serious depression in my life after significant trauma, but I knew to get help and work through it with temporary medication and intensive therapy. The only thing that angers me is when people know they have a problem but either do nothing about it, or just take medication and do not seek therapy. Whether or not they should be forced to is a legal issue I'm not going to weigh in, because frankly, I haven't taken a stance on it.

It got me thinking though about how to write mental illness into a story. There is a very simple formula for writing general fiction, the stuff of classics. Take your own disorder or one you know very well, and write the symptoms into the characters behavior but never address it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described Aspergers symptoms in Sherlock Holmes (it's suggested Doyle himself had it), Charles Dickens peppered his characters with problems he or friends had, and there's more such as J.D. Salinger writing Catcher In The Rye. None of these characters or novels ever came out and said they had these problems, mostly because they were written before psychiatry existed, or when it was fairly new and not nearly as prevalent as today.


However in modern movie takes, these behavioral problems have become fucking plot devices

 
Now let's say like me,you don't aspire to write the great American novel (or the most epic tome of whatever country you're from). Let's say you just like stories about fighting, fucking, loving, and solving mysteries. So, how can behavior problems help?

First, let me say, burn your DSM. Seriously; I am a licensed therapist and I can only laugh when I read it. The definitions of many so-called disorders are so broad they are obviously written with an eye to allow easy dispensing of drugs. I'm of the cognitive-behavior bent so I see most drugs as short-terms aids to therapy, and very few I think should be taken long-term. Hell, I can wax poetic on mounds of evidence that support many disorders like manic-depression are not biological at all, but let's not start that argument.

As such, the DSM is a piss-poor guide for disorders. Movies are worse. Is having OCD washing your hands 3,000 times a day? Noootttttt really. The true definition is having obsessive beliefs and compulsive behaviors as a result. One example is a man I studied in post-graduate work who believed aliens would steal his teeth unless he ate a diet of only mayonnaise and coca powder. Oh, your first thought was that could be schizophrenia, wasn't it? Well, my friends, this is why I have initials after my name. People with paranoid schizophrenia don't have strange compulsions about their beliefs, their beliefs kind of make sense. Aliens reading your thoughts? A metal shield would protect your brianwaves, but how many of us could construct one of anything better than aluminum foil?
 

Strange as it is, there's logic behind this 


Now you'd think that having a character with OCD would make them a great detective, but that only works on TV. Books have to have some sense of the real world, and a real detective who has to chant "ooga booga hay hay!" three times every time a vehicle he's in takes a right turn lest the Ruskies get 'im would never get anything done.

In short, don't pick a disorder for a plot device. First construct your character (I like to use this character sheet) and then take a step back. Does your character sleep little and worry often? Now is the time to think about what that might mean. Read up. It could be anxiety or depression. If it's depression it's likely because of a bad turn of recent life events. That can make your character dark and gritty, and give them license to be a little bit bitchy and withdrawn. If it's anxiety, that's more a life-long condition.

I'll give you a little cheat here: with just one question to any stranger I can tell you if they tend towards anxiety or depression. That question is "how are you parents doing?" The trick is not 100% accurate but I have yet to be proved wrong. I'll be blunt here: got anxiety? Your mom's a bitch and your dad was either not there or a bit of a pussy. Depressed? Your dad's an asshole and your mom was either not there or kind of a pussy. I tend towards depression, and my mom died when I was young and my dad is an asshole. I love him and he owns it, but he is what he is, and hence when I get stressed out I go into stop-eating stop-sleeping depression mode. The polite way to say it is: dominant mother? Anxiety. Dominant father? Depression. So if you can't decide which axis to go along, look to your character sheet and think about how the character was raised. Most disorders fall along the axis of anxiety or depression so it's a goo starting point.


If they have a a son he's going to have temper problems, low self-esteem, but on the upside extremely long endurance in bed. Don't ask me why, but men with anxiety are demons in the sack, hence "crazy in the bed, crazy in bed."

 
Try to keep it general, unless you're writing about a disorder you know well. I personally have 1 lifelong disorder: ADHD, diagnosed in 1984 when it hadn't gotten trendy yet. Now if you ask me, it's not a disorder. Without this I'd never get everything done I do. I play 7 instruments, speak 3 languages fluently, can write poetry off the top of my head, can write a symphony in a night, and write on average 2,000 words a day. I also work out, have a social life, a loving dog, and sleep about 6 hours or less every night. I used to sleep only 3 hours. If that's a disease, fuck the cure. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, and this means I should write about it.

Wait, why? Well, I've lived with it for 28 years and I have a strong stance on it. This means to write about it I would have a purpose; to convey that it's just a state of being and those of us with it are just the cute squirrels of humanity. So if you or a loved one have a disorder and you want to tell the world something about it, go ahead and write it up. If you think it fits a character, perfect.


Pick someone you know, and avoid celebrities. they always manage to make their craziness into a caricature


Remember, it should fit a charter and never a plot. Let Hollywood pull that shit. Remember to base your writing of a case study of a real person, ideally one you know. Few generalities work for disorders, but here are the basics:

  • ADD/ADHD sufferers are 99% male
  • Aspergers sufferers are ALWAYS extroverts
  • Autism is a family of disorders so always know which one you're dealing with
  • 10% of all people are sociopaths...and no, they're not all bad, but they do have above-average or genius IQs
  • Personality disorder sufferers are largely female
  • Phobias come from childhood and are 100% the result of operant conditioning (in babies or toddlers loud noise + stimuli = fear of stimuli)
  • Anxiety and Depression always effect the sex drive
  • Almost all psychotropic drugs suppress the sex drive 
  • Night terror sufferers never remember their dreams and it dissipates in adolescence
  • Girls suffer from sleepwalking almost as much as boys, and are more likely to sleep-eat or sleep-exorcise
  • DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) is called "multiple-personality disorder" in popular media; it's not proven to exist but in all suspected cases there is extremely heavy childhood sexual and physical abuse
  • Psychopaths have anti-social tendencies (like sociopaths) but can have low, normal, or high IQs and almost always have sexual and physical trauma or abuse in childhood
  • Female socio- and psychopaths are almost as common as male, but ignored by the psychological community despite being far more vicious and violent than male offenders
  • Addictive behaviors are more common in men than women and often align to anxiety
  • Men are more likely to suffer from anxiety; women from depression
  • Men with depression often lose their appetite, depressed women often overeat emotionally
  • Women and many men who suffer from anorexia never get over it fully; they will always have unusual eating habits and compulsive urges to exorcise their whole lives
  • Male bulimics almost always begin the disorder in their mid-to-late teens purging for sports weigh-ins; female bulimics begins in adolescence due to perceived societal pressures 
  • 95% of all eating disorder sufferers are from middle or upper class backgrounds and almost almost universally Caucasian 
 
There are dozens more but these are the ones I selected as the most likely to be used in fiction. I could tell you about trichotillomania but you'll never use it. I've only read it in one short story, a collection of fiction written about mental disorders. In short it's compulsively removing hair as in every hair on the body. It's rare and wacky, and hardly common, easily treatable. You'll want to bring reality to your characters with broader disorders, but remember, unless you extensively study psychology and meet hundreds of case studies, stick to the disorder you know and love, or hate.

And on a personal note, Borderline Personality Disorder makes for a great villain. Think every bad female from James Bond. They are truly that difficult to deal with.


Doesn't scream "cute &cuddly" now, does she?