Mental Illness in Fiction

Mental Illness in Fiction
Image courtesy of Mohammad Irtez Khan

As I inchmeal along in my WiP, I feel a compelling allurement to the general theme of my story, namely how mental illness affects a person’s life. It may seem simple at first. Reality gets distorted.

That answers the what, but how about the how, why, and when? We may know people who battle these illnesses and not even be aware of their struggle as we go through our daily lives. And if we do know, even if the person is a close friend or family member telling us more than he or she would tell someone else, I doubt seriously that we can know, with any certainty at all, how it feels from the inside.

Writing about these sorts of disorders isn’t, in truth, going to get me inside a person who bears these disturbances, but I think it’ll get me closer to understanding these plights from the outside. Yes, I write about what I think is going on inside the head of my protagonist. What I’m actually doing though is combining, adding, and/or subtracting what I’ve read in case studies. In reality, each person who confronts the demons of these illnesses are experiencing it differently, if only just marginally. After all, they are all individuals just like everyone else.


To give you an idea of what I’m referring to, I have General Anxiety Disorder. My symptoms are:

  • Persistent fear, sometimes without any obvious cause, that is present everyday
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle tension; muscle aches
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia and/or sleeping too much
  • Irritability

For many people, they do experience these same symptoms on occasion, but don’t have a clue as to how they would handle each one twenty-four/seven. In addition, most people experience only one to three of these symptoms at one time when something monumental comes into their lives. Without medication, daily tasks done every day would be completely overwhelming for me.

Now this is just an overview of a mental illness. Even doctors don’t really know what thoughts I have when I go through this anxiety. The unrelenting indecision, flightiness, stiffness, nausea, and so on come crashing down as if I’m being buried alive. Even that doesn’t tell you what is actually going on with my thoughts though. All I can tell you is the medication is a must for me to live a normal life.


Why am I feeling driven by this motif?

Way long ago, back in the 1970s, I entered college with the major of Sociology/Social Work. I was enthralled by the entire field. When I took my first class in Psychology, it literally trapped me. I couldn’t get enough of the subject. Everything I read lead to more questions I needed answered.

Unfortunately, the hardships of life reared up. The need to survive took over my need for answers somehow. So I quit and found a job. Luckily, it was within the scope of my major. I worked as a financial patient representative at a hospital.

Now that I don’t work outside the home anymore, I’m back to finding the answers to all of those questions while I fulfill my secondary dream of writing.

[Do you wonder why I didn’t continue my education while I worked? That’s a story I’ll save for another day sometime in the future.]


Writing and studying go hand in hand for this project.

As I write about the character’s struggles, I have the Internet open for search, have my two Psychology textbooks at reach on a shelf next to me, and have The Emotional Thesaurus in between where my keyboard is and my monitor.

Writing a book that is so jumbled with emotions, beliefs, and thoughts isn’t an easy task for a first novel. Yet, the dominance the subject has over me leaves no choice in the matter. There are many days when I wonder if I’ll ever get to that point where I look at publishing it.


Does your WiP have you enslaved?

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~Vita Sackville-West


4 thoughts on “Mental Illness in Fiction

  1. Bit of a bittersweet post, Glynis, and one that is all too familiar with me. I too suffer from anxiety and while I write, there are a lot of times where I wonder if my written words will be published some day. Writing is certainly not a straightforward process. There is so much back and forth between words, characters and the different themes – and with good writing and a good story, everything will click. It is easier said than done. Often I think we discover the story as we write, even develop the characters as we write..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “develop the characters as we write”
      Mabel, this is so so true. Although I do fill out a questionnaire for each one of my main characters, it’s only the basic stuff as if I’m meeting them for the first time. Most of the eccentricities are developed as I write the story. They start out as paper dolls and slowly turn into the three-dimensional people I wanted from the beginning.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read one novel by a drug addict–putting me right in the middle of all the cravings and disorders that went along with that disease. He couldn’t just wake up in the morning and have a cuppa. No, mornings were much more involved.

    And it was riveting, because I entered a world I thought I never would. I wonder if that would work for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan. It took me back to when I had the stroke, only in a more positive way. Seeing it after the fact put some things in perspective.


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