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


Maybe Self-Doubt isn’t Bad

Maybe Self-Doubt isn't Bad
Image provided by Bob Blakley

As of late, I’ve been coming across hoards of articles about how we should feel about ourselves. Writers are telling me in their blog posts about how to somehow feel marvelous when I’m writing, no matter where I am in my WiP, no matter what obstacles I’m facing. Feel-good web sites are giving me advice about how to prepare to feel terrific for the entire day. Some of them read like instructions to put a model together.

I’m not believing a word I’m reading. How can I? Writing is a passion for me. This doesn’t mean I’m going to feel spectacular whenever I sit at the keyboard though. For me, passion means I’d do whatever it takes to be in the process of a WiP, and to hell with how it may be feeling at the time. There are many days when it’s grueling. I’m having to puck each sentence out of my noggin and place it on the page next to the last period, all the while wishing the ideas would flow. And expecting to be happy for the entire day is ludicrous. Especially since I’m a writer with many issues. Life is full of ups and downs. To force myself not to experience all of it is making my life less than what it can be. I just can’t imagine myself going to the dentist with a beaming smile on my face.

One of my “big” feelings is self-doubt. I’m usually in a mode of questioning myself about something. With some, it’s fear that runs them ragged. Others live days in total guilt mode over something they really didn’t have much choice in. Mine is self-doubt.

Self-doubt isn’t reserved just for those of us who write. However, as a group, I’d say we’re the most vocal about this so-called flaw. You may not want to believe it, but executives of such companies like Sony, Microsoft, General Mills, and others have this same lack of confidence and esteem going on inside them. They just don’t tell anyone. Often they aren’t even telling their significant others, whoever they may be. I, as a writer, can feel this thing in me every times I put my fingers on the keyboard. “Should I say it this way?” “Should I say it at all?” “What if I changed things around?” “Would that work or is it just as hideous as it was the other way?”

About a week ago I was thinking about this flaw in me. It came to mind while I was reworking a character profile. I had added in arrogance, narcissism, and hotheadedness for this character’s traits, but I still needed to come up with why she was that way. Any therapist is likely to tell me that the person doesn’t see herself as being terrific, engaging, and righteous. That all those rotten qualities are a facade for what she really feels inside. Her not facing what she feels is what’s wrong with her. Instead, she acts out to avoid the underlying feeling[s].

What if I faced my self-doubt about my capabilities as a writer? What would I find? I’d discover what I already know about me. I’m atrocious with spelling and vocabulary. So much so that I will not write a single word without a dictionary and thesaurus on hand. Often I don’t word sentences, and sometimes whole paragraphs, in the right order. I do a kind of cart-before-the-horse thing in a lot of cases. My attempts to be eloquent are crude. I want my writing to be lyrical, but I know the instant I read it, it’s anything but impassioned. I have a lot to doubt. I, often, wonder why I bother to try to do something in the craft at all.

Yet, it’s these marrings in my skills that make me try to write every day. They’re imperfections I can try to alleviate, if not get rid of all together–at some point in the far future–maybe. Some I’ll never ever rid myself of, and I’ll just have to come to terms with those facts and trudge forward dragging them behind me.

The doubt I wrestle with is what makes me ask the questions that, once dealt with, will improve the process in my projects. Without this uncertainty snaking up, down, and around, entwining with the story that’s in my head, my WiP would, most certainly, end up flat, boring, and completely repulsive.

Of course, I don’t want it to take over my passion. Some of what I write is okay. Sure, not spectacular, maybe not even good, but passable. I dutifully give myself a kudo–not two, just one.

A blogging friend of mine has told me she likes my “no frills” writing. Well, that isn’t anything like lyrical, is it? So be it. I do like the thought of being one of those people who is up front, straight forward, down to earth. The “no frills” thing kind goes along with that. Still, the  apprehension is there, haunting me to do better. Kind words are fine, but what is in me still prevails.

Eventually, I’ll have to push this feeling into a closet somewhere so that I can get a real sense of how I’m doing from others–in particular, an editor, or even a beta reader. Nevertheless, this emotion does have purpose for me.


Do you think of self-doubt as way to insure that you strive to be better? Or does it hang you up?

“A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.” ― Leszek Kołakowski, Metaphysical Horror


Describing the Doubt and Fear

Describing the Doubt and Fear
Image provided by Peter Nederlof

After reading Phoebe Quinn’s post at A Writing Path, I began to question how much effort I’m really putting into my writing. Her article wasn’t about effort, but somehow it triggered those types of thoughts in me. Do I give it my all?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying I’ve been expecting great achievement with little effort. To be truthful, I’d be wondering what the point is of writing at all if it didn’t require that intense concentration and passion that puts me in a time warp feeling as thought I’ve been in outer space when I come to.

I’m questioning how I keep on wanting to rush through some of the writing. When I was younger, I used to love to do descriptions. It could be a regular object like a teacup, a person walking down the street, or an entire setting like a park. It seemed to come to me naturally. Anymore though, I rush straight through those parts getting to action and the feelings of the characters.

Why am I in such a hurry? True, I am not young anymore. In fact, I’ve been deemed a senior for a while now. Even so, unless I find myself getting blown up, I don’t think I’ll be dying anytime soon. This means there’s plenty of time for me to cultivate splendid descriptions of the scenes as I go through them one by one.

And when did I lose that natural touch for writing descriptions? While sitting at my desk, I can see out a window by turning my head slightly to the left. It’s a view of the street I live on so even though some things don’t change often, other things do. I look out this window every time I need a moment to think. And my mind isn’t so full that I don’t see what is out there either. I notice the breeze blowing the leaves in the trees. I see Jake [one of the residential cats] lumber across the street. The sound of a car will make me glance out to see if it’s one of the neighbors. Now, why am I not putting any of this into my writing?

It got me wondering if I’ve gotten stuck on the mechanics of writing. Rationally, I know I can write my first draft any old way I want. However, emotionally, my obsession for perfection and my fear of never ever being good enough plays havoc with me, making me doubt the adverbs I put at the end of sentences, the spelling of words I know but invariably spell wrong, the number of sentences I start with a prepositional phrase. And the list is a long one.

Is there a way to turn off the doubts and fears, but still keep the emotions going full blast while I write? No, I’m not expecting an answer to materialize. Sometimes though, it’s sensible to put these types of questions out there to examine and ponder on.

“It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.” ― P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves in the Morning


She Endured

She Endured
Image provided by Jeff Bryant

This is one of my own creations for this week’s exercise. I’m trying to show emotions without it standing out. Also, I’m trying to show inner strength and composure.


She could hear him in the bedroom opening and closing drawers. It was a familiar sound. One the woman heard every day. Yet today, it grated on her nerves.

She glanced at the clock on the stove. Just one hour more and then she’s free for a while.

The sounds had changed. It wasn’t the annoying banging of wood against wood anymore. Chances were he was getting dressed and trying to watch TV at the same time. If you asked him why he had such a hard time doing both of these things at the same time, he’s probably tell you it’s because he hurts. She had no doubt about the pain. She knew it was real. She just couldn’t comprehend why he insisted on try to do both every day when he knew he should concentrate on how he got dressed so it wouldn’t hurt at much.

She continued to sip her coffee and gazed out the window at creation doing its thing in the early days of winter. There were still a few brilliant colored leaves hanging onto the branches of otherwise bare trees. A hawk flew overhead in the stillness of the gray sky.

Unexpectedly, a doe ambled through the woods just beyond the property line. The young female wasn’t in a hurry, knowing she was safe in the forest behind the seasoned neighborhood. Something alerted her. Her ears stood straight up and stiff, and her neck long and so ever slightly forward. Her head turned and she seemed to be looking right inside the window. Abruptly, she leaped away to the depths of the timberland.

He bellowed up the hall. “Want me to get pizza before coming home?”

The woman placed her mug on the kitchen table and gazed into the glaring light of the light fixture above her.

“Did you hear me?” he blared.

In a raised voice, she said, “Yeah, pizza sounds great.”

All of a sudden, there he was, standing in the double wide doorway to the living room and the hall. He looked good for a man in his late forties. His hair was gray through the temples and in front of his ears, giving him a distinguished appearance. He strutted over to the table, gave her a brief kiss and headed out the back door.

The woman pinched her lips shut, laid her chin in her hand prompted by her elbow, and gaped at nothing beyond the window pane. Defeat washed over her and she let three tears fall down her cheek before she pulled herself up, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and strode down the hall to prepare for another day.


How did I do? Be brutal if you must.

When it goes wrong, you feel like cutting your throat, but you go on. You don’t let anything get you down so much that it beats you or stops you.George Cukor


Never Meant to Be

This is in response to a writing prompt from Today’s Author. This blog offers helpful advice and writing prompts to writers of all levels.
Never Meant to Be
Image provided by
Tara Angkor Hotel @

They had a spectacular evening. The food was superb at the country inn fifteen miles out of the city. He was dressed right for the rendezvous; he was sure of it. He had worn a suit with a crisp white shirt and purposely left the tie off. She was stunning in the crimson satin dress. The white blazer, also satin, that she wore over it, didn’t have a collar, which allowed one’s eyes to drift beyond it to gaze at the red splendor of fabric underneath. Their conversation was light and easy, making both feel that they had successfully reclaimed their loving relationship.

The ride back to her apartment was one of expectations and hopes running through their minds, being twisted and tangled along the way. Standing at her doorstep, his longings pulled and tugged at him. Somehow she could feel herself pulling back with no ready answer for why she felt it.

A few years before they had a serious relationship. Although they weren’t thinking of marriage, they were scouting for a larger apartment they could share. It was that very activity that pushed them apart. Any first-year psychology text-book would tell you that there were underlying problems before then. Yet, neither one could see them. Or was it that they didn’t want to acknowledge them, so they didn’t?

She put her key in the lock to open the door, avoiding his eyes to escape any guilt. He glanced at her briefly, then looked down at the cement in front of him. The disappointment was engulfing him like a thick fog. He dragged his feet to his car and slowly drove down the street.

Sleep seemed to be an impossibility that night. He could lay still enough, but the evening kept on replaying in his head. He felt so certain that she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, yet, after just a few years, her desires must have changed. It couldn’t be that she , as a whole, had changed. She dressed the same, talked about the same subjects with the same undying passion, and generally seemed to be headed in the same direction she was pointed to back then.

He finally pulled himself out of bed, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and sat down to write her a letter. As he wrote he drank. He retrieved another can from the refrigerator. He kept on writing. Finally he finished the letter in which he professed his undying love for her. Then he threw it away.

Realization can hit a person at the oddest times. He finally saw that it was him who had changed.

He crawled back into bed and slept.

Question: What is your honest opinion of how I portray a character of the male gender? Being female, I wonder if I show males realistically in my writing.