I saw an article on Facebook that I had to click on. The reason I was drawn to the article is the title, Methods to our Madness. I am drawn to anything with the word madness in it. I am always curious to read what other people have to say about that topic. I wasn’t disappointed. The article was about a book recently written by Carmiel Banasky, The Suicide of Claire Bishop.
One of the characters in Banasky’s book has schizophrenia. I am both interested and put off by that fact. I am interested to see how someone without schizophrenia portrays the illness in fiction. I am put off by it, because Banasky does not have schizophrenia and I feel like there are plenty of good writers with schizophrenia that can accurately describe and portray our experience.
I guess I have to accept that authors can write about whatever they choose, especially in fiction. It does bother me though to have another character with a mental illness (especially schizophrenia) where that character’s experience is probably not at all close to what the actual illness is like for me or others. In the interview the author says she has a couple of friends who have schizophrenia and she has never read anything like their experiences. That sounds like the author’s head is in the right place, but from the description of her character, he doesn’t have symptoms that sound like the disease me, or others like me, suffer from.
In the interview it says that the character, West, makes connections and finds symbols in everything. I have to admit, that has been an experience of mine when I am psychotic, but it is not something I struggle with on a daily basis. I haven’t read the book (but I intend to) but my fear is that people will have another “character” (like Rain Man was for autism) to stereotype those of us with schizophrenia by.
When a white writer creates characters that are people of color, I think the author is under incredible pressure to create real and authentic characters or risk being called a racist, and exploiting the experience of other people. I can only hope that the same is true for people who write about mental illnesses. If they choose to write about mental illness, and do it poorly, I hope there is some kind of outrage about it. We don’t need any more stereotypes or stigma to live with.
The other thing that bothers me is that it is difficult for people with schizophrenia to break into the literary field as authors of our own stories. I fear that if writers without mental illnesses decide to define and create stories about those of us with mental illnesses, they will be creating “our stories” for us whether those stories are accurate or not. I feel like authors will be stealing our voices and we may never get the opportunity to speak for ourselves.
Lastly, this author didn’t score points with me when she referred to people who have schizophrenia as schizophrenics. You don’t call someone with any other illness by their illness. We are people first, we are not defined by that illness. Oh boy, this might be another case of just-what-we-don’t-need.