Today is a pretty low day for me, to be honest. Not because of the specific date, but it’s the first day in a while where I have woken up still feeling tired, still feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by everything.
For a few of you, those feelings will be all too familiar. After all, one in three people will suffer with depression and/or anxiety in their lifetime, and I am certainly one of them. For those of you who don’t know those feelings, I can assure you there is little worse for your self-confidence than barely being able to extricate yourself from the sheets in a morning.
The reason I bring this up – besides actually feeling like that right now – is because it’s something intensely important to me, and it’s always been tied in with my writing one way or another. When I was back in high school, I used writing as a dual coping mechanism – firstly, to deal with the disappointment and boredom of daily life, and secondly, to occupy my mind and stop ruminant thoughts and overthinking situations beyond my control.
As I progressed through life, writing became less of the second part – I could still overthink while writing, still ruminate over things that would make me worried or sad. Nowadays, those things can cut me down in my tracks while I’m in the middle of a dramatic action scene or a pleasant exposition of romance in one of my books. In a bizarre way, writing has become such second nature to me, that it’s an extension of who I am and what I am, it’s not really a hobby so much as a natural state of affairs. Unfortunately, that comes with its drawbacks, and the most major of these is that my depression and anxiety can interfere with the process quite significantly.
In my books, I try to include characters suffering with mental health issues as I feel it’s important to represent the process of dealing with these things. Whether it’s a character with intense social anxiety, or OCD, or depression, it’s important to humanise these issues and make them relatable. For a long time, mental health has been a plot device rather than a character trait; the ‘crazy’ serial killer or ‘obsessive’ detective in crime fiction, the ‘sociopath’ villain in dramas or the ‘ruthlessly ambitious’ king in a high fantasy. Now that the understanding of such issues is greater, I think it’s important that we stop that ‘convenient’ dismissal of struggle for its base traits – even if your fictional society isn’t a modern one where these things would be recognised, or a historical one where anxiety was dismissed as ‘hysteria’. As writers, I feel it’s our job to make the intelligent decision, to sympathise rather than sensationalise. We can leave sensationalism to journalists and clickbait bloggers.
I also think the big issue here is part of the whole spectrum of representation, and that’s something that I feel is hugely important in fiction. If, as a writer, I’m creating this fictional, fantastical world, it’s important to let my readers know – whoever they are – that who they are is important to me. If I can inspire by writing a particular character then that’s enough of a reason for me to keep writing.