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 “Prompts,” brief overviews of settings, themes, plot ideas, or other details you may want to use in your short stories, songs, novels, poems, or visual art project. Today, we explore online classes.
Artists are promoting their work and meeting fans and fellow artists online more and more, and the art produced reflects that. Everything from poems to songs to novels to comedy routines may include references or even entire settings related to online communities. Online classes and online schools have been around for more than a decade, but there are many things people do not know about them. If you decide to set your next project in an online classroom or school, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Online classes involve interaction with other people.
Instruction may be given through discussion boards, class chats or online meetings, or recorded lessons. Discussion boards operate much like older style internet forums. Assignments and/or questions are posted by the instructor and the students, to be answered whenever someone logs in. Online meetings or classes are similar to chat rooms or group chats, except that at least one person, usually the teacher, is speaking into a microphone or appearing live on streaming video. Recorded lessons may be audio or video, and are made and posted for the students to view later.
Online courses and programs are designed for students and instructors who cannot attend offline classes for whatever reason, not for people who want to avoid human contact. There is plenty of that in an online class.
Schedules are still necessary when teaching or taking an online class.
Online meetings may be scheduled at certain times. Instructors and students are expected to log in to these meetings at the same time they would be expected to walk into the classroom for an offline class. Even if a class has no scheduled components, there will still be due dates for assignments that must be met. A class in which each individual student sets his or her own due dates in consultation with the instructor is an independent study, not a traditional class, whether it’s held online or offline.
Online classes do not isolate you from everyone, but they do isolate you from people not directly involved in your class.
Students in an online course must interact with each other, but unless the school also has an offline campus nearby, or has set up an online student lounge or social forum, they may never meet anyone who does not take the same classes as them.
Instructors communicate with their students and their supervisors, but interaction with others in their department may be limited. Some schools remedy this by holding optional meetings or online gatherings to discuss teaching methods. They may also offer online social space for their students.
Social media is used as a way to interact with classmates or faculty from online schools.
There may be no hallways to walk or the opportunity to meet someone in a completely different department by hanging out in the faculty or student lounge, but that same environment can be somewhat duplicated by visiting the school’s social media pages. Students from a specific university can follow or like the school’s facebook page, or join a facebook group for students from their school, and meet each other online.
“The dog ate my homework” is alive and well and has made a smooth transition into the world of online learning.
Students who have not completed their work on time or studied for a test for whatever reason have always trotted out tales of misery and heartache to get better grades, more time to work on an assignment or take the test, or other special treatment from the instructor. Claiming technical issues is the most common online version of “the dog ate my homework.” The old classic, “My grandmother died” works for online classes too, although, thanks to social networking, the stories have begun to vary a bit more.
Before I started teaching online, I briefly worked as a teaching assistant in another university’s writing lab. Part of my job involved being assigned to instructors’ courses to grade their papers and tutor their students. One week, I received a series of five messages in a row, all from different students, claiming someone in their life was “in the hospital.”
Online classes and schools are not all scams, but some are.
Online education has the unfortunate reputation of being sub par, or even completely useless. People believe these are places where you can simply log on, pay your money, and be told you’re wonderful at whatever subject you choose and have earned a degree. In some cases, that is absolutely true. Diploma mills that would have advertised in the backs of magazines in the past have indeed gone online.
It has always been important to research a school before enrolling, but special care must be taken in the world of online learning. It is simply too easy to create a website that looks like it belongs to a real school. Writing a song, short story, play, or novel in which a character went into debt signing up for several expensive courses, only to soon realize they were being offered by a sham web site and not the school he thought he was attending would be a completely realistic project.
Even among accredited online schools and classes, reputations vary.
Universities ranging in reputation from the Ivy League, small private colleges, large private universities, state schools, community colleges, and institutions of higher learning that fit any other category may have online campuses or at least online degree programs or course offerings. A program is not necessarily a great program because they have the technology to offer so much study online. At the same time, the program is not necessarily a bad program because it’s “an online program.” Quality and reputation ranges from the school many people wish they could attend all the way down to the school that will make your career prospects worse instead of better, just like offline schools and programs.
Online educators are often treated as though they do not have real jobs.
This is common for anyone who works from home, though it is lessening a bit after so many people were forced to work from home last year. Friends think you are available to babysit kids and pets, run errands, or have a two hour phone or Facebook chat about the weather because “you’re home all day.” Family members picture you lounging on the couch watching Netflix all day while you punch a few keys on your computer and get money.
But like all legitimate online work, teaching online for an accredited school with a strong reputation involves actual work. It is a real job. There are lessons to prepare, papers and other school work to grade, classroom discussion boards and online chats to monitor, meetings to attend or listen to, time spent helping students with their academic work, and other duties of a college instructor.