Writing, Mental Illness, and Abuse

So, there is something that has been stuck in my craw for a while now and it has a lot to do with the misconceptions regarding mental illness and abuse. People who have never lived with these things just blow my mind.

This is going to get very long winded, so I’ll stick it under a cut to keep blog clutter down.

I took a creative writing workshop class online and in the class we were supposed to submit things like character sketches and drafts of short stories. In one of my character sketches for the short story I submit (one that I want to one day expand into a full book) I mentioned that a character had depression. One of the comments I got on it was a simple question, but one that showed a fundamental misunderstanding about mental illness: “Why is this character depressed?” Depression, clinical depression, doesn’t have a source. Neurotypical people can get depressed, yes, and often they have a reason for being depressed; the loss of a loved one, losing a job, feeling unfulfilled, what have you. But someone who suffers from depression, constant depression that often needs medication and therapy… It doesn’t have a source. It just is. It’s always there. Often this depression will give you reasons to feel sad, linking sometimes to self-hate, self-depreciation, and the like, but those aren’t the reasons for the depression. The depression comes first, the rest is an after effect.

There is so much that one is unable to explain to people that haven’t lived with these illnesses or through these traumatic situations. I read somewhere that often neurotypicals put the blame on the depressed person with talk like “Well, just be more positive” or “take up yoga and you will feel better” because they can’t imagine a world where they, as functioning as they are, may be struck with these same afflictions for seemingly no reason. The fault must be on the depressed person. There must be a reason that someone is depressed all the time. What is that depressed person doing wrong that they can’t just smile?

I had a similar issue with a novella I recently finished. In it, a character is the victim of abuse. I mention that some people around them know and are willing to give that character a safe haven, but don’t, say, call child protective services. One of my beta readers said that this was entirely unrealistic and that anyone who had kids would obviously get this abused child help.

Only they don’t. This is something I lived first hand. In an idealized world where everything is perfect, kids get beat around and then saved. Because people don’t like to imagine that if that were something they were faced with, they would stay quiet. They don’t like to face the hard truth that in a situation like that, unless they are willing to physically remove that child from their situation and care for them, that there isn’t any helping these kids. My abuser was perfect to the outside world. To the point that people told my Mom and I what a perfect family we had. Not to mention that fact that we grew up in a small town and my abuser was smart. He went out drinking with the local police officers. He became buddy buddy with those in power and showed them what a good guy he was. Abusers aren’t like they are on TV where they live in shitty trailer parks and wear wife beaters, yelling obscenities at everyone including their victim where the whole world can see. This stuff goes on behind closed doors where their victims are powerless and no one will believe them. I saw a therapist from the age of 14 (my first attempted suicide) to the age of 18. Four years, I was telling this person everything that was going on with me. Every time my dad hit me, every time he told me I was useless and worthless and a piece of shit. FOUR. YEARS. When I turned 18, I moved out of my parents house and still my dad harassed me. It wasn’t until he lost control and made the mistake of leaving 14 of the nastiest voicemails that my therapist believed what was happening. I played each of these long winded, vile, poison filled messages during a therapy session that my therapist looked aghast and said “I didn’t know it was this bad.” I had been telling him it was that bad. For four years. But I was just a kid, and of course kids over-exaggerate everything and of course I was blowing everything out of proportion. He didn’t help me.

Even if some Good Samaritan were interested in helping, calling CPS is the worst thing an outsider can do. I had almost made the mistake of calling CPS myself, honestly, only to be caught and told that no one cared and that anything I found in a foster home would be worse than what I dealt with there. I was 13 at the time. I get it, Mom didn’t want to lose her kid. But over the years it was proven how right she was and now, as an adult, I have a hard time believing people genuinely care about me. Because no one did then. Because when I reached out for help, I was just a kid talking shit about my family. My perfect family. Because when a friend of mine reached out to a school counselor about her own abusive home situation, CPS did nothing and she got in more trouble for it happening. Abusers don’t blame CPS or whoever called them for nearly getting found out. They blame the victim. They make life ten times worse for the person they are already beating around. Because no one saves us. No one helps these kids. People don’t want to get involved, or they want to make a single phone call that they can feel good about and pat themselves on the back all while making a victim’s life more of a living hell.

No one really cares about abused kids.

No one takes the time to understand mental illness because it doesn’t affect them and obviously if you have a mental illness you are just lazy, unmotivated, and a pessimist.

Just learn to smile!

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