Tag Archive | Mental illness

The Difference between Being a Writer and a Schizophrenic

Non-writers probably cannot relate to the obsession to write that overtakes an author. Some writers plot and plan everything. For me an idea, a character, or a first scene starts me off. Slowly the characters share with me their back story and as the story progresses I have no idea what will happen next.

Image courtesy of anat_tikker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anat_tikker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a wild roller-coaster ride, but I hold on tight. I can’t avoid it as the characters will taunt me until I set my fingers to the keyboard and write.

My characters pretty much hijack my life. They hold me hostage at gunpoint with an urgency to get their story on paper (or computer). There’s a desperation that underlies the tale.

So I write. Frantically. I leave gaps and highlight spots to go back to. I think about my characters first thing in the morning and I dream about them at night.

When life calls me to leave the house to do other things–serve at church, grocery shop, mow the lawn, editing work on other author’s stories–my characters are always there.

How is being a writer different from schizophrenia? Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where the sufferer often hears voices that are not there. They might see things that are not there. Feeling and smelling things is rarer. Sometimes those voices are mean and insulting. Sometimes they deceive and taunt the sufferer. The difference between a writer though and someone with this type of mental illness is multiple:

  • I can shut up my characters by writing what they tell me. When I get a story down on paper and it’s done, they leave me alone. I’m free to move on with my life. Voices for those struggling with mental illness are constant and rarely change. They don’t even have a story to tell. They are just there and serve no helpful purpose.
  • My character’s voices are generally nice. Since I write happily ever after stories, while they might suffer and struggle to get there, I love my characters and enjoy the time I spend with them. The become dear friends, but my time in their company is short. Schizophrenics can sense friendliness at times from their imaginary friends, but most often they are not. And they never really go away.
  • People generally want to know about my characters. They want to hear about the stories and hopefully will read them. Most people with schizophrenia are afraid to share their voices, and because the voices don’t tell a nice story, there’s nothing fun to share with others that anyone would really want to hear.
  • My characters never force me to do anything worse than write their stories. Sometimes people with mental illness are led to actions that are harmful to themselves or others. Usually those are isolated incidents and minimized with the help of medication. The terror that many live with though never really goes away. It’s only managed. Medication doesn’t help a writer but might actually make the voices louder. Probably why many great writers throughout history had substance abuse issues. They found those things helped them access the creativity and write in a more uninhibited way. (I am not advocating that!)
  • The one similarity though may be a tendency to be more moody. I deeply experience whatever my characters are going through. Depression is not uncommon among writers. Schizophrenics as well can become quite depressed as they experience emotions related to unreal events.

It is sometimes said that writing is the only acceptable form of schizophrenia. That’s really not true. For one, they are not the same and secondly, schizophrenics are acceptable human beings too. They just suffer from a terrible illness that can make relationships difficult to maintain. Trust is a challenge and reality is scary.

Hopefully my books do the opposite for those that read them, in spite of the wild ride I take to get that rough draft written.



Rant on Mental Illness

I was talking to a friend today and she said, “The fact that you have a degree in Counseling Psych and have worked in the field of mental health, is pretty funny.” Sure is. Irony must be my middle name.

This past week there as another shooting at Fort Hood and I was angry when the media started to bill the shooter as someone with mental illness, possibly PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). So? That kind of diagnosis doesn’t make someone a murderer. It doesn’t even mean that individual will hurt someone. What the media has done though is send those with mental illness back into a shadow of shame.

Mental illness does not deserve censure. It deserves compassion. As much as someone with diabetes or an autoimmune disease or perhaps suffering with recurring migraines. We have compassion for those people, even if we can’t “see” their illness. It’s not like a broken bone that can heal. The mind of some people (not all) with mental illness is fast paced and can resemble a runaway train. The only problem is the engineer can’t put on the brakes. sherlock - whats it like in your funny little brains

The brilliance of the show, Sherlock (BBC), is that they show to a certain degree the workings of this genius’ mind. He calls himself a high functioning sociopath. In reality this is a subcategory of the Anti-social personality disorder. In many ways, this self-diagnosis is correct and he makes good use of his almost savant capabilities. In essence, Sherlock Holmes is mentally ill. Not all people have minds like Sherlock’s, but many have thoughts that race, or emotions that flux out of control. Unless one has experienced this first-hand, it’s hard to understand or grasp.

The point I’m trying to make though is that we need to be less judgemental and more compassionate towards those that struggle with any kind of mental illness. Having said that, we also need to understand that some can be highly annoying and without the grace of God, socially devastating in a person’s ability to function in the world of work and relationships.

Sherlock lives for the excitement of the chase because he mind is racing all the time. He has pent-up energy thrumming through is body. I doubt that ASPD is his only diagnosis if we were honest. He has found a way to make use of his skills, but as Inspector Lastraud says in Season 1, Epsiode 1, when asked why he puts up with Sherlock: “Because I think he’s a great man and someday, he might even be a good one.” The show is not so much about saving lives and solving murders, but is more about his growth as a human being as he interacts with Dr. John Watson who becomes, over time, his one and only friend.

On a side note: Dr. John Watson is apparently a PTSD sufferer. Fascinating that his therapist encourages him to blog about what happens his life as part of his recovery. I loved his pre-Sherlock response to that. “Nothing every happens to me.” Ha!

So you have two mentally ill people saving London . . . and perhapse the world. Maybe we’re not all so bad anyway? Maybe we are even useful?

So please, let’s just realize we all have something wrong with us. It’s called sin. And sin causes people to put labels on others and judge them without truly understanding. Sin leads to blanket assumptions, like the one about PTSD. And please, for the sake of the men and women who have served, let’s give them the honor and grace to heal without bearing the shame of mental illness too. They would have died for you and your right to be free in this country. They volunteered for that when they joined. They have seen things God never intended for man to have to experience.

Honor. Duty. Respect. It’s a hard world out there for all of us and we all face a battle every day, some of use face it inside, some face it on the outside and for some the two feed off each other.

And for the rest of us, those who struggle in battles unseen, I pray we have compassion and grace for ourselves. Peace, friends.

Secrets (Book Review)

secretsIt’s probably appropriate that I publish this review on a Friday the 13th given the dark undertones to Kristin Heitzmann’s novel, Secrets.  Well, that’s if you are in any way superstitious.

Lance Michelli is a young man burdened with a big heart and impulsive, passionate nature that sometimes gets him in trouble, in spite of his best intentions.  In trying to live up to his deceased brother’s memory, he embarks on a quest to discover the secrets his grandmother cannot tell.  What has her so agitated? Will he uncover the answers that will soothe her soul as she recovers from a stroke? Or will he be too late.

His quest takes him from the East Coast to Italy and now to Sonoma where his cooking skills win him a place in the home that might legally belong to his grandmother. The new owner, Rese Barret is fighting her own demons as she remodels this home into a bed and breakfast. Lance agrees to cook, clean and fix up part of the property but never tells this young, tightly wound woman, the real reason he is there. How could he, when he doesn’t even know himself?

Attraction builds as secrets are uncovered for both Lance and Rese. Lance tries to share his faith with Rese but she refuses to believe in a God she can’t see.  Having a mother who had a boyfriend she couldn’t see has made her wary of anything spiritual. Understanding more about schizophrenia though and the truth about her mother, is enough to push her over the edge – to madness- or to faith. Will Lance be there to catch her when she falls?

Complex character with an organic faith line woven in, Kristen slowly peels back the mystery of the secrets in both her main characters lives as they are drawn to each other. A fascinating tale and the subject of mental illness is handled with great care and realism.  This is only the second book of Kristen Heitzmann’s that I’ve read, but I will gladly pick up another by this gifted author.