By Naomi Hughes
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: November 5th 2019
Guest Post – Mental Health Rep Post
Author: Naomi Hughes
Hi! I’m Naomi Hughes, author of Refraction, a young adult sci-fi that comes out Nov 5. It’s chock-full of some super cool stuff: bromance, creeptastic shadow monsters that crawl out of mirrors, tons of banter, and, maybe most importantly, mental health representation.
The protagonist, Marty, has obsessive-compulsive disorder—like me. When I was writing him, I thought a lot about how to make sure I represented OCD well. Because I’m a Ravenclaw, I also did quite a lot of research on how other authors and various forms of media depicted mental illnesses.
As I researched, I found some really wonderful, thoughtful, and realistic depictions of characters who have mental illnesses…and also, some bad or just flat inaccurate rep. All of it helped me ferret out a few core ideas about how I wanted to write Marty.
#1: I wanted to let Marty be human.
In reading books that featured mental illness, I ran across a handful of unfortunate tropes that popped up again and again: the high-strung character whose vague mental illness is a personality quirk played for laughs, the detective or cop whose OCD gives them deductive superpowers, and the villain whose mental illness somehow made them evil.
And the thing is…none of those are accurate to real life. None of them represent what living with a mental illness is actually like. OCD is not a quirk, it doesn’t make you smarter, and it certainly doesn’t turn you evil.
The truth is, people with OCD (and other mental illnesses) are as human as anyone else—and that’s something I wanted to be sure to show in my story. Marty has flaws and vulnerabilities, a cutting wit paired with a sharp intellect, and when he cares about someone, he cares deeply. He also makes plenty of bad decisions (so, so many), but they’re in service to his goal, not somehow caused by his mental illness.
#2: I wanted Marty to be post-diagnosis.
There are some truly awesome books out there about a character being diagnosed with a mental illness and having to learn what it is and how to deal with it. And I’m so very glad those exist! But I knew right away that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
In Refraction, Marty already knows he’s got OCD. He’s been through therapy and has his disorder (mostly) successfully managed at the story’s start. But when he trips up and starts performing his compulsions again, his obsessive fears return full-force.
It’s a story that a lot of people with OCD might recognize. Though OCD can certainly improve (and often in a big way!) with the right therapy and/or medication, it almost never “goes away” entirely. Learning how to successfully manage a mental disorder can take anywhere from years to a lifetime, and it’s often not a straightforward journey. I wanted to write a story that reflects that.
#3: I wanted the story concept itself to be a metaphor for what it’s like to have OCD.
I can’t tell you too much about this one without risking spoilers, but after you’ve finished reading, you might see what I mean! Something in me just really loved the idea of writing a sort of allegory, of using a cool and scary sci-fi world as a mirror (pun totally intended) to what OCD can be like.
I’d like to end this post with a few recommendations. If you’re looking for books that have some truly excellent mental health rep, here are a few I think are great:
Darius the Great is not Okay (deals with depression) by Adib Khorram, Turtles all the Way Down (Pure O OCD) by John Green, and For a Muse of Fire (bipolar disorder) by Heidi Heilig. I also wrote another book, Afterimage, that deals with panic disorder.
Thank you so much for having me! I’m so glad to get the chance to talk mental health rep here, and I can’t wait to share Refraction with you on Nov 5.
STARTS: November 5th 2019
ENDS: November 19th 2019