I have just read that a largely rewritten version of something called the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders is about to be released. Now, someone who might have been labeled “eccentric” could wake up to discover he is actually suffering from a “disease,” while someone who had been taking medication might have her prescription dry up as her “disorder” is revealed to be a mere “self-indulgence.” Mental health is certainly a tricky business, particularly the labeling part. A number of years ago someone very close to me received a label that often carries with it a nasty stigma. The stigma aside, I found the label absolutely useless in the day-to-day dealings with this person. In the end, no matter how odd someone’s behavior, everyone on earth defies a labeling. In fact, in this person’s case, the doctors assigned this particular label because they simply didn’t know what else to call him.

I think about this when I’m creating fictional characters. We might label them protagonist or antagonist or love interest, but in the end each character is someone doing what they think is best for themselves at any given moment. Characters can certainly begin as cardboard stereotypes, i.e. the author thinks, “My hero needs a foil.” Yet this mere foil rounds out her edges as the author peers more closely into her heart and sees someone doing the best they can at the time.

I know this is true of me. I have certainly had some pretty disordered behavior in my time, but I don’t think I would ever want to take a pill for it. No matter how impulsive I may have been, I feel within me that every word I have ever spoken and every action I have ever taken was my own choice. That I am free to make any choice I want is the great gift and the great curse of being human. Somewhere between religion and science and poetry and therapy stand the guides for how to best make these choices. There is no order to anything. We invent our order as we turn ourselves toward that which calls to us, a song of our own creation that remains both mysterious and familiar.

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