1. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Mentally Ill Protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Oscar Leigh, Jan 25, 2016.

    Hey guys, so I have a main character, one of five/ten(I'll explain later) called Tai who has anorexia and depression.His condition both stem from his traumatic experience in his homeland of Laos. As fighting occurred in the area, his village slowly declined, leaving them increasingly nervous each day. One day soldiers came and, aware of his parents sympathy for their enemy, shot them and his older sister. His mother had told them to hide but his sister was seen and had to stay outside. From a closet in his house he watched his parents get shot. Then the soldiers searched the house and found him. Cruelly, one of them forced him to eat some rice that had his mothers blood on it, as a joke because he was skinny. The soldiers were distracted by enemies before they could kill him, and he ended up immigrating to Australia, illegally because he was a poor orphan. Flash to the modern day and the story, he has anorexia and depression because of his inability to truly move one. He feels survivor's guilt and has attempted suicide, and attempts again near the beginning of the story. What would be you guys advise on how to portray these conditions?Are there certain cliches I would want to especially avoid? What might I do to represent the sympathy of the character against the stigma? etc.
     
  2. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I might have to change the anorexia diagnosis. I don't really know what you'd call it. It's not a weight loss thing, it's disgust with food and self-destructiveness.
     
  3. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think he actually classifies under PTSD.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Your post prompted me to do some googling, to learn more about the condition of 'survivor's guilt.' There's lots to be had, but this one seemed less clinical and more thoughtful than some others. While it seems to emphasise more mundane survivals than your Laotian boy, such as being cured of a disease others died from or surviving an accident that killed other people, there are some thoughts which might lead you to useful ideas you can use in your story.

    What's missing in this article, though, is the recognition bit of the process. It's assuming the diagnosis.

    http://virginiatech.healthandperformancesolutions.net/Anniversary%20Articles/Survivor%20Guilt%20What%20Long-term%20Survivors%20Don't%20Talk%20About.pdf
     
  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Disgust with food is part of anorexia for many sufferers. And it may not be about weight loss but about physically occupying less space in the world - a subtle difference, but a difference. If he was hiding, and found because a part of him stuck out, that might make more sense? He wants to be as small as possible?

    Anorexia can also be about control. When external factors are out of our control and making us feel helpless, we can at least control our food intake. I would imagine your character has felt helpless and out of control a lot.

    Personally I think anorexia is quite a fitting disease for him to suffer from.
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Okay, so I'm going to rephrase the symptoms. If anyone here has enough knowledge to help me figure out what this would be called that would be called. He has survivor's guilt, especially with his sister who he idolises. He is depressed. He has traumatic flashbacks. And he also has an instinctive disgust response to food that combines with his guilt and sadness to leave him undernourished. What is his food thing? I'm thinking it all adds up to just PTSD and depression with odd symptoms. I hope so because it's not supposed to be "guy with a million mental illnesses". It's supposed to represent a mixture of fear, pain, sadness and guilt manifested as psychological issues.
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, you don't have to give him a diagnosis in the book. You just show his behaviour and let the reader stick a label on it, if they want. There's no need to actually name the disease, unless you're planning for him to seek professional help in the story?
     
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  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I checked and it doesn't seem like the weight loss element can be separated from it from the basic results. This is kind of annoying. I had a nice little "anorexia and depression caused by trauma and survivors guilt" diagnosis. Now I don't know.
     
  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Many anorexics are overweight, especially near the beginning of their illness. Of course, weight loss is an unavoidable side effect when someone is restricting food dangerously (although many anorexics also binge), but it may not be their goal. An anorexic person may not want to fit into a smaller belt size, they just want to take up less space. It's difficult to explain. But you want him to be undernourished, right? If you don't want him to lose weight, just show him in a cycle of starving himself for a time and then binging on low-nutrition foods when he loses control.
     
  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    There is a psychiatrist involved yes. His friend, Ivana, thought he was getting better, but then he gets nervous feelings of pressure in his life as well as experiencing what he believes was a hallucination. After Ivana talks him out of suicide, that shouldn't have been "attempts" before, more "very strongly contemplates with a knife in his hand while locked in the bathroom", she sends him to a doctor she knows, she's a social worker. And technically, this isn't a book idea. I'll probably have to make it a book/book series but I envisioned as a television series.
     
  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    He doesn't binge. The whole point is he has to be encouraged to eat. But it's not because he wants to lose weight, he just doesn't want to eat. The "take up less space" thing could be used but I wouldn't describe it as that. Again, it's an instinctive disgust response to food and his own self-destructive guilt. He wants to deal with all the bad feelings and he wants to feel less like a problem child and a loser, but he also can't help himself.
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well I think your best bet is to include all the symptoms you want, and not label them. I don't know if that works with your scenes with Ivana and the social worker, but it's what I'd try to do. I described a character as having a "phobia", and then found it too limiting. When I changed it to just a "fear of", suddenly it was much more flexible. Labels can be restrictive.
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Just so you guys know, this is not all he's about. He also has a whole bunch of other stuff going on in the story. That's definietely a stereotype I'm already working against, the often-times role where mentally ill characters are defined by their problems. But he's not. He also has a friendship drama, a love story, and interaction with a version of himself from an alternate reality.
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Ivana is a social worker. She's his social worker who he befriended. The doctor is a separate character called Henry. He's blind, and specialises in dealing with traumatic or anxious conditions.
     
  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    @Tenderiser Why is phobia restricting? it's just a particularly potent irrational fear. Don't even get me started on labels, check the thread called "Gay Or Not Gay" for my opinion on the rejection of labels due to "restriction" or "simplification". I'd rather rant about that on only one thread. This about Tai and his conditions.
     
  16. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    @Oscar Leigh, why can't your character just have a disordered relationship with food, or an eating disorder that isn't anorexia?
     
  17. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    That's what I'm saying. I don't think it counts as anorexia. I think the non-depression symptoms could probably classify under PSTD. He had a traumatic experience. He has flashbacks. His food thing is through association with the trauma. And he has survivor's guilt.
     
  18. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    If you want a clinical description, "stimulus aversion due to traumatic event" should be fine. As you probably know, PTSD and anorexia have criteria for a diagnosis. The failure to meet criteria for either does not mean that the individual's pathology would not meet the criteria for a disorder (i.e., all the hallmarks of what makes a disorder a disorder may be present). EDNOS, which is a real diagnosis, may apply here; an Eating Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) has the most open of criteria, but I didn't check what it is.
     
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  19. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    So, on the subject of my initial question, what do you guys think in terms of portraying him? Other than avoiding him feeling like just a mentally ill guy? Like, is he too troubled? I don't want him to feel like he has a million problems. And how would go guys say his problems should interact with his love life? Anyone ever been in relationship with a mentally ill guy before?
     
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  20. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although flashbacks are the most commonly portrayed symptom of PTSD, intrusive symptoms generally decline for most people within 3-6 months. Constrictive symptoms are the type of symptoms more likely to be long-term. If you want to be realistic, I would recommend not focusing on the former in neglect of the latter.
     
  21. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I'm sorry, I don't know what that means. Are you saying get rid of the flashbacks? I could do that. They're not as important as the guilt, sadness and the food thing. I put them in because they made sense considering his other symptoms and his inability to move on. But it'd work without them.
     
  22. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Maybe I should get rid of the PTSD-esque symptoms and just do anorexia and depression after all. There do seem to be ways to explain it other than weight loss obsession, if you read the functions of eating disorders section of this article.http://www.addictionpro.com/article/eating-disorders-and-motivation. That would give me a clear streamline for what he suffers from and make sure he doesn't feel like "guy with a million mental illnesses." It's also what I originally planned so fits best into the framework without edits.
     
  23. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't have to get rid of the flashbacks; some people do continue to experience them long-term. I just wanted to give you a bit more information on PTSD symptoms since they are commonly misunderstood.

    I agree with others who said you shouldn't feel constrained to fit the character perfectly into a diagnosis. If PTSD doesn't fit what you're going for, then don't include it.
     
  24. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    There are three reasons I am trying to find/make a specific diagnosis. First of all, he has seen a doctor before, its' one of the reasons he was getting a little better. Second of all, a lot of medical terms are somewhat commonplace these days, if you have anorexia people around you will probably recognise it once they spot the symptoms. And Tai is quite self-educated, he's spent a lot of his time seeking out learning since he got to Australia, which for reference was when he was 17 and he is now 27 . he's actually a nerd really, especially with his shy, nervous and gentle disposition. And the third reason is he undergoes more thorough treatment with Doctor Stanton(Henry) who eventually cures him (but that's way, way latter).
     
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  25. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    You could go a totally unique way with this. How about he develops a phobia of everything white, due to being forced to eat the rice?

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/leukophobia

    Now that could make your story truly unique!
     
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