This is another blog post I wrote for Wordery, which you can also view here: https://wordery.com/blog/all-the-bright-places-mental-illness-56dd4d4e91d43
I’m going to dive straight in: mental illnesses are delicate.
I finished All the Bright Places the other day, and I loved it. Part of me loves how authors are trying so hard to include more diversity in mentality, thus making people more aware of “illnesses” such as Anxiety, Depression, OCD and a gazillion other things on the gigantic spectrum.
It also terrifies me.
What I loved about All the Bright Places is that it was almost brutally realistic. It’s so easy to romanticise these issues which leads to people thinking they’re “cool” and “in fashion”. If you are suffering, or have suffered, you would know that you would never want to wish something like this on your worst enemy. We see that in Finch. We see how he will isolate himself in order to protect other people. We see, as readers, that there’s only so much friends and family can do to help, no matter how close to them they might think they are.
As I said before- it’s delicate.
Another book I believe addresses mental illnesses well is “The Rest of us Just Live Here”. The fact that Ness shows the problems that come with supporting someone with a mental illness as well as the comfort makes us see both sides of the story. Mikey has OCD, and you can see how he gets more and more frustrated by the pity, and how he pushes people away, and how people in return get bored or frustrated by the vicious cycle embedded in his brain. It’s not a competition as to “who has it worse”, but it must be understood that it’s not all about sudden explosive breakdowns and your many best friends obediently trotting to your side every single time. Otherwise, there would definitely not be as many people suffering today.
I worry that certain illnesses are going to suddenly have even more stereotypes and labels, due to authors describing them in a certain way. A point I want to illustrate is that EVERY MENTAL ILLNESS IS UNIQUE. You may see two people with an anxiety disorder, but those two people may think very differently, and may get triggered by different things. Therefore they need to be dealt with very differently. In general, some people like to be comforted whereas others like to be left alone, and more serious mental illnesses are no different. How you- as a friend, parent, or even sufferer, addresses this depends on YOUR BRAIN. Not everyone with depression is always grumpy, not everyone with anxiety is a constant jittery mess, not everyone with a social disorder is almost crippled with shyness.
I worry that people are going to try too hard to relate to the issues the characters are going through. As someone who has never lost anyone close to me at an age where I can comprehend it, I will never be able to truly relate to a character who’s lost a sibling, or their mother, or a best friend, and I’m okay with that. (I’m thinking of Jandy Nelson’s books “I’ll Give you the Sun” and “The Sky is Everywhere“, which are also books I’d recommend) You can continue to sympathise with them, but people try too hard to pick out random symptoms and then sloppily diagnose themselves with something. If you think you do have a mental illness, see a doctor, or talk to someone close to you. You are not a character. You are real. (As much as it pains me to say characters in books are purely fictitious)
Like characters as a story progresses, you are growing older, and you are changing, and as Dumbledore once said: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.