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On Writing: Writing about schizophrenia
Included in this post is a link to a first-hand account about growing up with schizophrenia, please go read it.
I’m currently working on a short story for class and a lot of years of research, family research, and stuff kinda culminated into this short story. The main character is one I’ve been writing since 2005 off and on. She suffers with mental health issues akin to schizophrenia, in fact she has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and anxiety, though in the story I try to blur lines a lot and she doesn’t quite believe the diagnosis. Sure, the symptoms are there, but she thinks it might actually be something more sinister.
So, since 2005 I’ve been crafting this character a lot. I first wrote her in a couple of screenplays, one I directed/produced and the other I never got to finish but I do have some amazing raw footage and a few edited scenes from it.
I mentioned family research… my family has a history of schizophrenia. When I was a young adult, I was afraid and tried to be proactive about the possibility of having schizophrenia myself. With that in mind, when I was a freshman in college, I researched it heavily and presented it for a class. A few years later, I started writing this character. But I’ve also had conversations with some of my family members concerning their personal experiences.
All that to say that a lot of thought and detail has gone into this character through the years. And while I was always intentionally obscuring some of those details, I was also trying to be pretty realistic about it.
This short story I’m working on explores the origins of the character’s mental health issues. She first experiences schizophrenic symptoms at age eleven, coinciding with her puberty. As I was first developing this idea, I tried to imagine how horrific and confusing such symptoms would be to a child. And I tried my darndest to be realistic about that.
Tonight, I stumbled on this article by pure chance. I highly suggest you read it. The article is a first-hand account from a woman who grew up with untreated schizophrenia much like my character. If you are unfamiliar with how schizophrenia can work, I really suggest you read it.
That said, I was completely stunned at the number of similarities between some of my choices with my character and Lyn Fullen’s descriptions of growing up with schizophrenia. In a way, it’s validating that I’m doing a good job of conveying this character’s struggles in a realistic way. And that’s important to me. It should be important for all fiction writers who write about schizophrenia and other mental health disorders. I didn’t choose to write about schizophrenia in a strong female character because it was fun, or because I thought it would be fun for readers, but because it’s real.