Mental Illness and Treatment in Urban Fantasy: a Guest Post by Power Surge Author Sara Codair

Today on the site we’re welcoming Sara Codair, author of Power Surge, the first book in the Evanstar Chronicles, starring a non-binary character who has Depression and ADHD. Here are some details on the book:

PowerSurge-fErin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend’s bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that’s going to have to wait until after they help save the world.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * Ninestar Press * Smashwords 

And here’s the post!

***

One thing readers might no get from reading the blurb of my recent release, Power Surge, is that for the main character, Erin, finding a way to manage their mental illness is as a key to their survival as defeating the demon that is hunting them.

When I started writing Power Surge, I didn’t set out to write a book about anxiety, depression, and ADHD. At eighteen, when I first dreamed up the characters, I didn’t know half of what I now. I certainly didn’t expect this book to be one of the things that lead me to actually get treatment for my own mental illness.

I worked on Power Surge on and off for more than a decade. With each revision, it evolved, growing into something more complex until it wasn’t just a book about saving the world from a demon apocalypse, but it was the kind of book I wish I read during the worst of my teenage years.

As a teenager, I never wanted to admit I could be influenced by anything whether it be friends, parents, teachers or fictional characters. However, as an adult, I can see that in spite of my drive resist all influence, my favorite characters had a huge impact on me. It’s no coincidence that I was constantly buying the longest sweaters I could find because they looked like Jedi robes while I was reading my way through the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

In addition to falsely claiming I was above the influence of everything, teenage me was also in deniable experiencing my first real depression.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was a mess.

My mom had cancer. I’d broken up with my first disaster of a boyfriend. My brain chemistry was probably disastrous. I was just as bad at fitting in and socializing with the students at a big high school as I had been in a tiny catholic middle school.

I hated myself as much as I loved myself. Loathing and arrogance ripped me apart. I ran knives over my skin, gently at first, then harder and harder until one day, I sliced my hand open and liked how it felt. I remember being happy people realized how much I was hurting, and then being terrified about what that would mean.

I needed help. I refused to get it because I fully believed in the stigmas around mental illness and its treatment. I was convinced antidepressants would change my personality. I thought counselors or anyone who practiced psychology would try to stuff me in boxes and give me advice that didn’t apply to me. I saw getting professional help as a sign of weakness. Friends and family tried to tell me none of those things were true, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t listen to them. I should’ve.

This was also the time of my life when I fell in love with reading. It was a temporary escape from the darkness of my own mind, and far more influential than television, friends, and family.

Books made me listen in a way that no person ever could, so I often think that if I read enough books where my favorite, magic-wielding characters had positive experiences at therapy, I might have been more open to trying it. Unfortunately, I never came across a book with the message that inspired me to seek treatment.

I never saw my favorite characters seeking treatment for mental illness. The few counselors or therapist that did appear in my favorite urban fantasies were often obstacles people had to get around after saying something to the wrong person about the existence of the supernatural. Other times, the counselor was someone the main character visited when they were in the process of figuring out if some supernatural thing was real or not. It was never because the characters actually thought they needed to be there.

It’s hard for me to say how much better the rep is now than it was when I was a teen. When I think about what I’ve read in the past few years, very little stands out as having great rep of both mental illness and its treatments, but last year, I only read twenty-nine books.

Whether they are already out in the world or not, we need books that will fight those stigmas, especially for teens like the one I used to be.

I never found the messages I needed about mental health in my favorite books, but I did find it through writing.

Like me, many of my characters struggle with things like anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Like me at the time, those characters weren’t in therapy and they weren’t on meds, and it wasn’t working out well for them. Seeing how hard anxiety was making life for my character helped me see how hard it was making life for me.

However, there was more at play than that. Heavily influenced by the plot devices and stigmas I grew up seeing, I found myself using them in my own stories. In Power Surge, medication for ADHD and depression prevented Erin from seeing through glamours supernatural beings used to hide themselves from humans.

Yet, writing these tropes is what lead me to challenge them. I spent a lot of time researching medications for depression and ADHD so I could explain how and why they blocked Erin’s True Sight. That research is what made me first realize that medication might actually help me manage my yet to be diagnosed mental illness. It gave me the courage to talk to my doctor about what I was going through, ask for references for therapists and psychiatrists.

After finally seeing how helpful treatment could be, I revisited how it was portrayed in Power Surge. I chose not to remove it as plot device but to change the way it was viewed. Instead of narrative viewing medication as an obstacle, the lack of it becomes one of the things standing between Erin and their goals.

Erin is aware that they need therapy and the right medications to properly manage their symptoms. Not being able to take them because of dangerous side effects is a major obstacle – one that makes it harder for Erin to cope with everything else that is going on.

For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t say how this plays out in book one However, I don’t think it gives too much away to say that in the sequel, Erin finally gets to experience being on the medication that is right for them, and it has no negative impact on their Sight or any of the powers they developed in book one.

I wonder if as a teenager, if I had seen a character I admired wanting help and wanting medication, could it have broken through my wall of stubbornness. Would seeing how hard it was for that character to cope in book one and then how much better they coped in book two on the right medication have made a crack in the ice that no friend or family member could break?

I’ll never have the answer to that question, but I hope that if a young, mentally ill person does read Power Surge it helps them in some way, whether it is by showing them that it is okay to need medication, or just by showing them that they are not alone.

***

winter headshot bwSara Codair teaches and tutors writing at a community college and has published over fifty short stories and poems. Their cat, Goose, edits their work by deleting entire pages. Sara’s stories appear in Broadswords and Blasters, Vulture Bones, Alternative Truths, and Drabbledark.  Sara’s first novel, Power Surge, was published on Oct. 1, 2018.

Find Sara online at https://saracodair.com/ or @shatteredsmooth.

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4 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Treatment in Urban Fantasy: a Guest Post by Power Surge Author Sara Codair”

  1. Writing can have that effect in us. This is because we consciously try to organize our thoughts to put it in letters without too much chaos and much more sense. Thanks for sharing about your story and your book (which seems to be very interesting).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are amazing and incredibly brave, Sara! Glad you were able to channel the experiences you had with mental health into something that helps others. Also super fascinating to see how that translates into a fantasy genre context.

    Liked by 1 person

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