For Real Friday a day early: Schizophrenia and Other Mental Disorders in Fiction

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Posting early in honor of tomorrow’s cover reveal. When I portrayed Moirae as schizophrenic, I ran into a problem. Schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder. Despite the media’s portrayals as schizophrenics being dangerous individuals with Jekyll/Hide syndrome, that’s actually an entirely different mental disorder. So why did I keep the same description? Because she doesn’t have multiple personality disorder either.

People with multiple personalities don’t have personalities that converse with each other. They experience black outs when the other personality is in charge. That’s not Moirae either. Because there’s a magical element there, she is all three people at once. Since one personality isn’t dominant and because they interact, that goes more toward the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenia. In the end, I wasn’t sure what to call her and after lengthy talks to my writer’s group and my editors, schizophrenic stuck, both because the symptoms were more true, though still not quite right with the illness and because on a colloquial level Persephone was a sixteen year old. She would have called it schizophrenic. She never said the word out loud so no one would have corrected her.

All the same, I was careful to never depict Moirae with the more stereotypical attributes associated with mental illness because books and movies do enough damage without me adding to them. She’s never violent and scary and she’s not some wonderful manic, pixie dream girl either. She’s a character, not quite as fleshed out as I’d like because the pacing of the story never really allowed for me to develop her like I wanted but hopefully future installments will let me do more with her, who just happens to have three voices in her head vying for attention at once and that does impact her life in a very big way but she still has a personality, friends, and a life.

Later in the series (as in not yet published) we learn Aphrodite suffers from anxiety (there’s a very plot oriented reason this hasn’t shown up in its entirety in Iron Queen, but you’ll have to read Venus and Adonis to learn why). That was another area I had to be careful because panic attacks and all the other symptoms that come with anxiety aren’t cute and it drives me nuts when plots give characters these very real issues just to make them vulnerable in the moment and then never revisit them or worse, treat it as a cute quirk.

That being said, I totally understand why authors polarize mental disorders, especially in POV characters. It’s not just that its easier to either romanticize or vilify them. It’s to some degree healthier. Moirae was one thing because she only existed on the periphery, Aphrodite on the other hand…I was in her head for a year writing Venus and Adonis and it was hell. Rewarding, yeah because at the end of the day, I think I might have done an okay job writing her experience. But mentally draining. So draining, I had to take a break between writing Venus and Adonis and Love and War to write an entirely different book that didn’t deal with anxiety. I *had* to.

All the same, the constant romanticizing/vilifying mental disorders is damaging both as representation of mental disorders and for people suffering with them. Scrubs did a good episode on this with an episode that had Michael J Fox playing a character with OCD. The episode begins by playing into the trope. Being OCD makes him a better doctor, he’s a magical and wise character who can solve everyone’s problems. But as the episode progresses, it goes into the dark/realistic side of OCD and it’s a really impactful moment.

Representation matters. And because I’m about to dive back into Aphrodite’s head to write Love and War, I’d really like some input. What are some books, shows, or movies that you really appreciate for their depictions of characters with mental disorders? I’d love to give them a read.

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