In a few days, it will be May, Mental Health Month….and it hardly seems we need it anymore. Various mental health issues are discussed openly, written about online, and portrayed in the arts. The rarest and the most common mental health issues are favorite topics, and we especially love to borrow terms from the diagnosis and treatment of those health issues, and use them to mean whatever we want. Here are just a few of the most commonly misused mental health terms.
OCD: “I wanted to just leave the books on the table, but my OCD wouldn’t allow it,” we might say, or “I have OCD about getting the dishes done instead of leaving them in the sink.” Statements like this don’t mean any harm or ill will, they are just inaccurate. What you are describing here is a perfectly normal dislike of clutter or dirty kitchens. “OCD” actually refers to “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” a mental health issue characterized by obsessions, such as fears or urges the person must fight to control, and compulsive behaviors. A person with OCD might indeed be distraught by a discarded pile of books or a sink full of dishes, but it wouldn’t be a simple irritation and urge to clean things up. A person with true OCD would experience deep distress over fears of germs or the urge to arrange things in a certain way.
Depression: Depression is a mental illness characterized by intense feelings of sadness, loss of interest in things the person once enjoyed, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, physical pains that cannot be explained by another illness, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, loss of appetite or the urge to overeat, and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms last for at least two weeks, and cause a discernible disruption in the person’s life. In common speech, we use “depression” to describe ordinary feelings of sadness, guilt, or fatigue that are actually direct responses to instances that arise in our life.
Triggered/Triggering: The true meaning of the word “trigger” in mental health care is when someone with PTSD experiences something that launches their mind into a flashback of the traumatic event they experienced. If someone has PTSD from being attacked in a parking garage, and their mind causes them to relive the trauma every time they enter a structure similar to a parking garage, that is a “trigger” for the person. In contemporary popular speech, people use “triggered/triggering/trigger” to refer to absolutely anything that bothers them in any way. We say we’re “triggered” if something irritates, angers, saddens, sickens, or otherwise distresses us for any reason. Many people have unfortunately taken this one step further, and use the word as a power grab. When someone claims to be “triggered,” everyone else is immediately expected to alter their speech and behavior to please that person.
Psychopath: Most of us have the idea that a psychopath is someone who is out of touch with reality, but that actually describes “psychosis” or the state of being “psychotic.” A psychopath is a person who lacks all empathy for other people. They are unable to love people as most of us do, and can only experience shallow feelings for others, as one might have for a favorite item of clothing or piece of equipment they use often. Psychopaths do not feel shame, remorse, or guilt, even in situations when those feelings would be warranted. They are, however, typically highly skilled at reading people and faking genuine emotions for others. Most are charming, personable, and persuasive. While we tend to say someone is “psycho” or “a psychopath” when they do something shockingly vile and disturbing, most psychopaths are not violent. They don’t value human life and dignity, they just don’t want to risk the punishment if they get caught, or find the aftermath of violence unpleasant on a personal level. Most psychopaths are actually perfectly suited to work in corporate America. They can make decisions that generate cash for the company without regard for the impact those decisions might have on people.
Dissociative Identity Disorder: (often called DID, or Multiple personality disorder, or “having alters” in common speech): While this disorder is listed in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the book used to classify mental illnesses, there is much argument among mental health professionals as to whether this disorder actually exists, and if it does, whether it is created by unethical or incompetent therapists rather than a true response to extreme distress. .The trauma necessary to create it is certainly real, and it is definitely possible for the mind to split to protect itself, but how and whether or not true separate personalities form from this is debated. For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume that it is a real disorder, including the formation of distinct identities within one person. And those distinct identities would need to be there…along with a certain number of other symptoms, for the diagnosis to be made by a professional. Somebody who goes on YouTube claiming they “have alters” or “know they have DID” because they sometimes like to eat foods they usually don’t choose, like to switch up their clothing style from time to time, or felt more sensitive or easily irritated recently is jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and views, not describing a genuine struggle with a mental disorder.
In our art, we can use misdiagnosed, misunderstood, or misused terms from mental health to further the plot or aid in character development. A character who insists they’re “OCD” when they’re just irritated by clutter, someone who confuses ordinary sadness with depression until they meet genuinely depressed people, or a psychopath who has everyone fooled but reveals himself in the narration of the story would all work well in a piece of creative writing. Off the page, when we are dealing with the genuine health issues faced by actual people, much more care and caution should be taken. If you suspect that you are dealing with any mental health issue, whether it be one listed in this article or something else, do not attempt to diagnose and treat yourself. Contact a licensed, professional mental health care provider as soon as possible.
Author’s note: This article is the first in our special series on mental health for May. These articles are intended to generate ideas for art work, clarify some misunderstood terms often found in writing and other art forms, and encourage artists to tend to their own mental health and support the mental health of others. They are NOT intended to diagnose or treat any condition, or to stand in for any form of mental health care. I am not a mental health professional on any level. Anyone who believes they may have mental health issues, or that the mental health issues of someone else are impacting their lives is strongly encouraged to reach out to a licensed mental health provider, or speak to a trusted doctor, nurse, or pastor as soon as possible.
Whenever you are doing any type of creative writing, there is a protagonist and an antagonist in the story. In some forms, such as novel and short story writing, both of these characters are part of the work itself. Songwriters and poets may or may not mention the antagonist, but in many cases, they are an unseen character. In the lyrics of every breakup or unrequited love song, the antagonist is the person who left or rejected the song’s narrator. If your poem is about the despair you feel over a national issue, you are writing a “person vs. society” conflict, and the antagonist can be thought of as anyone in society who causes the problem.
One of the fastest ways to create an antagonist, or to turn a character into an antagonist, is to give them a trait from the “dark triad” of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, or narcissism. Narcissism in particular creates a striking antagonist, because narcissistic people are both seductive and dangerous at the same time.
Narcissists feel entitled to special treatment.
Everyone feels like there are certain things they should have. Even the least materialistic among us would feel distress and resentment if we did not have basic shelter, food, and access to things like indoor plumbing and clothing and bedding. And we all want some form of acknowledgement for the work we do, and to be treated like decent human beings. Very few people would be okay with it if human resources or our boss or client just forgot to pay us or if we were shunned from society.
Narcissists do not just feel entitled to basic necessities and humane treatment, they feel entitled to special treatment. A narcissist feels entitled to any material possessions they want, endless admiration and praise, and favors and exceptions any time these things suit them.
They have an inflated sense of their own importance or impact on the world.
As with the belief that there are certain things we should have, this trait appears as an amplification of perfectly healthy thoughts and attitudes. We all believe that at least something we do is important in some way. None of us would keep working on our art if we thought it did absolutely nothing. Healthy acknowledgement of our calling in life devolves into narcissism when the person’s sense of their own importance grows far greater than the impact it actually has, or ever will have.
A typical local musician, for example, probably goes onstage thinking they are going to entertain the crowd tonight. Maybe they believe they are giving everyone something to think about, or helping to form good memories of a fun night out. A narcissist would believe that simply hearing their music or being in their presence is going to transform the lives of everyone in the room.
Bragging and reacting in anger when not constantly complimented by everyone is a common personality trait.
The narcissist is typically the first person to compliment themselves. They are a great singer, writer, actor, dancer, or musician, and if you do not tell them so, they will tell you. Everything they say is funny, brilliant, insightful, and correct, and if you don’t hurry and tell them this, they will be sure to tell you.
The narcissist is that person everyone rushes to praise and compliment on social media….because they will throw an absolute fit, accusing everyone of ignoring them, trying to ruin them, or…in modern fad language…”being negative” or “bringing negativity” if those people fail to do so, or worse, suggest that everything about them is not amazing.
Narcissists can feel empathy, but they struggle with it, and it is far from their dominant trait.
A complete lack of empathy is the distinguishing trait of a psychopath. Narcissists who are not also psychopaths do have the ability to feel empathy. It is just not typically their first reaction to a situation. It is also not their strongest trait.
In a January 4, 2020 article on the website of Psychology Today, Dr. Mary Lamla explains that narcissists are able to empathize with others, they are just often unwilling to do so. They can feel love and compassion. It can pain them to see others suffering. Most of the time, they are simply too focused on themselves to register that something is causing serious pain or harm to somebody else. And when they do, it is often difficult for them to accept it that this situation might be more serious or more important than their own.
They gather people around them easily, and are skilled at manipulating others.
Narcissists certainly sound awful when their key traits are broken down and discussed, but on the surface they are usually charismatic and popular. Their inflated sense of their own importance lends itself well to excellent storytelling ability, making them interesting to be around. Their sense of entitlement extends to being entitled to an entourage, and they are often willing to love bomb their targets with everything from gifts to excessive flattery and attention to favors in order to build one.
Dismissing people when they no longer serve them is a common narcissistic trait.
There is a trend in our culture to label everybody “positive” or “negative,” embracing people we declare to be ‘bringing positivity” and shunning those who “bring negativity.” These terms have their roots in new age philosophy, which teaches that a person’s energy can emanate from their bodies and impact others. It is also a cornerstone of a narcissistic personality. Others are “good” or “positive” or “a friend” or “loved” as long as they are propping up the narcissist’s own view of themselves. As soon as someone tires of listening to their grandiose tales, hearing them brag, or demonizing anyone who does not treat them as special, that person is declared some form of “bad” and removed from the narcissist’s life, or at least relegated to the background.
Narcissistic characters are often engaging, amusing, or infuriating. They are often the one we “love to hate” in realistic movies and television shows.
-Author’s note: This information is intended to serve as a creative writing prompt only, and is not to be used to diagnose or treat any psychiatric or other health issue. The information provided here was taken from past interviews the author did for feature articles on mental health as a reporter and internet research for my own creative writing and the article itself. If you believe you are being targeted or in any way harmed psychologically by a real-life narcissist, please reach out to a licensed, practicing mental health professional.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
Welcome to Callie’s Corner, a space for artists and our pets. Callie is the official mascot/supervisor here at Artist Cafe Utica and your hostess for Callie’s Corner, a continuing series about artists and our pets.
Callie’s Corner: Artists and their pets: Give your character a dog
Fiction writers often pore over each detail of our works. We write draft after draft until we get everything just right, and that often includes characters’ pets. And just as real people are suited for some dog breeds and not others, your characters may be best prepared to own some breeds and not others. Use the information below to choose the right dog for your character…or to choose one completely unsuited to your character and create conflict.
If your character is a hunter or other type of outdoorsman, consider giving them a German Shorthaired Pointer.
Typically referred to as a “German Shorthair,” this breed ranges from 21-25 inches tall and 55 to 70 pounds. They can be black, liver, liver and white, or a reddish shade known as “roan.” German Shorthairs are known to be smart, excellent hunters, and very affectionate with their families. They quickly learn to point, flush, and fetch birds for their hunters, and will often bring their loved ones random things as a sign of affection.
Characters who want…or need…a challenge may be best suited for a Dalmatian.
Anytime a new movie, tv series, or book series featuring a dog becomes popular, people rush to buy one for themselves or their children. This is especially common with Dalmatians, due to, of course, the Disney “101 Dalmatians” films. More often than not, this turns into a problem, as Dalmatians are notoriously difficult to train. Children too young to have developed patience, and teens and adults too busy to devote extra time to their dog are not able to cope. Artist Cafe Utica does not recommend buying or adopting a real dog, or any other animal, to teach a child or anyone else a desirable skill or trait the person lacks. We strongly suggest you avoid giving your child a Dalmatian, or any other living thing, to teach him or her responsibility or patience. This typically results in neglect to the animal, and no animal deserves neglect. But in a work of fiction, a proud, stubborn Dalmatian could absolutely come into the life of an impatient, irresponsible character and help them turn their life around.
Laid-back, friendly characters might pair well with Pugs.
According to the American Kennel Club website’s article “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pug,” Pugs were once a symbol of the Freemasons. In 1740, a group of Catholics founded “The Order of the Pug” after being forbidden to join the official Freemasons because of their religion. The Pug was reportedly chosen due to its loyalty and trustworthiness.
While the Order of the Pug lasted only eight years, people remain fans of this adorable dog centuries later. Known to be carefree and affectionate, Pugs are great for people…real or fictional..who want a loyal lap dog.
Creating a character who must stand out in every way? Write a Xoloizcuintili (pronounced show-low- eats-QUEENT-lee) into your story.
In addition to their striking breed name, the Xolo comes in three sizes, hairless and furred varieties, and a range of colors. All varieties are rare, and rather odd looking, with a rather narrow snout and brow that appears to furrow when they’re deep in thought. If you are going for a realistic plotline, your character’s Xolo should not be too easy to obtain. A search for puppies online produced half a dozen breeders, none with puppies available.
A character who needs the tiniest dog, or the dog with the longest lifespan needs a Chihuahua.
Chihuahuas can live to be twenty years old or more, giving them the longest lifespans of any breed. They are also the smallest dog, with a weight range of only 3-6 pounds. Chihuahuas come in a variety of colors, and can be short haired or long haired. Their distinguishing features include large, round eyes rimmed in black, and large ears.
These five dog breeds are just a few of the 197 dog breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club, beginning with the Pointer in 1878, and ending with the Biewer Terrier, a tiny 3-8 pound tri color lap dog with long hair, in 2021. To learn more about dog breeds to give your fictional characters, visit the American Kennel Club website, then do a search for breeders of the dogs you’ve narrowed your options down to in order to learn more. Make sure to use the website itself rather than contacting breeders when you have no intention of purchasing a puppy.
Should writing about a dog inspire a calling to bring a real one into your life, Callie’s Corner suggests visiting your local animal shelter first, and looking for a dog you can adopt. If that is not an option for you, look for a local breeder and visit the home to make sure the person is selling the puppies of their beloved pets, rather than running a puppy mill. Avoid purchasing a puppy from a puppy mill or other large scale breeder who does not care for their dogs, but only sees them as a product to sell.
Callie’s Corner is sponsored by Larry Szabo, who is requesting donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donate at www.stjude.org
The characters in novels, poems, songs, plays, and films are almost never “us.” Yes, there are songs people write from their own point of view, and novel characters based on real people. But more often than not, characters are completely invented, or at least heavily fictionalized. They think things the artist does not think. They do things the artist has never done and would never do. Some of those things are not done for moral or lifestyle reasons. Others are simply mundane activities the artist does not do, such as driving, working on cars, selling, eating seafood, or working out. Wearing makeup is one of those activities. Many people simply do not wear makeup. If you are one of those people, but you have created a character whose story needs to involve makeup application, here is a thorough makeup routine for modern times.
Primer: Face primer is a clear liquid or serum applied to the face before actual makeup is applied. It is meant to protect and prepare the skin.
Concealer: This is a heavy cream, usually in stick form, meant to cover up blemishes, dark circles, and areas of skin discoloration. It is also available in a little tube with a wand-like applicator.
Contour: Contouring is meant to make areas of the face recede. It is typically done around the sides of the nose, under the cheek bones, and around the chin and jaw. Your character will draw lines on with a stick that looks a bit like a lipstick tube, then blend the contour out with a brush. Some cosmetics companies sell contour in powder form as well.
Highlight: This is contour’s counterpart. Sometimes it is placed next to the contour to make the area above it appear to come forward. It can also be used on its own as a sort of bright highlighting powder over cheekbones or nose.
Foundation: This is the skin colored liquid or cream that goes all over the face and is blended in with a brush or sponge called a “beauty blender”. Some people use contour and/or highlight before foundation, some use it after.
Blush: Most people apply blush on the cheekbones or round “apples” of the cheeks. It comes in a variety of shades and colors, usually in the pink, peach, red, gold, or mauve families.
Powder: Sometimes referred to as setting powder, this is the product that is applied all over the face with a brush to set the face makeup.
Eye primer: Primer for the eyelid is a different product than primer for the rest of the face, but it serves the same purpose. It prepares the eyelid for eye shadow.
Eyebrow powder or pencil: If your character strives for a trendy look, give her…or him… full, thick eyebrows for 2021. Those who do not have full eyebrows fill them out with powders and pencils.
Eyebrow gel: Think of this like hair gel, but for the eyebrows. It’s packaged in a tube with a spoolie, like mascara. Inside is a clear, sometimes tinted, gel. It’s used to set the eyebrow hairs after the color is applied. Some people use it on its own just to make the brows look “done.”
Eye shadow lid color: The first step of an eye makeup routine is to place a shadow, typically a medium shade, on the lid. Some makeup artists do the crease first.
Eye shadow crease color: Your eye crease is the area where your eye meets your head. Most people darken this to make their eyes stand out.
Eye shadow outer V color: This is the darkest color most people wear. The outer V is the outer corner of the eye, and slightly inward. Have your character make a V shape with the eye shadow on the outer corner of the eye.
Eye shadow highlight color: Many people highlight under their eyebrows, and at the inner corners of their eyes, with the lightest color they use.
Eye liner: Most people, even those who do not wear makeup or know how to apply it, can recognize eye liner. It comes in pencil, liquid, or gel form and a variety of colors. There are a few different looks one can create with it. You probably noticed someone wearing eyeliner that winged out past the edges of her eyes, and others wearing eyeliner that sat in a straight line above the eye.
Mascara: Mascara is the product that makes eye lashes look longer, fuller, thicker, and darker. It can also curl them, though many curl their lashes with a special clamp like tool called an “eyelash curler” before applying their mascara.
Mascara is another product that is typically pretty noticeable. You may especially notice it when someone who normally uses it every day does not have it on.
Lip stick or lip gloss: Lipstick is the one makeup product that most people know about. The tube you most likely picture when thinking of lipstick is the most common form, but there is liquid lipstick as well. Lip gloss and liquid lipstick look alike in the packaging. Lip gloss is just shinier, usually sheerer lipstick.
Setting spray: Many people squint, then spray their face with a mist as a final step in their makeup routine. This is setting spray, a way to make sure the makeup stays in place.
These eighteen steps are a basic “full makeup” routine today. Some people use more makeup, drawing a line with a lip pencil before applying lipstick, adding more eye shadow colors, using two eye liners, or layering a lipstick and a lip gloss. A second powder is sometimes used to “bake” the undereye concealer, then brushed off before the rest of the routine continues. Seventeen to twenty steps is a common full makeup routine.
While this is a full routine, remember that many people do not do a full routine.
Everyone, including every woman, does not look good in full makeup. Some only use a few of the products listed. Eight steps is pretty common for a short routine, but some use fewer, aiming for a minimalist makeup routine of two to five products. (I can wear eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick or lip gloss for everyday. If I really want to look made up, I add one eye shadow. Anything beyond that and I start looking like a cartoon character.)
When showing your character purchasing or using makeup, remember that it can cost a lot of money. There are brands that offer cheaper alternatives, but a full look done with products from some of the most sought after brands can cost hundreds of dollars. Use the standard product names described above if you want to avoid making a statement about your character’s finances and/or spending habits, rather than copying the name of a product you see at a friend’s house. People can and do save up, splurge, look for sales, collect coupons, and even swap to get the makeup they want. But nobody with a minimum wage job, frugal financial habits, and no personal debt has a brand new full set of MAC, Urban Decay, or Makeup Forever products.
For further research on specific brands, colors, prices, and shade names, the websites “Ulta Beauty” at www.ulta.com and Sephora, located online at www.sephora.com offer a wide selection of products at various price points.