Ironically, I don’t like books about mental illness. They’re depressing. You’re probably scratching your head right now thinking; she’s really nuts. Yeah, I am, but that’s not the point of this post.
A few weekends ago, I attended the Pennwriters Conference. The first question you get at a writer’s conference is “what do you write?” I’ve got the explanation of Defective down to about thirty-five words. I always expect to get an eye roll and a perfunctory “that’s nice.” Again, mental illness is a real downer. But, when people hear that it’s also a love story and a bit of a family saga, their interest perks up and within moments, they are telling me stories of how mental illness, either directly or indirectly, has affected their life.
I’ve developed a theory on why this happens. We’ve all been diagnosed with a physical illness, whether it is the flu, a broken arm, or diabetes. When this happens, we focus on the game plan to reach recovery—drink fluids, wear a cast of six weeks, change your diet and take your insulin.
Being diagnosed with a mental disorder is different. When you receive the diagnosis, your heart pounds against your chest, while you struggle to control the overwhelming desire to scream “no.” It’s at that moment all the mental illness movies you have ever seen—Girl, Interrupted, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hours, A Beautiful Mind, and so many more—become a montage playing out in front of your mind’s eye.
When you learn of friend or family member’s diagnosis, the reaction is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, because there’s no real path to recovery, only treatments that may or may not work.
(Spoiler alert) My thirty- five word description of Defective is surprising because it offers hope to people hungry for a happy ending, to a story that feels doomed to be a tragedy.
I think that from this point on when people ask what Defective is about, I’m just going to say one word—hope.