Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are Fiction Writers Psychologically Ill?

I've been thinking about this question lately. I think, myself as a basis, this is true. But let's look at the definition of a mental disorder according to the DSM-IV:

A.  A clinically significant  behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual
B.  Is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom
C.  Must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one
D.  A manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual
E.  Neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of a dysfunction in the individual
Let's take these in order:

A. The term "clinically significant" is what is important here. Do writers, who compulsively spend hours alone avoiding the outside world and sociality, seek clinical help? Yes. More often than the average population, say, in the US? Probably. Or at least it breaks even. Writers abuse alcohol or have other compulsive habits for which they seek treatment.

B. "Present distress"? Constant anxiety about not writing counts, right? And "disability"? Of course. Not being able to be a normal social person or, say, do much else other than write, is a disability I'd say. "Increased risk"? Well, yes. Especially the part about loss of freedom.

C. This one is perhaps the most debatable. What is the appropriate response to spending copious amounts of time writing and avoiding one's family and friends and loved ones? Are we supposed to just rengage with the world like we having neglected it for weeks (or months, or even years) at a time? Well, society does seem to expect as much. Sorry, world. I'm not as perfect as you'd like me to be.

D. A manifestation of a dysfunction? Can we say that writing is a dysfunction? While we do it all the time and it is, according to many, an intellectual thing to do, nobody says you have to lock yourself in your house and spend what amounts to years of your life alone in front of a computer screen and hardly doing anything else. This is behavioral. But it's also psychological. What other human beings, as adults, still entertain themselves with imaginary people and reject reality for an alternate unreality?

E. Since we've already agreed this is a dysfunction (right?), is it (being a fiction writer and its consequences) also a deviant behavior and/or a conflict primarily between the individual and society? The deviance is fairly straightforward: being a hermit is not socially acceptable. Sad, but true. Now, this is what gives rise to the conflict. We, writers, don't like being judged (who does?). While in our caves, naturally seeing our work as important, we come to disdain those jolly day-walkers. They laugh and play and "live." They judge us. You know they do. You tell yourself they do. I'm telling you they do. They say, "Hey, look at him. He doesn't go outside. Weirdo!" Or, "Look at me. Look at me. I'm having so much fun. This is what life's about. You sure are missing out!" They are responsible for our craziness. The more we write, the more we hear them, the more we hate them. I hear them now. Fuck you, world.

OK. I'm having a little fun with the (flawed) definition. I don't really think all fiction writers are crazy. Just most.

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