NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds first appeared on my site Bookworm Blues a few years ago. I thought it was a very powerful piece and I wanted to give it more exposure. I asked Anon if I could use it again on SF Signal. Anon was nice enough to say yes, they just wanted to edit it a bit first. Here is the new, updated, and still intensely powerful piece. – Sarah Chorn
‘Anon’ hails from a far and distant land, but has found a cozy spot in the English-speaking SFF community. ‘Anon’ enjoys everything dark and weird in every medium possible. Occasional reviewer and a writer of SFF fiction, ‘Anon’ currently dips toes in the world of editing and personal branding and marketing.
I’m probably the poster child for the argument of fiction as an escape, which I find a bit funny since you’ve no idea who I am. What drew me to fiction – epic fantasy and sword & sorcery in particular – was the effortless ability to dissolve into the mindscape of someone else. Not be present in my life, which during my formative years brought nothing worthwhile – only verbal abuse, negligence and expectations that I conform with ideas of normalcy.
In all honesty, this is not something uncommon. I’m painting a familiar picture, but the main difference is that I’ve been fighting with myself the whole time. Let me tell you, fighting with depression in a culture, where depression is not a thing, guts you, because you’re invisible.
Invisibility is a spell, which we cast every day. Honestly, in my country, you, as an individual, remain invisible, until you become something more or something else. Something that can’t be ignored and then you suffer for it. You always suffer for it. This is why I turned to fiction (high fantasy) and I’ve found people who don’t quite fit in their societies based on their scars, their limps or pieces that went missing.
Disability creates a counterpoint to ‘perfect’ protagonists, whose one main fault has been their lineage (of course, I’m referring to the clichéd tropes, which although still seen in the wild are seeing a decline), but otherwise possess a special power, the charm and the looks to get their ‘perfect’ happy conclusion.
I have found disability (even in villains) and the otherness to be far more interesting, though I have read about physical disability in my reading. Save for Nicodemus from Blake Charlton’s series, I haven’t met a character, who suffers from our modern conditions. Not at least in the adventure romps full of strong men killing scary things. Even in works set in modern time the closest I’ve come is seeing characters weighed by their dark pasts. Where are the heroes with their shit together, but who struggle in different ways.
Depression in itself is unpredictable. It hits hard. It hits out of the blue. It turns the person into someone else completely. I doubt depression would be easy to transfer into fiction, because it manifests itself in different ways for everyone. There’s still a social stigma attached to it with sufferers called ‘whiners’ among others. How do you even write depression in a world where this condition is not a thing?
I live in a community culture where mental conditions are not a reality. You’re either sane or you’re not – no middle ground. If you know how to speak and read, not stab random people or talk to yourself, then you’re sane. Congrats, so stop whining, stop asking for attention and get on with your life, cause ain’t nobody got time for your bullshit. Are you trying to be special? Is it sympathies you want? An easy way out?
ADHD, OCD, bi-polar disorder and depression speak nothing to the majority of the people here. Depression, in my country’s vernacular, means ‘having the blues’. It’s not the crippling condition that derails your life and makes every single thing harder.
No! Depression’s that lazy, dull state you’re in when it’s raining and maybe you feel a wee bit sad. It certainly doesn’t impair your judgment, nor does it make seeing your reflection one of the positively worst experiences you will have to do in your day. I’m sure that more than one or two people will relate to me, because depression is common. You’ve probably sought one or two professional opinions. You’ve been diagnosed. You have received professional help in terms of sessions, ideas for exercises or when necessary, medication.
To have depression in a culture, where depression isn’t a thing, amounts to a whole different experience. I’ve not broached the subject with my family or gone to see my family doctor for referrals to a psychologist, because once your family thinks you’re crazy, you’re in for a hell of a nightmare ride. At the same time, fear of doctors’ mistakes, miss-diagnoses and clinical negligence have kept me away from seeing a professional until recently. Thankfully, I’m not on any medication and have been working on getting better. But no one knows.
And it’s still hard, because it’s only me, the Internet, a close friend and some contacts abroad, who understand the battle I have in me, because their culture recognizes depression. When society doesn’t understand or even try to distinguish one condition from another, it tends to generalize, lump everything together and stamp it with a large social stigma, which makes existing all the more difficult.
It just doesn’t matter to other people. They will judge, they will discriminate and this is one of the reasons I’ve decided to keep my identity a secret. Finding professional realization in a country like mine is complicated. Companies want the normal, the uncomplicated and who wants to deal with a person suffering from a mental condition.
This is how life is for people with depression in a place, where depression is not a thing. As I read this, my words sound dramatic, perhaps melodramatic, but that’s depression for you. It amplifies everything beyond reason, beyond proportion. I know I’m fighting this. I know I am succeeding and I am loved, but damn, there are days, when I feel less than nothing.