Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm not schizophrenic. Yes, I am. Shut up both of you.

Roses are red, Violets are blue
If I'm schizophrenic, then I am too
Whatever it takes to escape

-- The Chosen, Voltaire*

This week my fellow Criminal Minds and I are to self-diagnose the psychological ailments suffered by both us and our protagonists. First, I’d like to say that diagnosing my protagonist with any psychological ailment is difficult. Alex is a vampire and therefore doesn’t think like a human. What we, as humans, consider “abnormal” may not be so for a vampire. With that in mind, I set out to diagnose Alex’s particular brand of issues and finally found something that sort of fits.

The protagonist in Blood Law, Alexandra Sabian, is the daughter and youngest child of Bernard Sabian, a vampire whose murder was the catalyst for vampires revealing themselves to humans. Alex was five-years-old when Bernard was killed…and she discovered his decapitated and staked body. Given this rather traumatic experience, and others that occurred after she became an Enforcer with the Federal Bureau of Preternatural Investigation, I think I can reasonably say Alex has a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are flashbacks (reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating), bad dreams, avoiding places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience, feeling tense or “on edge,” and having angry outbursts. These are only a few in a long list of possible symptoms but are the most relevant to Alex and her situation.

However, confirming a diagnosis of PTSD in a vampire is extremely difficult. For example, Alex does experience very intense flashbacks to her father’s murder as well as bad dreams. The problem with saying these are a result of PTSD isn’t completely viable because Alex possesses a high degree of psychic ability so when she’s having flashbacks, she’s actually entering an altered mental state in which she’s able to communication with her dead father, Bernard.

Another example is the avoidance of places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. It’s a little hard for Alex to avoid being reminded of the murder when she’s working to solve a series of murders that are very similar to the way in which Bernard was killed. She would love to avoid dealing with the case, but as the only Enforcer in the area, she has no choice but to pursue it. As for feeling tense or “on edge” and having angry outbursts, it’s normal for anyone to feel that way when tracking a killer and your bosses decide to send in some unexpected help – who just happens to be your ex-fiancĂ©.

While Alex may suffer from some form of vampiric PTSD, given her different thought process and psychic abilities, it’s very difficult to say with 100% accuracy that she suffers from any psychological ailment and isn’t simply a vampire cop under a lot of stress. On the other hand, diagnosing myself is much easier.

My mental health isn’t a topic I usually because I do actually have an “ailment.” I was diagnosed about eight years ago with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I’ve been a “worrier” my entire life, but I didn’t have a “name” for it until recently. Thankfully, it’s a mild condition and doesn’t require medication – I can control the worst symptoms through behavior modification techniques – but it does present a number of problems, especially when I attend conferences or author signings because public speaking is a huge trigger for me.

Some of the symptoms commonly associated with GAD include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness. I’ve experienced all of these to varying degrees, largely depending on the amount of anxiety/stress I’m feeling at the moment. As a result of my generalized anxiety, I’ve also developed three severe phobias: arachnophobia (fear of spiders), astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning), and hydrophobia (fear of water). So naturally I live on the Gulf Coast where all three of these triggers are in abundance. I admit I have anxiety issues…I never said I was smart.

Dealing with GAD, for me, has mostly become about being able to recognize triggers and acknowledging that the anxiety is out of proportion for the situation and talking myself down to a more relaxed state – that’s where meditation comes in handy. I employ various types of meditation and visualization. I’ve found that art is a great outlet for my anxiety so I tend to draw, paint, and sculpt because these activities force me to relax and let my mind blank out for a while.

So, there you have it. You know my little secret. Be sure to tune in the rest of the week when we learn what neuroses lurk beneath the calm exteriors of my fellow Criminal Minds.


* Song lyrics from "The Chosen" by Voltaire


Sophie Littlefield said...

thanks for this thoughtful post, jeannie. and for speaking about ptsd and gad. I hope that you have found writing as therapeutic as I have...while i never set out specifically to address mental disorders in my work, looking back over the years I see that I have worked out thoughts and feelings over and over through characters and the situations I have put them through.

My own loved ones have dealt with addiction, ptsd, depression, eating disorders and other issues, and while I never discover that I've been thinking and writing about them - sometimes allegorically - until well after a story is complete, it's an effective tool for sorting through and discharging feelings and stuck places.

fiction as therapy...i'm a huge huge believer.

Gabi said...

Vampires don't see shrinks? I've watched Angel and that guy definitely has the blues. For that matter, Buffy, his girlfriend has some anger issues I think might need addressing.

The scary part is the more we look at our characters, the more of ourselves we see in them. Yikes.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thank you for the thoughtful and brave post, Jeannie!

Alex might have a few anger management issues, I think. Not that I'd ever tell her that personally...not even using a long distance phone call. Do not want to get on her bad side...

Shane Gericke said...

Tis a lovely and brave post you wrote, and I appreciate it very much, Jeannie. Can't speak about vampires, but you're pretty cool. Even when it's storming out.

Graham Brown said...

I know I',m late to this but I wanted to comment. Jeannie - I would never have guessed. I still remember our first "author breakfast" at Random House and my palms were sweating but you seamed calm, cool and collected. In fact I remember it being calming just to hang out and talk with you instead of trying to mix and mingle as we were supposed to. Truth be told - amoung all the other great things that have come from this author gig - meeting you and most of the other people on this panel/blog is right at the top.