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Mental disorders in pre-industrial/fantasy worlds

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ophiucha, Dec 11, 2013.

  1. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Psychiatric science has come a long way rather quickly. Any deviation from good Christian values was seen as psychosis and a woman who wanted to work had hysteria - and that's all after the study of mental health became a common thing. Before that, you were moon-crazy, possessed, or just strange. It's rare to see people with neurological disorders in fiction of any sort, let alone fantasy - the instances where they do have one are usually treated as magical. Percy Jackson gives us dyslexia as 'you can only read Ancient Greek', as an example. And everybody with dementia is really seeing faeries or visions of a future yet to pass.

    But I'm interested in writing a story with a character or two who just genuinely has a disease with no magical benefits or cause. The trouble, then, becomes: how do you convey that a character has depression instead of just being ''depressed''? How do you convey that a character has an anxiety disorder instead of just being a bit ''anxious'' or, as the Victorians would have said, hysterical? What about autism? Non-magical schizophrenia? Some of them are easier than others - postpartum depression can be hinted at simply by having the character have a baby, PTSD is an expected outcome of some of the crap we throw our characters into, but the ones that don't have an obvious trigger?

    Discuss fantasy books that did it, your ideas/techniques, or any of your characters who fit the bill!
     
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  2. DassaultMirage

    DassaultMirage Minstrel

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    I have anxiety disorders. It is a hell lot different from being anxious. Take this short visualization:

    Brain: Oh hey look, a party but will I let you enjoy it? You bet I won't!

    Your spine feels cold, heck your body feels cold, like a blanket drenched in ice cold water was placed on you. Knees feel like jelly, your head spins and feels light and you feel disoriented. And let us not forget shortness of breath and the urge to vomit. FOR NO RATIONAL REASON.

    I'm sure you've been plain anxious before. Compare that feeling with my example.
     
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  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I also have an anxiety disorder - don't worry, I know what it feels like. But that doesn't necessarily mean my readers will and can infer from that alone that my character isn't just having a breakdown as opposed to a panic attack, you know? There's definitely a difference, but when you can't just have them popping anti-depressants or even outright saying 'oh I have an anxiety disorder', they can definitely just come across as over-stressed. I want to find a way to convey that this is something that, though the fantasy adventure in her life is undoubtedly exacerbating the situation, this is something she has to deal with regardless.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2013
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  4. JRFLynn

    JRFLynn Sage

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    Ok, I'll have a go at this...

    Depression: the character might be lethargic, sulky, brooding, withdrawn, disinterested in life in general or with things he/she used to like.

    Anxiety: Timid, fidgety, hates crowds or new people/experiences, stress, sweats, cramps, heart flutters, headaches, skittish, stammering (maybe), and usually quiet in a group.

    Autism: The above examples for anxiety but amplified, withdrawn, aloof, quiet(maybe), inappropriate or misunderstood in social situations, comfortable with routine and solitude, meek, austere on the outside vs soft on the inside, avoids eye contact, fiddles with fingers/nervous tic, quirky, awkward...and stems (like flapping hands, twitching feet, rocking back and forth).

    Schizophrenia: This one is hard but obviously hallucinations would be present, talking to themselves, confusion, hysteria, endangering self, aggrandizing self, aggression...That's all I got

    My MC is would probably qualify as autistic, but he comes out of his shell later on. In the beginning he does seem crazy, seeing hallucinations of phantoms and imaginary friends, but the reason is supernatural in nature and has nothing to do with Schizophrenia.
     
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  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Do you actually need to convey that it's a specific, namable condition? Take bipolar disorder, for instance--you could confirm that your character has it, but it would create the same effect just to confirm that the character has mood swings and doesn't know why. It might even be more effective that way--the character doesn't know what it is, so neither does the readership.
     
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  6. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Perhaps. It could depend on the story.

    I do want to have neurodiverse characters in my story, and I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable having my readers interpret a character I'd written as bipolar as, basically, 'moody'. So I suppose the problem is less 'how do I write a character with X?' but rather 'how do I make the readers understand that this is something other than just their personality*?'. Given the sorts of situations a character can be in in a fantasy novel, is there any extremity of an emotional reaction/non-reaction that is necessarily out of place enough that the readers would go 'oh, that's not the typical reaction'. And, further, will readers assume that the character is just weird, or poorly written, if they never get a clear explanation?

    * Though I consider my own anxiety disorder part of my 'personality', but, y'know, for the sake of simplicity I'll separate the two.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2013
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  7. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Without knowing how you're writing it my take would be to just use some outside perspectives. For example the woman in the town square talking to herself might be assumed by most to be possessed or talking to fairies etc. But someone else could come along and say "No she's just crazy."

    The town butcher who might be bipolar and up one day and down the next might be described by most as difficult and with moods that change like the weather. Manic is a word that has often been used. So instead of saying normally changeable you' say something like wildly unpredictable, and it's just the way he is.

    Those these conditions weren't diagnosed centuries ago, they were around and they were known. A lot of the English language has been developed simply to describe them. But as a proviso, people who were truly mad were feared and shunned. So the chances were that anyone suffering from an extreme form of mental illness would have been driven out of town long before, killed or hidden away. That's one reason the British aristocracy were known as being a bit mad. They could afford to hide their nutty sons and daughters away keeping them safe and cared for and of course word kept getting out. Eventually some of them even inherited. Mrs. Jones down the road of course couldn't do that, and her child soon got arrested or killed and was quickly forgotten.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  8. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    Thanks for your ideas. :) I think having people who are used to/aware of her mental health will help me write my main character, since she has a husband. Another of my characters is a bit trickier, but I might be able to use some language of the time, perhaps drop hints with some sort of appropriate herbal medicine treatment? I might make my main character an apothecary (for reasons other than this, obviously), so she could comment on how the leaf of some plant is meant to improve memory? I'll toss some ideas around while I brainstorm tomorrow.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Or believed to be a sacred person in favor with the gods, depending on the time period and location.
     
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  10. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    If I would include mental disorders in my novels, I read up on the disorder.
    I have several characters with PTSD, my current WIP has orphans so I am reading up on the disorders related to abandonment at a young age, magnified by a system that don't understand the needs of a child.

    I think a realistic description of disorders helps people see the fantasy world as having some similarities to our world. Mental disorders were ignored or the people that suffered with them were locked away if they could not care for themselves.

    PTSD-shell shock, battle rage, has been around for as long as there has been war.
    Orphanage issues: RAD-Reaction attachment disorder-child won't bond with anyone or overly bonds with everyone.
     
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