To say that mental illness does not profoundly affect my life would be a lie. I have been hospitalized nine times, which comes down to over a year locked up in psychiatric facilities. Every night when I take my medicine I am reminded that I am mentally ill. One a month I get stuck by the needle so that they can measure my white blood cell count, just so I won’t up and die. Every two months I see the shrink, so I can get his blessing and be reassured I am still sane. But what about in my writing?
I am certainly not on any crusade to educate the world about mental illness. But I have more than done my share. I write this blog for one thing. I have my memoirs “More Than The Madness” which tells about my successful struggle with bipolar disorder. My poetry book “Murmurings Of A Mad Man” is a book with strict rhythm and rhyme that tells of the month I was in Graystone Psychiatric Hospital. Overall however my mental illness is but another aspect of my personal history from which me as a writer can use.
When I create characters who exist with mental illness I am writing with a unique perspective that those outside of my experience could never illustrate. Perhaps, people who have worked in the psychiatric field for a long time, or others who have been exposed to the mentally ill, can come close, but still it is not the same. If the world of mental illness is a bus only those of mentally ill have taken the ride. I don’t care how much you look at the outside of the bus, or study the mechanical plans for the bus, you will never know what it is to ride the bus until you sit down in the seat.
I am reminded of this reality as I was working on a story that is in my latest book “From Chaos To Cosmos”. There a wealthy business woman who is a schizophrenic has quite a grand adventure. As the central character of the story we really get into her mind and see what makes her tick. We see that her ruthless and cruel exterior was built upon a broken young girl who was abused. In the process the reader, hopefully, develops a little compassion for what would otherwise be a wicked character without redemption.
In my other new book “Dark Matters” there is a story that is driven by the psychiatric element. It begins innocently enough with a young engineering student taking a psychology course for an easy ‘A’. When the professor discovers that ninety five percent of the class is cheating the true and false tests are discarded and all the students are given a project. Our young ‘hero’ has to visit a psychiatric hospital to interview a patient. From there the fantastical element of science fiction kicks into high gear to excite and thrill. The descriptions of the hospital, the nursing staff, the psychiatrist, the patients are all a combination of my real life experiences and my overactive imagination.
In the end I feel a good story is something that entertains. If it fails on that level what is it worth? If in the process it makes one think, or if it gives some moral lesson or commentary on life, well all the better. If in my efforts I shine a light on the murky world of mental illness then so much the better.
If you would like to purchase my books there are links are in my biography below to my website and amazon page. Note that my two new books are on pre-order and for a reduced price under a dollar. If you are a fan of science fiction they are a must!
Photos by pedrosimoes7,