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It's James. Mental Illness and Identity.

I'm working on two new manuscripts since I've finished the first draft of the Status: Positive sequel. One is a horror novel. The other is general fiction that revolves around a college student's struggles with mental illness and treatment. It's based on my own experiences. There was a writing prompt contest through Writer's Digest that sparked my interest. The first line reminded me a lot of my MC from the gen fic novel, James. So, I decided to write something from her point of view and polished a little part from the manuscript. I've added more to the 700-word limit, which has been included below.

You'll notice that the MC keeps referring back to her name. That's because identity is very important when dealing with mental illness. I went through two treatments, one bad and one good. I felt like the first one stripped me of my identity and made me feel like I was nothing more than my illness. No one cared who I was in that hospital. I was another patient taking up a precious bed. Here are some pills and off you go. (It really was a terrible place) It didn't help that I was getting no support from those around me. The second one, which was a year-long DBT therapy, taught me how to be a person again. I owe my life to that program and my DBT counselor. I stabilized and was able to become better than I'd been before. I controlled my mental illness. It didn't control me. We were living together in the same body, but we weren't fighting anymore. That's not to say I don't have problems. I do, but I have skills to help me get through life now. I know who I am.


The difference is, I lie for a reason. I lied to cover the pain. I lie because the diagnosis tells me I have no other choice. ‘Wrong!’ I want to scream. ‘You’re all wrong.’ The DSM-V defines my brain chemistry in neat black and white letters. There, spread out on the page is my history and my future. You will hurt others and yourself. You will be cruel. You will act erratic. The zip-zap of racing thoughts takes me away from the image of the page, which has burned into my mind since I first looked it up. A diary card is pinched between my sweaty fingers. I read the line to myself, “Did you have any thoughts of self-harm?”
Four shallow cuts. It took four shallow cuts on my forearm to change my life forever. She saw them. She told. I can never trust again. I could have lied, but I didn’t. I told the truth. I asked for help. Like a fool, I asked for help thinking that I’d actually receive any. But you can only ignore the lies and pain for so long.
“James.”
I snap back to reality. “Yes?”
A stare out at the group of 20-odd adults in their chairs that line the square room. Their glassy eyes look away as they retreat into themselves. No one is listening. Instead, they focus on their own cards and the problems that go with them. This morning’s dosage of Depakote clashes with the Trazadone as they sludge through our veins. Our hands clutch at Styrofoam cups for safety. Smokers twiddle pens between their fingers, faster and faster in a frantic beat to match that of their jiggling legs.
I clear my throat. “What are we doing?”
“Introductions,” the group leader says with a groan. Today it’s Kevin. Not doctor Kevin, just Kevin. One only needs to pass a training course to be able to lead a group of severely emotionally unstable patients.
I toss my crumpled diary page to the side and point to the PHP name tag on my shirt. The corner curls up at the edges and my name is runny. “I’m James. I left graduated in-patient, like, two weeks ago.” The days have blurred into a series of pills, worksheets, meetings and endless pots of dark coffee. I run my fingers through my waist-length brown hair. “I couldn’t be perfect anymore.”
“James,” Kevin warns. His tongue lingers over every letter in my name. “You won’t get better with that attitude.”
Like an AA meeting, they make us do it every time someone new comes in. We go down the row and confess our sins. Why am I here? Four crusted over cuts. That’s why. Days of lying in bed, staring at white walls while the will to live quickly drained from my body. No one wants to hear about that. They want the words, the diagnosis, the reasons for the pills and prescriptions. They want the excuses my mother will eventually have to tell people when I don’t come back. They want a name to call this darkness that has taken over.
“Is there any more you want to add?” He looks at me with half-opened eyes. At any moment, I’m certain he’ll start snoring and droll will dribble across his chin.
“Nope.” I stretch my arms across the underside of my chest. He eyes my breasts as they flop out over my crossed arms.
“Eleanor Schaefer!” A nurse pokes her head into the room. “The psychiatrist will see you now.”
I roll my eyes as I remind her, “It’s James.”
The psychiatrist sits on the couch of a too-cold room with his legs crossed over one another. He doesn’t bother to get up when I enter. The clock is ticking. I flop down onto a futon opposite him and wait for the traditional questions.
“Have you been taking your medication regularly?”
“I always do.”
“Good. How has it been working?”
“I’m sad. I’m angry. My hair falls out in large clumps. My heart feels funny. I get fainting spells. I could go on.”
“These things take time to build up in our system.” He keeps his eyes focused on the file. His pen ferociously attacks the paper before him.
That’s it. I stand, waiting. Look at me. Acknowledge me. See me as a real person. Please, help me. Another little shard of my heart breaks off. No one cares. They act like they do, but I’m just another folder, just another case file. He scribbles his notes and never takes the time to learn my name, what I’m actually called. I’m symptoms with a number attached to them, a definition of a disease, a mental illness that I’m trying so hard not to let define me. Yet, I keep going back to that room where he waits with his lightning fast prescription pad. He’s poised like a veteran diner waitress, ready to take my order. I’ll have the usual. In and out. Snap. Snap. There are more patients to see. Individual attention doesn’t exist in the machine line of treatment.
“Send in the next patient, uh?” He searches his papers for my name.
“It’s James.”


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