Jul 27, 2017

A Game of Thrones Lesson: People Don't Understand Mental Health Problems

Confession: I do a lot of creative writing for an online, text-based role playing game #nerdalert

A lot of what I write has to do with mental health. I put the main character of my stories through a lot trauma, and then I write my little heart out to get her through the aftermath and the inevitable mental health issues she experiences as a result: PTSD, anxiety, depression, self-harm, thoughts of suicide. I like to explore these issues because it helps me better understand them.

Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t get what I’m writing. They don’t read my attempts at portraying mental health issues for what they are. Instead, they see my character behaving a certain way and label it as unnecessary drama, selfishness, or her feeling sorry for herself.

And it’s super disheartening.

It’s made me want to give up trying more than once.

People simply do not get it. They don’t understand mental health problems. Maybe they don’t want to. Or maybe they just can’t. | Hot Pink Crunch

Then this week’s Game of Thrones episode aired (Season 7, Episode 2: Stormborn). Spoilers ahead!

If you watched, you’ll likely never forget that Theon Greyjoy seemed to lose his cool in the middle of a major battle scene at the end of the episode and jumped off the ship he was on into the ocean. Aside: I’m not sure what’s going to happen to poor Theon. I’m hoping Gendry, with insane arm muscles from rowing a boat since Season 3, is going to pick him up.

I thought this entire scene, as it concerned Theon, was excellent! It was a sincere and heartbreaking portrayal of someone suffering from PTSD being triggered. The cameras narrowed in on the different actions that were triggering him and you could actually see the anxiety and panic consume him moments before he desperately removed himself from the situation.

The internet at large didn’t see that though.

Instead, I’ve seen numerous articles and memes calling Theon a coward, accusing him of abandoning his sister, and insisting that he’s not a real man (this is usually tied to the fact that he was castrated earlier in the show because apparently penis = real man). These viewers didn’t see the mental health issues he was dealing with in that moment. All they could see were his supposedly cowardly actions, and rather than understanding why he did what he did, they judged him for it.

How sad! It really highlights how so many people are still clueless about mental illness. They can't identify it when they see it or they misidentify it when they do.

It helped me realize that when people read my writing and misidentify what my character is experiencing? It’s not my problem. I’m not writing my character poorly. It’s also not the problem of the writers on Game of Thrones when people judge Theon for what he did. Those writers did an excellent job portraying PTSD.

People simply do not get it. They don’t understand mental health problems. Maybe they don’t want to. Or maybe they just can’t.

Honestly? I’m grateful for an early exposure to mental health issues. It wasn’t easy learning about depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide as a teenager, but I’m a better person because of it. Early exposure has made me aware of mental health problems. It’s made me a more sympathetic and empathetic person. It’s helped me to see and understand.

I’m also grateful to Game of Thrones for tackling Theon’s PTSD this week and honoring the trauma he has gone through. It would have been easier and perhaps more popular with viewers to have Theon miraculously get over the horrible things he experienced and slay his uncle in glorious combat, but life doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way for thousands of people stuck in the anxious cycle of PTSD.

So thank you Game of Thrones! I’m looking forward to where Theon’s story arc goes from here.

Now it’s time to go write for my character again.