There are of course lots of motivations behind any story. But one clear driving purpose behind Uncommon Counsel was to present a sympathetic and accurate view of a character with mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. In countless novels and films, schizophrenia is badly portrayed as a motivation for bad behavior, and those who suffer from it are inherently evil. If a character has schizophrenia, they are automatically the antagonist, the bad guy, probably a murderer. They are often depicted as having Dissociative Identity Order (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder), which is an entirely different condition. If they hear voices, the voices incite them to violence and mayhem. They are shown as completely divorced from reality, without any empathy or appreciation for those around them. They are never aware of their disorder.
These depictions deny the reality that many people face every day. While symptoms vary among those with schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses may coexist, the media's portrayal of schizophrenia is usually wildly inaccurate. The characterizations are harmful and dangerous cliches, and the stigma associated with mental health in general and schizophrenia in particular harms everyone: patients, providers, and the general public, alike. The reality is that schizophrenia is a devastating illness, but one that is, in many cases, manageable with appropriate therapy (typically involving both medication and "talk therapy"). People with schizophrenia are as likely to be wonderful, loving people as anyone else. They are warriors who face a daily battle with their own brains, and often emerge better and stronger from the fight. They are to be admired, not feared.
I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who clearly suffered from the real ill effects of schizophrenia, but with whom the reader can nevertheless identify. I didn't want to minimize the affliction, but neither did I want to magnify or distort it. I consulted throughout the creative and editorial process with both a friend who has schizophrenia and another friend who is a licensed therapist. Both provided insights that I lacked and helped improve my depiction of Rip, my protagonist. If I succeeded in creating a character that authentically depicts schizophrenia, it is due to their help. If I failed, it is due only to my inability as a writer.
I hope that I have done a little bit to combat the stigma of schizophrenia by creating an authentic character we can all identify with and cheer for. If I have done even a little bit of that, a core purpose in writing Uncommon Counsel has been fulfilled. If you would like to know more about schizophrenia, and mental illness in general, a good place to start is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI (https://www.nami.org). They are a grass roots non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of those with mental illness.
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