For those of you who don’t know about my latest project Stolentime, I’m going to give you a gist of what this thing is about.
Gene White is a suicidal teen rescued by an eccentric puppeteer who takes Gene to a world far removed from his own. Fairytales are no longer in one’s imagination in this place, but for Gene, this means being stalked by the demons in his head, mainly a man in a gold suit who threatens to destroy Gene’s already imbalanced mind.
There are young adult books out there that deal with mental illness, but it is either an undiagnosed mental illness or if it is diagnosed, it’s oftentimes depression. There are very few books where the teen knows the diagnosis and fully understands what having this diagnosis means. What’s more is that there are very few young adult MAINSTREAM novels on other severe mental illnesses: schizophrenia, panic disorder, shizo affective disorder, bipolar disorder, ect…
Usually these illnesses only exist in other characters who are not the protagonist. What’s more is that these illnesses are often stigmatized in the protagonist’s mind because depression is arguably an uninteresting illness and makes the person seem sane compared to the person experiencing hallucinations or a bipolar depressive episode with psychotic features. So while I have made Gene depressed, I decided to take it a step further and diagnose him with psychotic depression not just for the added darkness, but because Gene is taken to a world where he must suspend his disbelief but is having a hard time doing so because he regularly hears and sees things.
We take it for granted that characters are just going to accept these fantastical things they are presented with, especially if they live in a world where that’s not common at all, but I wanted to ask the question, “Well, what if they don’t?”
So if you hallucinate in psychotic depression, how does this differ from schizophrenia? Well, with schizophrenia, you’re often not depressed, and if you are, the depression is a symptom, not the actual syndrome. So Gene has suffered for a while hearing and seeing things. In fact, they can become so real for Gene that he gets lost in the hallucination and can’t even remind himself that it’s not real since his senses are so overloaded with wrong brain signals. If Gene weren’t depressed, he wouldn’t be experiencing hallucinations. This is not so in someone with schizophrenia.
I’ve had mild psychosis when I was depressed and in a mixed episode–mostly delusions and paranoia–but it’s common in bipolar depression and mixed episodes and doesn’t warrant another diagnosis. But what Gene goes through is flat out dangerous.
In the first chapter, Gene is hallucinating a shadow with a dagger. He begs this shadow to kill him because none of his methods have worked, but the shadow goes away. His mom comes in for a little bit to comfort him, but Gene is still undergoing some serious psychosis, which eventually prompts him to run away from home. Before he even leaves the house, he sees the shadow with the dagger again, so readers at this point know just how dangerous it is for Gene to be leaving his own house.
Now I don’t just touch upon the aspects of psychosis, which Gene is very aware of when it at first begins, but I do touch upon the aspects of depression, which he is also very aware of for someone his age. But he doesn’t know why he’s depressed. But he does mention he’s heard voices since he was a child but was eventually able to drown them out with thoughts of his own. That isn’t so anymore, and he doesn’t understand why.
So I ultimately chose psychotic depression because I really wanted to write a self-aware teen who understands all aspects of depression, while demolishing the trope that the main character knows what he/she heard/saw. These characters never stop to question if they’ve just been hallucinating, especially because they’ve never seen these fantastical things before in their lives. They just accept them, but not Gene.