Mental Illness in Fiction

There’s a lot of mental illness in the world, and there’s a lot of mental illness in literature.

And why not? Fiction frequently reflects real life (albeit often in a heightened way) and many readers have suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, etc. — or have family members, friends, and coworkers with various such conditions.

Mental illness — which of course ranges from mild to severe — can also help give literature the important elements of drama, heartbreak, curiosity-evoking content, cliffhanger situations, etc. Will characters with mental illness harm themselves or others? Can they function well in society, perhaps with the help of medication and/or therapy? How much does income level determine how people with mental illness are treated? Do the characters live at home or in a facility? Are some of them misdiagnosed? Do characters who know characters with mental illness act resentfully, compassionately, or both ways in their interactions? Heck, people with mental illness can’t help the fact that their brain chemistry has wired them differently — yet the resulting behavior is still not easy for family and friends.

One of the most famous novels dealing with mental illness is Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set in a psychiatric ward. Known to many for its movie version, the book includes the sobering scenario of ward residents being treated harshly by Nurse Ratched.

Indeed, literature has many examples of the mentally ill not getting much compassion. For instance, the far-from-affluent Connie Ramos of Marge Piercy’s part-sci-fi novel Woman on the Edge of Time is institutionalized despite probably not being mentally ill at all — just legitimately angry at, and stressed with, what life has dealt her.

But there are other instances of characters being treated kindly by mental-health professionals — often in cases where the family has the money to pay for superior care. One example is in Jamie’s Children by Susan Moore Jordan, whose Niall character gets some darn good help that might help him save a relationship and create a music career.

Other literary works containing characters with mental illness, possible mental illness, depression, severe social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. — or who are “eccentric” or “slow” — include Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (“madwoman in the attic” Bertha), Jean Rhys’ Jane Eyre prequel Wide Sargasso Sea (a more sympathetic Bertha as a younger woman), Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (comically delusional title character), Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (despairing title character), Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (psychologically sick Raskolnikov), and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (reclusive Boo Radley).

Also: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (shell-shocked war veteran Septimus Smith), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night (had-a-breakdown Nicole Diver), Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping (spacey Sylvie), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (dual-personality title character), Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (beleaguered Lucy Ashton), Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (depressed/suicidal Esther Greenwood), Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (schizophrenic Deborah Blau), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (possibly psychotic title character), and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (hallucinating/patronized-by-husband female narrator).

Several of the above fictional works were semi-autobiographical.

One of the most famous examples of an author who struggled with mental illness was Janet Frame, whose scheduled lobotomy was canceled when a collection of her stories won a prestigious literary prize in New Zealand.

Then there are works featuring characters on the autism spectrum — a neuro-developmental condition, not a mental illness. One such person is Christopher of Mark Haddon’s novel-turned-play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

What are your favorite novels featuring characters who are or may be mentally ill? Any thoughts on the way that’s depicted in literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished and am now rewriting/polishing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

114 thoughts on “Mental Illness in Fiction

  1. Fascinating topic. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is clearly the best depiction of a disturbed mind that I have encountered in all of literature. While I did not appreciate the saccharine Hollywood ending of “Silver Linings Playbook,” Matthew Quick’s novel inspiration was quite compelling.

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    • Thank you, Tony!

      You may be right about “Crime and Punishment” being “the best depiction of a disturbed mind (in) literature.” That riveting book really gets inside Raskolnikov’s head. One of my favorite novels, and I’m sure many other readers feel the same way.

      Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the “Silver Linings Playbook” movie or read the novel that inspired it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This Much I Know Is True by Wally Lamb. I highly recommend this. I really enjoyed it. It’s about twin brother’s and one of them has Schizophrenic Paranoia. It’s a great read, covering mental illness, dysfunctional family, domestic abuse. This is a lengthy book, but well worth the read. Humor, shocking surprises and secrets, too. You want mental illness, this book covers it well. Enjoy! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, tlohuis, for the comment!

      I will look for that Wally Lamb book at my local library, and try to read it sometime during the next few months. I’ve heard very good things about it, and your excellent/eloquent/a bit wry description totally confirms that.

      (There’s mental illness in my immediate family, so I imagine I would recognize a lot in the book.)

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      • I just came across this post from tlohuis, and I’ll second her recommendation of this book by Wally Lamb. I read both this and his first book, “She’s Come Undone,” another great read, although I stopped at that one, perhaps because of the length the older I got.

        As you know, I’ve suffered through mental illness, and I can certainly understand anyone who’s gone through the same type of things, although it’s different for everyone. I just finished reading one of Carrie Fisher’s non-fiction works, “Wishful Drinking,” in which she spoke honestly and very humorously about her years of alcoholism, drug abuse, and mostly bipolar disease. I believe that many of us suffer from a chemical imbalance or a misfiring of our brain synapses, as well as a strong genetic component, all of which may be triggered by some psychological event.

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        • Thanks for seconding tlohuis’ recommendation, Kat Lib!

          Very sorry you’ve dealt with mental illness. It is indeed something that genetics and brain chemistry can make one susceptible to, with difficult life events of course not helping. My brother, the late mother of my first wife, and others in my extended family have had mental illness. Not an easy thing.

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      • It’s been a pretty long time since I read it, but I’ve not forgotten about it. The details are a little less clear. I have ADHD, so once I read a book and I’m on to the next one, about all I can remember is if it was good or not and would I recommend it and just remembering it was about mental illness. I found it to be very good. It’s a lengthy book, but I really enjoyed it. Let me know what you think, if you end up giving it a read. Thanks. Have a gread night or day, depending on where you may be. Peace out! 🙂

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  3. I love this post for many reasons. It is obviously topical, but also it highlights so many great works. It’s funny I haven’t actually thought of these as pertaining to mental illness until now. But yeah, duh, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is definitely about mental illness. Perhaps I focus too much on the actual syntax and semantics. Anyway, how about Of Mice and Men?

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    • Thank you for the kind words, JamisonWrites . com!

      I agree — “Of Mice and Men” is very relevant to this post.

      And I hear you about how novels “about” a certain topic (whether mental illness or something else) may not strike us as being about that topic, at least immediately. If the book is good enough, we probably think first of other things such as the plot, and/or how interesting the characters are, and/or (as you alluded to) how skillful the writing is.

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        • Thank you, beepete! I hear you — mental illness is not much fun at all. My brother, my late mother-in-law, and others I know have gone through it. And I agree that there can be a certain creativity connected with mental illness — those dealing with it might look at the world somewhat differently, might have high-energy moments, and/or might have more time to be creative. I guess it depends on the person and situation.

          Liked by 2 people

    • bebe, I follow TV news and TV newscasters so little that I’d only vaguely heard of Elizabeth Vargas. But a shame she had such severe anxiety that she turned to alcohol, and a shame her children had to deal with all that. Marc Cohn sounds like a real jerk for filing for divorce at that time.

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      • My heart goes to her children growing up like that and that worries me Dave. She was known more for her glamour I supposed and we all know TV looks for talent with TV-face.
        But you might know Cohn for his music

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, bebe, stuff like that is VERY hard on the kids. 😦

          And you’re right — TV news wants looks and glamor in their hosts, especially the female hosts. Sexist. Fox might be the biggest offender.

          “Walking in Memphis” is the one song I (and I suppose many others) know Marc Cohn by.

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          • There was a happy ending of something gone so bad…my cleaning lady very attractive in her late 30`s with 3 children. Early on in her 20`s she was drawn to a good looking man who ended up being severely alcoholic. They never married and quarreled all the time. Often he had drunken binges somehow sobered up for work , yet times ran into trouble with cops, license suspended back and forth to jail. She found vodka bottles all over the house in the mornings. She was back to her parents small house with her kids..I don`t know why she was constantly going back. Her Church tried to help him nothing worked he was in jail again.
            Eventually she met a man , whom she knew perhaps little long ago and contacted through FB. His wife was unfaithful yet he has 4 children.

            To make long story short last night they got married. She is the niece of my builder and I was told there can not be any kinder or gentler man than Scott who is a math teacher in H.S.

            So now they are a married couple with 7 children.
            Oh the ex wife married to someone with money ..constantly sues him first for the house now wants full custody of the 4 kids when she does not take care of them.

            Real story could be stranger than fiction Dave 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Wow, bebe. What a complicated situation — depressing and inspiring. Severe alcoholism and greed are no fun. 😦 But glad a happy marriage seems to have come out of this, with one more kid than in “The Brady Bunch”!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Oh also the addict still in jail has two other older sons, one in college and I understand both turned out to be great young men stayed with their mom.
                Nicole, who just got married is also an excellent mom and her children always comes first and remained in touch with those other two older boys as well.

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  4. A few weeks back I saw a video clip of a woman going bonkers at Barnes and Nobles ( I felt bad for the store worker) immediately I knew what really was happening. Paul Sheldon is the worlds greatest author, I know you know this—YOU BETTER!

    I can’t think of a scarier form of mental illness to encounter than that of Annie Wilkes. Say, I would like to get the same eyeglasses frame you have–I’m your number one fan. 🙂 Watch for the Stephen King nod, too funny.

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  5. Bruno Schultz was a Polish writer in the first third of the 20th century, killed by an SS officer in the streets of his town.

    He produced two books of short stories, The Street of Crocodiles and The Sanitorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, which are masterpieces of a sort of magic surrealism. In an idiosyncratically profound and even occasionally delightful way, Schultz managed over the course of these stories, among other subjects of his abiding interest, to describe his father’s slow descent, manifest at home and in his business, into intractable madness.

    Schultz’ artistry cannot be overpraised, in my opinion. Seek him out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I’ll look for one of those Bruno Schultz collections at my local library. Your phrase “magic surrealism” is intriguing; I certainly like “magic realism” (minus the “sur”) from the likes of Marquez, Isabel Allende, etc.

      BTW, I’m in the middle of Sartre’s “Nausea,” and am struggling with it a bit. Highly original much of the time and fascinating some of the time, but I can only seem to read a few pages at a time before my interest wanders. Still trying… 🙂

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      • As I remember it, there was more care and attention paid to mental states than the usual elements of fiction such as plot.

        Hope your perseverance, if you apply it here, is rewarded.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your first paragraph describes things exactly, jhNY! It’s definitely an intellectual tour de force, with the “plot” consisting of things like sitting in cafes…

          It’s not that long a novel (I’m on page 93 of 238), so I might just finish it…

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  6. The Turn of the Screw may or may not depict a person suffering from mental illness, making it one of the most compelling and disturbing of all Victorian Era ghost stories, that is, if there are no ghosts therein. Or if there are.

    Robert Walzer’s The Assistant features an naively incompetent fellow who is meant to facilitate the sale and distribution of useless inventions, thanks to his employment by their delusional and narcissistic inventor. Can’t say, on reflection, if anybody in the novel could fairly be called sane. Of course, its author spent most of his daze in a mental hospital.

    Of course also, madness among the artistic is expected and well-distributed, at least since the Romantic Era– from Chatterton to Plath and beyond. That the mad might find a place in art has led many to itself.

    ” I have seen the best minds of my generation…”

    That madness has been used to muzzle the unpleasantness of protest by repressive regimes of every stripe, including democracies, is a matter of record.

    Making those that define madness among us more dangerous than those who suffer being so defined.

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    • Very true about “The Turn of the Screw,” jhNY. Novels can be so intriguing when the reader is not sure whether a character is mentally ill or not.

      “The Assistant” is quite a book. Thanks for recommending it a while back (perhaps two years ago?). The employer in that novel IS rather daffy.

      An apt Allen Ginsberg excerpt there…

      And I will “Howl” this last thought: Your final two paragraphs are spot-on.

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  7. Hi Dave, I’m getting to finally get back with my main comment, as the last few days have been crazy to say the least. Be that as it may, I think I’ve shared with you and others on this blog about my own struggles with major depression and anxiety. Back in 1988 I was hospitalized for the depression along with anorexia and had to be tube fed to gain back the weight I’d lost. I spent a week in the hospital and was eventually sent to the med-psych floor of that hospital for five weeks. It was a necessary part of my recovery, but it seems so surreal when I think about going through psychotherapy, art therapy, stupid crafts, and music therapy. A few of the most comic things were a senile patient coming into my room and stealing items from my bathroom medicine cabinet; the night when my sister’s cleaner brought over her fundie church’s board of deacons to come pray for my soul (one of the nice things was that the doors were locked, so I had to approve their entrance, which I did not,) and at some silly music therapy event, wherein the director brought us all together to sing some David Bowie music. As most of the others were older than I and probably been suffering for quite a while, one of them said, “Ziggy Who”? But I’ve always called that time as when I was in the “Looney Bin.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • So sorry, Kat Lib, about your major ordeal in 1988. I’m glad it’s in your distant past, and it’s nice that you remember it in a partly humorous (hilarious) way, but it must have been a devastating and miserable time. Admirable and impressive the way you’ve overcome that experience.

      (My apologies for not replying sooner. I was at my local Township Council meeting, where a majority of the members passed an ordinance for a huge downtown development that the vast majority of the town is against. “Democracy” in action. 😦 )

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      • Dave, my guy friend who’s been with me for all of the events for over 43 years, has what I feel is the best response for me when talking about this is that he says to me, “We know that you’re certifiable, and you have the papers to prove it!” 🙂 I’ve found that humor is the best way for me to deal with mental illness. Thanks to you, bebe, and Susan for all the kind comments about what I and so many others have been through. It’s been much appreciated, and also for all the literary connections!

        Liked by 2 people

        • You’re very welcome, Kat Lib, and thanks again for sharing some of your life history.

          Yes, humor is a great way to deal with mental illness (and a lot of other things). Often, “humor is born of pain,” or whatever the cliche is. I guess many cliches are true…

          Speaking of quotes, great one from your guy friend!

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    • So sorry that you had to go through that, Kat Lib. I’ve never been hospitalised, however attended a few programs to help overcome the worst of my agoraphobia, and it also seems surreal to look back and remember what ‘activities’ I spent my time on, and the silly things that I would enjoy, or the little things that I’d consider a major achievement. Sadly, I think the illness is something that will always be with me, but it is nice sometimes to look back and remember what I’ve overcome

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    • Kat Lib so sorry for your ordeal and now looking back at those days with a wonderful sense of humor says a lot about you.
      Life is a struggle and people who cares suffers the most. Now you have your Pomchi that will work wonders to your life. Just know they are very smart, alert and runs fast.

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  8. I hadn’t read Joyce Carole Oates in many years, but just recently finished “A Fair Maiden.” Her antagonists are quite unstable, hence her stories can be perverse, sinister, dark. That’s why they are page turners, you never know the conditions will happen, the past comes into the present to learn more about her multi-dimensional characters. Mr. Kidder, an elder man of 68 in this tale, lives in the past, clearly mentally unstable, wrote children’s books decades ago, is obsessed with the story of the fair maiden. His family wealth makes him both elusive and mysterious to inhabitants in this south Jersey town near Cape May. In private, he thinks himself the king who, with the help of the fair maiden will ease him into his death after he marries her. He is fixated on a teenage girl thus takes the young, innocent Katya into his web. Always adds to intrigue having unbalanced people, would not be as creative a read in my opinion and Oates has always been excellent in her on the fringe depictions, people on the cusp whether it be violence which surfaces or mental despondence.

    Having malaise, some instability at times is normal to the human condition in my opinion. There are holistic ways to work with it in my opinion. if not for exercise, with rigor to enhance, not just for the physical but mental balance, I may be in trouble, right here in River City! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele!

      I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve never read a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (just a short story or two). I should really remedy that. Are there a few of her books you’d most recommend? Is “A Fair Maiden” one of them? Outstanding description of it by you.

      Yes, almost everyone feels malaise or depressed on occasion — sometimes for no discernible reason, other times for very obvious reasons (ill health, death of someone close, divorce, bad boss, layoff, financial difficulties…). And holistic methods of dealing with it are important and worth trying, whether one is in “River City” or not. 🙂

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      • HI Dave
        The first book I read back in college by Oates was “Because Its Bitter Because Its My Heart.” One of my favorites. Deals with a recurring theme, boxing and is in depth character study. I also read “We Were The Mulvaneys” which I recommend. “Black Water” I have on my bookshelf is about a Ted Kennedy-esque tale as it takes place on a bridge, car accident, Chapaquidic(sp) references. She has SO MANY books! Just check out your local library and you will see the volumes, how many shelves her books encompass. I would say “A Fair Maiden” was not as good as some others but still a page turner, very well written as she is one of the best in my opinion.

        Thanks.
        -Michele

        Liked by 1 person

        • Will look for “Because…” or “We Were The Mulvaneys.” Thanks, Michele! Joyce Carol Oates IS an incredibly prolific writer.

          BTW, I’ll soon be reading a second novel by an author you once recommended to me — Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” I had previously read “On Beauty” — excellent!

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          • Dave, I would also recommend “We Were the Mulvaneys.” I was reading quite a few Oates’ books when I was in college, but I lost interest when she became so infatuated with boxing. I don’t want to hurt any feelings here, but I personally don’t like boxing and won’t read a book or watch a movie that features it. I know that it’s probably irrational, but I haven’t even watched “Raging Bull,” which has been universally praised, or any of the “Rocky” movies that take place in Philadelphia, that has been my home town for many years. I think that the most affecting work I’ve read of hers was “The Widow’s Story,” regarding the death of her first husband of 46 years. It was reminiscent of Joan Didion’s memoir of her husband’s sudden death, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” There are many memoirs out there today, but these two were very moving. Does a man or woman who unexpectedly loses their spouse of many years become mentally ill? I don’t think so; I think it’s more situational depression from grief than anything else, not to make it less important or debilitating than from severe clinical depression.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you, Kat Lib! Two “We Were the Mulvaneys” recommendations. 🙂

              I’m not a fan of boxing, either, and it’s hard for me to understand why anyone — male or female — would be. So violent, and so destructive to the boxers’ brains.

              “The Widow’s Story” does sounds like a great memoir, a la Joan Didion’s one with the same subject.

              And, yes, situational depression from grief is different than clinical depression, but both can be devastating in their respective ways.

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  9. I am in the middle of a very surreal book in which the main character is a neurotic, narcissistic, delusional blowhard who is on the precipice of becoming the leader of one of the largest democracies. This man has become increasingly crazier as the story progresses, but had enough support to garner a major party’s nomination. Many citizens follow his every word as if he had any clue, but he is still behind in the polls. I hope the novel ends with the voters realizing what a shameless, pathological man he is, but the tension is building. A very frightening story! I am tempted to put it down, so that I don’t find out how it ends.

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  10. Dave ” Of Mice and Men”, by the great writer and one of my favorite one John Steinbeck is the story about two migrant workers George and Lennie in CA during the great depression. George was very smart and Lennie was large and strong with limited mental capabilities. He never did realize his strength was his great enemy because he loved everything small and soft and when he touches them he kills them. George was his protector yet he always needed Lennie.

    On TKAM by Harper Lee…Boo Radley, was handicapped mentally and always feared and thought to be dangerous was one of the Mockingbirds always misunderstood character. Yet ended up saving Jem`s life also Scout`s always protected them and thought they were his own. We never knew what caused Boo to be a recluse.

    In Dragon Tattoo Trilogy , by Steig Larsson, Lisbeth Salander was declared to be legally incompetent yet her abusive father was a criminal mastermind who always was abusive.

    So everything and character in the world are relative and to me Donald Trump is mentally sick and not fit to be the President..so be afraid as I am. .

    Liked by 1 person

    • bebe, GREAT examples of characters and books relating to this topic. Well described!

      Boo Radley is such a touching character and, as you note, a very good person amid his mental challenges.

      It was so infuriating to read the way Lisbeth Salander was treated by her father, various high-powered men, and others in Stieg Larsson’s riveting trilogy. They were the sick people — disgusting, corrupt, criminal, etc. Donald Trump, as you observe, is clearly in that realm. 😦

      Speaking of Steinbeck’s works, “The Grapes of Wrath” has the secondary character of Noah (the oldest Joad son) who may have some mental issues.

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      • Speaking of DT a while ago I posted to you spotting a red van in the grocery store on Sunday ? The car had painted in white in bold DT 2016 in the back windshield which is okay I suppose.
        But the van had confederate flag all over not okay by me. I looked for any mean looking big fool of a man in the store and never found out who was driving it. Later snapped the picture..

        Last Sunday again…in the handicapped zone, so I stood there and checked the van out has additional big sign ” Finally someone has balls “. So I go in the store there was an elderly lady in wheel chair was that her ?
        And then I looked out someone has started the van, and I stood by the van and looked at a heavy set woman with dark hair with another skinny man with unshaven look.
        HA..now I know how fools look like 🙂

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        • Wow, what a scenario you described, bebe!

          A confederate flag and a Trump sign is such a sickening combination — though those two things certainly go together. 😦 It’s shocking that any woman would support the sexist Trump, who has said so many vile things about women, but I guess nothing should surprise us any more.

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    • bebe, I think it was you who mentioned having a pomchi dog? I moved into a single family home a few months ago, had a fence installed in part of my back yard, with the intention of adopting a rescue dog. A local no-kill rescue had two pomchis come available a week ago, so I adopted one (the other one was being treated for mange). The very first night while I was sleeping she made the Great Escape and friends and family came over Sunday to try to find her. I finally called my local county SPCA, and sure enough someone there had picked her up. Since I brought her back home, she hasn’t left my side or my lap. At any rate, thanks to you, bebe, for making me aware of this cross breed. She is very sweet and affectionate.

      Dave, as I was reading the column and comments, I was thinking about the
      importance of animals to people who are dealing with mental illness, depression, grief, sadness and loneliness, old age, etc. There are service dogs who are specifically trained to help people in this way, which I think is so great.

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      • Kat Lib, so wonderful that you adopted that dog and that she was found after “the escape”! Sounds like she has no desire to go AWOL again without companionship and food.

        And, yes, animals can be such stress reducers for those with mental illness — and for everyone else.

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      • Yes..Kat Lib mine is a rescue Pomchi , from Nashville humane, I`ll change my avi to that so you would know. Yes she runs like a bullet train..just turned eleven. Golden color and coats so soft and velvety about 2 inches long and does need any cut. here is a picture from internet and she very much looks like that . My constant companion sleeps in bed with me and very intelligent.

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        • bebe, she’s absolutely adorable, and if I weren’t so photographically challenged I’d send you Willow’s photo. She is almost all black, with just a touch of white on her front, and just so sweet and friendly. Unfortunately, I took her to the new vet today because I was concerned about her sneeze/cough, and it turns out that not only does she have a touch of kennel cough, but some mange as well. This is after taking her home from the rescue last Saturday and being told that the pomchi she was turned in with was being treating for mange as well, but it was not contagious -Ha! But at least she’s now being treated for both.

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          • Kat Lib, Willow what a beautiful name 🙂 she will be just fine..

            When i brought mine home from Nashville Humane , she was a 6 pounder and they wrongfully told me she was six months. For any rescue animals they neuter every single one irrespective their age. Vet was shocked ..looking at her teeth she said she is barely 6 weeks old.
            Then she had urinary track infection among other things. She needed a special diet for that. Then I though she had difficulty in breathing so another run to the Vet and was told it was reverse sneeze which will never go away but will reduce significantly. Severely allergic to Penicillin found out in a hard way.
            Now she is eleven and a constant joy to us .

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  11. Wonderful column, Dave. I’ve read all the books you’ve mentioned (except The Yellow Wallpaper and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) with mentally challenged characters. The Bell Jar was particularly disconcerting when, in her mother’s absence, Esther Greenwood went under the house, dug out a hole in the darkest place, and, having taken sleeping pills in advance and in abundance, squished herself into the tiny space, enclosed it behind her so she would never be found. I could barely breathe while reading that passage, it was so filled with pain and finality. She lost her battle when they found and saved her despite her huge efforts to conceal herself. In real life, I think Sylvia Plath died before she died.

    I was also riveted by the character of Virginia Cunningham in The Snake Pit, by Mary Jane Ward. Doctors in the asylum performed a lobotomy on her, after which she could not remember where she was, why she was there, why she was being bullied. She experienced brutal treatment, hunger, freezing temperatures, forced ice baths, straitjacket, shock treatments, and sadistic acts by staff who had become inured to the pain of patients in their care. It was a very disturbing book, powerfully written. The author denied that it was biographical, although she’d been committed to an asylum herself (and was again committed at least three more times after the book came out). I’ve always found fascinating the word “asylum,” which is used to describe places like this, as well as places one seeks for sanctuary.

    Then there’s Davis Grubb’s really scary The Night of The Hunter, inspired by real-life psychopathic villain Harry Powers, who, through Lonely Hearts newspaper ads, met and murdered two widows, three children, and was one of the most chillingly cold madmen ever to hit my bookshelf. Aside: Night of the Hunter became a film, the only one ever directed by Charles Laughton, with Powers (Powell in the movie) brilliantly, unforgettably portrayed by Robert Mitchum. Grubb was asked to write the screenplay, but declined, and it was ultimately written by James Agee.
    There’s something endlessly mesmerizing about characters with mental illness, so big thanks, Dave, for making it the subject of this wonderful column, and I’m happy you got a chance to read The Curious Case of the Dog in The Night-Time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate the kind words and the wide-ranging comment, thepatterer! VERY impressive that you’ve read so many of the books mentioned.

      The mix of fiction and fact is interesting in “The Bell Jar,” as well as in other semi-autobiographical novels. Yes, a harrowing attempted-suicide scene depicted by Sylvia Plath and described so well by you.

      Also harrowing, from how you summarize them, are “The Night of the Hunter” and “The Snake Pit” — both of which I’ve never read. And I agree that the two meanings of the word “asylum” are indeed VERY far apart.

      Oops — forgot to thank you for recommending “The Curious Case of the Dog in The Night-Time” many moons ago. So…thank you!

      Like

  12. Your column reminded me of the way in which Sen. Tom Eagleton, a Missouri Democrat, failed to be honest with George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, when George asked him if there were any skeletons in Tom’s closet when George was considering Tom as his running mate. Tom had been treated with electro-shock therapy earlier but didn’t reveal that to George. George did pick Tom, but when the story got out Tom had to leave the ticket, to be replaced by Sargent Shriver. I spent time covering George’s Senate race in 1974 and George was still privately steaming over Tom’s lack of forthrightness. I would hope today that the kind of treatment Tom received would not, by itself, disqualify someone for public office.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember that, too, Bill. You’re right — Thomas Eagleton should have been forthright, but there was such a stigma to mental illness as recently as four or so decades ago. Still unfortunately somewhat of a stigma today, but, as you say, it might not be a disqualifier for national office like it was in 1972.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I just finished the book Jamesland, by Michelle Huneven. There is a lot going on in this book, but one thread is a major character’s recovery from a breakdown. It is chronicled with a lot of humor and compassion. It was interesting to read about the things that help him on his path to recovery (in addition to good medical care, which he is lucky enough to have). Like you, Dave, he stays busy, goes to the gym, and spends time with people he likes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sheila! I just put “Jamesland” on my list — it sounds intriguing, and “humor and compassion” is a VERY nice combination.

      And, yes, one is lucky in the U.S. to get good medical care (and not go broke). Not having national health insurance in this country just adds to the stress of already-stressed people with mental illness.

      Like

  14. Hi Dave,
    The Greek, Spiros Antonapoulos, who appears at
    the beginning of Carson Mc Cullers The heart is a
    Lonely hunter was a great character, but unfortunately
    he ends up in an asylum very early on.

    Alan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Alan! I read “The Heart Is a
      Lonely Hunter” a LONG time ago, and had forgotten about that character. Terrific novel, and, as you know, it was published when Carson McCullers was just 23!

      If I’m remembering right, McCullers also had characters with psychological issues in some of her other works — including “Reflections in a Golden Eye” and “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Dave, I’ve battled with both anxiety and depression, and suffered (and I do mean suffered!) with panic disorder and agoraphobia, so my favourite thing about mental illness in literature is the relatability. Not that you necessarily have to have gone through it to empathise with the fear and loneliness and discrimination, but there’s something kind of satisfying in knowing when an author has got it right, compared to an author who’s using it as a plot convenience. Not that there’s anything wrong with entirely fabricating it either. I’m sure it happens with sciency stuff all the time, and it goes over my head, while a real scientist is screaming at the book saying No! You can’t fly to Mars with a rocking chair and some helium balloons!

    I wasn’t a big fan of Jane Austen’s “Emma” however I did like her father. He was kind of quirky, and seemed to border on agoraphobic behaviour at times. And his family respected the oddities without either molly-coddling him, or locking him away. I thought it was very nicely handled considering the time that it was written, and the fact that Austen didn’t have the same language available to her as she would have today.

    I recently read “We Need to Talk about Kevin” which also included a character suffering from agoraphobia. Unfortunately, as it wasn’t a main character, there weren’t a lot of details, but what was portrayed felt accurate and genuine. I personally would have loved to have spent more time with that character but only because it’s something that I could relate to, whereas the rest of the novel, not so much. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t all brilliant though, because it was. In fact the whole novel is kind of about emotional instability. Of course, I won’t say too much as I know it’s on your endless TBR list 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very sorry you’ve had to deal with everything you mentioned. So difficult. Your wonderful sense of humor has helped you a bit, I hope.

      I’ve had low-level depression as long as I can remember, and immediate family (brother) and in-law family (mother of my first wife) with mental illness. Not an easy thing.

      I definitely hear you about relatability. When a reader has experienced something, authors can’t hide if they don’t get it right. But — ha! — sci-fi authors DO have more leeway unless they’re being read by scientists…or aliens. 🙂

      Very interesting thoughts about Emma Woodhouse’s dad. His behavioral pattern indeed might have had a diagnostic name if Jane Austen’s novel were written nearly 200 years later.

      And thanks for mentioning Ms. Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk about Kevin” — which is definitely on my list. Also, that brilliant author’s “Big Brother” novel indirectly references depression as an underlying cause of the protagonist’s enormous weight gain.

      Thank you, Sue, for your excellent and candid comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dave I admire Sue for her candid comments what a brave person she is with a great sense of humor and I always enjoy reading her comments and her vast knowledge on authors and books. In this day and age and the way the whole world is churning it is absolutely impossible not to be affected by it all. My doctor every year has a series of questions in papers and i try to be truthful , he also tells me I have a low level of depression.
        On sleeping habits as far as I remember I hardly sleep soundly, some people has that gift others don`t. Only one person we know sleep 8 HR plus each night and we do not trust that person at all :).

        Liked by 1 person

        • I totally agree about Sue!

          “In this day and age and the way the whole world is churning it is absolutely impossible not to be affected by it all” — so true, bebe, and well said. It’s amazing that anyone can be well-adjusted these days.

          Sorry you’re also dealing with low-level depression. Not fun at all. 😦 A good night’s sleep does help (like you, I rarely get one). For me, staying very busy (writing, etc.), exercising, and being with people I like keep me (relatively) happy. And conversing with people on this blog!

          Your last line — SO funny. AH’s eight-hours-a-night sleep probably include dreams of watching thousand-dollar bills rather than sheep leap gracefully over fences…

          Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dave,

        I love your alien comment, though no doubt there would be some pretty dumb ones who would be fooled by sloppy writing. And even if they’re clever enough to come here, well, they came here, so how clever can they be!

        Any candour in my comment is due to the people who comment here. A big part of my anxiety is trying to hide it because I’m terrified what might happen if people ‘found out’! I don’t know why it worries me so much. I doubt that it would get much of a reaction. As bebe said, there would be very few people (if any) who aren’t affected by it at all. And yet it still feels like something that needs to be hidden. And I don’t think that’s because of society or stigma, I think it’s part of the thinking process that can’t always be trusted. But every now and then, I meet people that I know will just accept it, so I can talk about it as if it’s just a part of who I am.

        I didn’t have an issue with sleeping until I had my first bout of depression. And I always associated depression with too much sleep, so I was never quite sure what to do with myself when I was up wandering the house at 3am. But according to AH it should be super simple to just go to bed, and sleep, and then wake up – so there’s clearly something wrong with me (and you, and bebe, and every body else I’ve ever spoken to).

        You commented to Claire that being abused might exacerbate the tendency towards mental illness, which got me thinking of Lisbeth Salander. I don’t recall if there was actual diagnosed illness there, but there are definitely parts of her brain that don’t function the same as everyone else’s – and with good reason!

        I appreciate the kind words from both you and bebe 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re very welcome for the kind words, Sue!

          Yes, even in this day and age, unfortunately it’s often uncomfortable to talk about depression, anxiety, etc. — for a variety of reasons, internal (to the person) and external (society). I’m glad you feel comfortable enough to discuss it here, amid the wonderful people who comment here.

          Great point about Lisbeth Salander. She’s brilliant and in many ways high-functioning, but the abuse she suffered clearly had all kinds of effects on her psyche.

          Your first paragraph about aliens was sublimely funny. Yes, the smarter aliens stay as far as possible from Earth, even though it pains them not to get a chance to watch “Star Trek” reruns. 🙂

          There are aliens and then there are superhuman immortals. AH is clearly in the latter category, sleeping sleep so perfect that the REMs stand for Rapidly Earning Money…

          Liked by 1 person

        • HA…as you see Sue there is nothing wrong with you, Dave or myself…we care and we are thinkers and that`s what keeps us awake. AH always rode on other`s back used them then discarded as she moved along. She does not care who gets hurt in the process and so sleeps solid 8 hrs each night.
          All she suggests turn off your computer or phone keep you room temperature to 68 F and there you go dozing off..no other worries whatsoever 😀

          Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, Star Trek reruns should be available to everyone. I finally have a service on my TV that will let me start watching again. Currently up to season 5 of TNG 🙂

              Bebe, I’ll be sure to turn my phone off when I go to bed tonight. I’m sure that will fix everything! I’ll peacefully doze off and sleep for 8 hours, and when I wake up, I’ll find that I’ve got squillions of dollars and am married to Chris Hemsworth. Now THAT *might* fix everything 😉

              Liked by 2 people

  16. I have read many of the books you mention and there are many more that have characters with emotional problems. That and circumstances such as abusive parents and husbands or wives that exacerbate personality disorders in the least. Then there’s also a lack of money. I can’t help thinking that if half the people had money and enough of it, there wouldn’t be as much mental hardship out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Claire! GREAT point about how certain factors — being abused, lack of money, etc. — can exacerbate a person’s genetic tendencies toward mental illness. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s so much economic inequity and violence (domestic and otherwise) in countries such as the U.S.

      America’s profit-obsessed “Big Pharma” is certainly happy about all that. 😦

      Like

  17. Hi Dave … I remember reading Frances Farmer’s autobiography, “Will There Really Be a Morning?”, when I was in my early twenties. It was the first book of that nature (severe mental illness) I had ever read. It was quite haunting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat! I haven’t read that autobiography, but I remember the intense 1980s film about Frances Farmer starring Jessica Lange.

      There are definitely MANY nonfiction books with a strong mental illness component — “Darkness Visible” by novelist William Styron and “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen are among the many examples.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I was going to mention Jane Eyre Dave as I see you Already mentioned it. The crazy woman in the attic hidden from all whom Rochester married long ago and so must carry on being a caregiver until was attacked by her. .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, one of the most famous examples of a character with mental illness. Thanks, bebe! And skillful of Charlotte Bronte to initially misdirect readers into wrongly thinking the unstable person was Bertha’s caregiver, Grace Poole.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Your mention of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ brought to mind the pro/antagonists of other philosophical fantasies such as Balzac’s ‘The Wild Ass’s Skin’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. These characters have to be extremely emotionally unstable to even consider going down their respective obsessive paths.

    Then there’s my most recent experience in mental instability. The friend of the title character of ‘Mrs. Bridge’, Grace Barron sounds amazingly close to what I know of people afflicted with bipolar depression. She has a little of that Cassandra syndrome of seeing through the hypocrisy and seeing that the world is going to hell and there’s not a damn thing she can do about it. As you stated, some of this paranoia may be based in fact, although the disorder and the extreme behaviors that accompany it are still evident. Like many sufferers, Grace is tired of fighting and just wants to put an end to the struggle; hence, the overdose of sleeping pills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point about the Balzac, Shelley, and Wilde books, Brian! Speaking of Wilde, the titular character in his comedic “The Canterville Ghost” was also having a bit of a nervous breakdown. Posthumous rather than post-traumatic stress… 🙂

      And thanks for the wonderfully descriptive/sobering paragraph on “Mrs. Bridge.” I borrowed that novel from the library last month on your recommendation, and should be reading it soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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