By nature, we are a flawed species. No, I’m not Neil DeGrasse Tyson and I’m not about to talk about the Universe; it’s vastness and how people fit in. I am nowhere near as cool as him. I’m like an ice sliver…a thin one compared to him. I’m just KD, and what I mean by flawed is that we all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies. Some of those quirks go deeper than others and are multiplied by the very real existence of mental health issues, which can at times make life a little harder. I am a FIRM believer that a majority of individuals have these problems but have learned to adapt to them and function, regardless. Whether it is anxiety, depression, autism, addiction, mood and/or anger management issues, or a host of other things, most of us have been touched by mental health or come close to it. I am no expert, but as a mental health worker for more than ten years, I’ve seen plenty.
Since I am a writer, this belief impacts my characterizations. No one is perfect, and I sure as hell don’t like reading about perfection. I think a lot of readers are on board with me concerning this one. To me, it is those flaws, those quirks, and that individual tragedy that makes a character jump off the page and become a living breathing person not just for a few pages but for the entirety of the novel. It’s tricky business because within the scope of Happily Ever After, there is always a tendency to fix those flaws and to make the characters evolve and change into their better selves. There is nothing wrong with that, but realistically a person with mental health, or even developmental issues, is never cured. That person learns skills to adapt to their lives through treatment, experience or both.
In regards to treatment as a whole, not all individuals with mental health issues need to go through outpatient rehabilitation. People can learn to function in their environment successfully via their own gravitas and, at other times, in combination with the support and patience of those who care. Then, there are those who embrace and need the therapy/medication angle and those who are in the early stages of change and haven’t even acknowledged that they need help. So, as a writer, I’ve incorporated these eventualities, my own personal experience and my work experience with children, families and adults, that has enriched and changed me into my characters so they may do the same for you. Don’t take this as an oversimplification of the issue. There is nothing simple about it. Some people can overcome their difficulties with mental health and some can’t. It remains a life long struggle. I really could talk/write about it all day and still not be finished.
Regarding this subject in the scope of a romance novel, research and consistency is key, which is not easy. Neither is the emotional investment. In writing Blurred Lines and Crossing Lines, I found myself many a time with a hollow feeling in my chest that matched my characters, and I barely scratched the surface of some of these overall issues. Many readers have written to me or left reviews speculating about Nora Whitmore being on the autism spectrum. There is a very good possibility that she is. I’ve worked with people with autism throughout the years and every one of them is unique. Nora is a combination of what I’ve seen; what I know; and what people will do to survive and adapt. Kelli McCabe is much of the same with her anger and emotional issues. One has learned to function and succeed because she had to and the other with the help of a patient (at times not so patient) and understanding family. Because of all that I put into them, to me, they are as real as this computer that I write this blog on.
So what it all boils down to is that flaws make us the beautiful messes that we are. The same can be said for the characters a writer creates. Let them become people. Love stories are about accepting an individual for who they are as well as transformation. Love stories can be about having the hope to continue to overcome. With that in mind, maybe the H in Happily Ever After should stand for ‘hopeful’ more so than ‘happy’ or a nice combination of the two.